Ever-increasing cultural and economic pressures are taking their toll on Chinese students.
Shortly after I had started my fieldwork among Chinese elite university students, a young woman jumped to her death from a university building. Statistics around student suicides in China can be difficult to obtain, but suffice it to say that her death was not an anomaly—the phenomenon of suicide among Chinese students at elite universities is something of a public secret: generally well-known but rarely discussed in official channels. I was drawn to this paradox of why young people like her, who have made it to the top of China’s extraordinarily competitive educational system, would choose to take their own lives: What actually happens to the lucky few at the top of the pyramid?
Suicide among Chinese students at elite universities is something of a public secret.
In recent years globally-oriented educational debates often play out in relation to the ambiguous rise of China, which has emerged as a figure of both allure and anxiety for a number of reasons. China’s system of rigorous testing is well known; The fact that Shanghai students topped the PISA tests in 2010 (tests designed by the OECD to assess scholastic performance across countries) gave rise to a sense that China is beating us on our own terms. And yet, as the West seems to be looking East to find the key to success in a brave new knowledge society, the East is looking West.