Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry

, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 25–50

Suicide and Social Change in China


  • Michael R. Phillips
    • Beijing Hui Long Guan Hospital
  • Huaqing Liu
    • Beijing Hui Long Guan Hospital
  • Yanping Zhang
    • Beijing Hui Long Guan Hospital

DOI: 10.1023/A:1005462530658

Cite this article as:
Phillips, M.R., Liu, H. & Zhang, Y. Cult Med Psychiatry (1999) 23: 25. doi:10.1023/A:1005462530658


Using recently available data from China's Disease Surveillance Points system, we estimate that there are over 300,000 suicides in China per year; this makes suicide one of the most important causes of death in the country and makes the suicide rate in China one of the highest in the world. Moreover, the pattern of suicides in China is quite different than in other parts of the world – there are more completed suicides among females than males and rural rates are three-fold urban rates. The lack of reliable suicide data prior to 1987 makes it difficult to determine whether the rates are currently rising, falling, or staying constant. However, reports of suicides in the Chinese press and case studies conducted by the authors suggest (but do not prove) that the high rates of suicide currently experienced are related to the social changes that have occurred with the economic reforms (which started in 1978). Another possible explanation for the high rates of suicide is the large numbers of persons with depressive illness in China who remain untreated. Single-cause models of suicide (i.e., social factors or mental illness) do not do justice to the complexity of the processes involved and, therefore, do not provide useful information about the etiology and prevention of suicide in China or elsewhere. We describe our own dynamic model of suicide that includes five interacting factors which, we believe, collectively determine the suicide rates in a community.

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999