What China's Talking About Today: A Publicly Blogged Suicide

By Massoud Hayoun

A Nanjing college student's suicide note on social media has led to a wider online discussion about mental health.

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A man sits at an Internet cafe in China / Reuters

Nanjing-based Sina Weibo user @ZouFan wrote, at 10:54am on Sunday, just before committing suicide, "I have depression, so I'm going to go die now. There's no particular reason why, so no one needs to care about my departure. Bye bye!"

Responses to @ZouFan's departure have spanned well over two-million Weibo micro-blogs since Sunday. @ZouFan now has roughly 70 thousand Weibo "fans," the Weibo equivalent of Twitter followers.  

What preceded her final micro-blog were a series of very dark, cryptic posts.

"Every day I live is proof that dumbasses can survive," she wrote.

The Jiangning Police Department's Weibo account confirmed that a college student who went by that handle had indeed killed herself, and took the opportunity to instruct the public: "Life is precious, and we hope that we can all cherish it. If friends or relatives seem like they may commit suicide, please try to contact the police before it's too late."

Just as American micro-bloggers have used Twitter as a platform for suicide notes, Weibo reported that "micro-blogged suicides" are also a phenomenon in the People's Republic. Despite the overwhelming response to her demise, the frequency of Internet-based suicide letters may dampen sensitivity to depression-related suicide, according to Weibo.

"We've seen so many [examples of micro-blogging suicide] that it's easy to become indifferent," read the Sina Hot Topic prompt that started the trend, "@ZouFan's death reminds us: Do not ignore depression. Mental illness is a real disease. People suffering from mental illness need professional treatment, and our serious consideration."

Fanfare over @ZouFan's very public suicide elicited responses from some Weibo users that the above Hot Topic prompt was likely trying to avoid.

A user called Sad old zombie wrote: "Depression? Death is a new beginning. @ZouFan"

Countless users seemed to wonder if they had depression -- the lethal disease that apparently killed @ZouFan.

ZiXuan0731 wrote: "My heart is never in my work. I wonder if I have depression?"

[Hans Christian] Anderson's fairytales are a hoax wrote: "Crying out in disillusionment ... Is that a sign of depression?"

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/what-chinas-talking-about-today-a-publicly-blogged-suicide/254801/