Elderly Couple Suicide in Yangtze River

April 16, 2007 Updated: April 16, 2007

An impoverished and illness-stricken couple in China have tied themselves together and drowned in the Yangtze River, leaving behind their son who also suffers from illness. Medical expenses in China have skyrocketed, making it harder for poor people to receive adequate medical care, and the couple's suicide is indicative of the concern of the massive population of farmers in China.

According to China Economic Net www.ce.cn , the couple who committed suicide on February 22 this year were Chen Zhengxian (38) and his wife, Yao Yuanxiang (34). They had a 12-year-old son and were farmers of Hubei Province.

The couple had suffered from several illnesses for many years before their suicide. Chen's medical records reveal he had at least three illnesses, including snail fever, hepatitis B and kidney calculus. Yao was also tormented by sciatica. Their son, Chen Zebiao, has hepatitis B, also.

On February 19, the 2nd day of the Chinese New Year, Chen's brother-in-law, Jiang Shuyi noticed that Chen's face looked extremely yellowish. Jiang reminded Chen to receive a medical examination in the hospital. Soon afterwards, Chen's relatives put together 2,000 yuan (US$260) to get him hospitalized.

Yao's brother came to the hospital to see Chen at 10 o'clock, on the morning of February 23, but Chen wasn't there. The nurse told Jiang the couple went out for a walk after she had given Chen an injection at about 6 p.m. the night before. The couple didn't return to the hospital that night. “I thought they went home already,” the nurse said.

Jiang found Chen's pencil-written suicide letter on a bedside cupboard. The note read “Dear brothers and sisters, please do not feel sorry for us. Dear Mom, we apologize for being unable to take care of you any more. No matter where we go, Zhengxian and Yuanxiang are always together. The river is our final destination.”

Twenty days later, an old man found the couple's corpses tied up with a belt and a rope drifting along the Yangtze River.

Chen had been diagnosed with snail fever and hepatitis B in his early twenties. However, he was too poor to pursue systematic medical treatment. What he could afford was to buy some drugs only when he couldn't endure the discomfort. Owing to his lack of physical vigor, Chen could not take up any labor-demanding jobs. He barely made a living by rice-farming on a small farm. The situation worsened when his wife was stricken with sciatica and she couldn't help with the farming work anymore.

As their child grew up, the couple needed extra money to cover his tuition. In early 2005, the couple made up their mind to seek jobs outside their homeland. They found jobs in a pottery and porcelain factory located in Guangdong Province. However, Chen's physical condition was too weak to sustain the hard work. He became so sick that he had to quit the job in less than five months.

Chen returned to his hometown for treatment for over a month , which consumed almost all of the savings he earned in the previous five months. When he got better, Chen returned to work in Guangdong. But soon after, he had a relapse of hepatitis B. He could not do anything but return home.

This is still not the end of their tribulations. Later that year, on September 28, the couple's son, Chen Zebiao, fell sick. The subsequent diagnosis showed the son had severe hepatitis B. To save Zebiao's life, Yao had to take out all of her savings, 2,000 Yuan (US$260), earned in Gaungdong and had to borrow 8,500 (US$1,100) more from relatives. But the money was used up within ten days.

Since then, neither could leave their hometown for better-paying jobs. None of the 8,500 yuan (US$1,100) they borrowed was paid back, either.

When asked for comments about the cause of the couple's suicide, Jiang said, “They simply had no money to cure the diseases.”