Death of Chinese high schooler ruled as suicide, leaving family skeptical and questions unanswered

Society & Culture

A high school student in the city of Chengdu died in what officials called a suicide. But his mother believes they are hiding something.

chengdu high school
Photo from the Beijing News.

Over the weekend, a high school student died on campus in Chengdu, Sichuan Province. According to a statement released today (in Chinese) — which is the result of a joint investigation by the local police and several government departments in the city — the 16-year-old boy, surnamed Lin, committed suicide at school around 6:20 p.m. on Sunday by leaping to his death from a staff building due to “personal issues.” But is that really what happened?

Lin’s family members aren’t so sure. Shortly after Lin’s death was revealed, his mother, who goes by the name “Mother of student Lin at Chengdu No. 49 High School” (@四十九中林同学妈妈), took to Weibo to demand truth, transparency, and accountability in the death of her son. 

She claimed that when she arrived at the school after receiving a call informing her about the incident, school officials and police officers at the scene forbade her from entering the campus and catching a final glimpse of her son. Instead, she was told that an ambulance had taken her son’s body directly to a funeral home, where an official cause of death would be determined. 

“The school is shutting us all out and telling us nothing. Our request to see the surveillance footage was rejected. We wanted to ask my son’s classmates and teachers about what actually happened, but the school dismissed the entire class immediately after the incident and warned everyone at school to keep their mouths shut,” Lin’s mother wrote (in Chinese) in a post on May 10.

In another post (in Chinese), she said that after her repeated requests, investigators finally showed her the security footage, but the part of the video that was supposed to show how Lin ended up at the top of a school building was conspicuously missing, which made her suspect that someone could have tampered with the surveillance video. 

lin's momCompounding the family’s doubts over the student’s death was local media’s lack of interest in independently investigating and reporting on the case. “We wasted no time contacting journalists. But after hearing our story, they said that there was nothing they could do. Some even suggested that we don’t waste too much energy on seeking justice because the issue is complicated,” the mother wrote (in Chinese).

Lin’s mother is not the only person who has shared this sentiment. On Weibo, there were a vast number of commenters who were not shy in stating their suspicions about the circumstances surrounding Lin’s death and criticizing the school for its mishandling of the matter, particularly the fact that it waited nearly two hours to notify Lin’s parents after his supposed suicide. 

Amid growing demands to see the full surveillance footage and calls for justice, the education bureau of Chengdu’s Chenghua District issued a statement (in Chinese) today, saying that investigators had ruled out the possibility of foul play and had landed on the conclusion that Lin took his own life because of “personal matters.” It also noted that the investigation team found no evidence of bullying, corporal punishment, or teacher misconduct at the school.

But while the bureau said that Lin’s family had no objection to the verdict, the statement was swiftly criticized by Lin’s mother, who wrote (in Chinese) on Weibo that she believed the results were “hastily declared” and that she would continue to demand answers. “I need to meet my son’s teacher. I need to see the surveillance footage in its entirety!” she wrote.

Elsewhere online, unsubstantiated rumors were rampant. There were many internet users who were skeptical about the idea of Lin committing suicide and thought there might be more to the story. Some speculated that a teacher pushed Lin off a building because his own child lost to Lin when competing for opportunities to study abroad. Others suspected that Lin killed himself after an argument with his girlfriend at school.

There are legitimate reasons for Chinese parents to be skeptical when it comes to their children who die at school. In some cases, the skepticism stems from the lack of transparency these families are given when working with local police departments. There’s also a culture among Chinese schools to cover up scandals to avoid accountability and protect reputations. Last year, a mother in Jiangsu Province had a similar experience to that of Lin’s family after her son jumped to his death from a building on his college campus. When confronted with questions about why it did not inform the mother until four hours after the incident and then confined her in a hotel room until the next day, the university defended its practice (in Chinese) by saying that it was preventing the devastated mother from having a mental breakdown.