Chinese man dies by apparent suicide over childhood bullying for being ‘effeminate,’ ‘sissy’

Zhou Peng

A Chinese man who claimed to be a victim of school bullying before being found dead by local fishermen has sparked calls for an end to an ongoing social epidemic.

What happened: Zhou Peng, 26, was found dead in the waters near Zhoushan in eastern China’s Zhejiang Province on Dec. 1, according to China News. On Nov. 28, he posted an apparent suicide note on Weibo, in which he talked about being bullied because he was “effeminate.”

  • Zhou was a freelance photographer who also went by the pseudonym Ludaosen. In his 5,000-word suicide note, he remembered his student life as one filled with “verbal abuse, marginalization and threats.”
  • Zhou recounted peers calling him a “sissy” and other insults. “Boys are supposed to be naughty, fight and swear, and boys who are too quiet and polite are effeminate,” he wrote, according to Sixth Tone. “I was called ‘sissy’ at school. I might somewhat appear like a girl when I was younger, but I dressed ‘normally’ and didn’t attempt to imitate girls.”
  • Aside from recalling his peers’ abuse, Zhou mentioned that he was a “left-behind” child since his parents had to move to the city to work. China’s left-behind children, which number in the millions, have been reported to struggle at school, end up in underground fighting clubs, marry at very early ages and leave heartbreaking notes before killing themselves.

Reactions: Local police have not confirmed Zhou’s death as suicide. However, his followers and other social media users have called for an end to bullying and have initiated discussions on gender norms.

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  • “How many other boys have been laughed at because of their soft look and soft voice? Who are we to dictate what’s acceptable or not — they have done nothing wrong,” one Weibo user commented, according to BBC.
  • Another user said they now feel “embarrassed” for incessantly bullying someone they thought was “effeminate” when they were at school. “We were just joking around, but it might have caused some real trauma,” the user wrote.
  • State-run Global Times, which reported Zhou’s death but did not elaborate on  why he was bullied, recorded reactions from educators who focused on the general problem of school bullying. “There are still so many parents who consider conflict among children as nothing but a simple prank,” a teacher surnamed Zhu told the outlet.

The big picture: Bullying has plagued Chinese schools for years. Between 2015 and 2017 alone, around 2,600 cases were heard in court, and many more are never reported.

  • In late October, a 13-year-old bullying victim was found dead in Guangdong Province. He had drowned, and it was only after he went missing that his family learned of his plight, as evidenced by a video that shows someone slapping his face and shoving him to the ground — while other students cheered on — according to the South China Morning Post.
  • How China plans to solve its school bullying crisis remains to be seen. While the country condemns the problem, it also openly antagonizes “effeminate” men, making cases such as Zhou’s a matter of debate. In September, the National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA) told broadcasters to ban “sissy idols” who don’t follow “macho” male stereotypes. Days later, over 200 gaming companies vowed to ban content that depict “sissy men” and “gay love,” among other “inappropriate” material.

Featured Image via Zhou Peng / Lu Daosen on Weibo

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