The suicide of a successful Chinese-American software engineer at Paypal has prompted some Chinese students to reconsider whether they should live and work in California’s Silicon Valley.
Forty-year-old Qinggen Wang, a principal software engineer with the online e-commerce company headquartered in San Jose, took his life in April, leaving behind his wife and two kids.
News of the suicide shocked the Bay Area Chinese-American community and sparked discussions in China’s blogosphere, where students who had planned to find jobs in Silicon Valley after graduating now say Wang’s suicide has made them reconsider their job plans; and parents say the tragedy makes them more hesitant to send their kids to the United States.
A 'Chemistry Genius'
Wang was born in China's Haian County of Jiangsu Province, got good grades in high school, and became well known in China after winning the gold medal in the International Chemistry Olympiad in 1990. He came to United States after finishing his bachelor's degree in chemistry, and was accepted into Stanford University, where he graduated with a Master’s degree in computer technology and a PhD in chemistry.
Wang began his career as a software engineer with deCarta, an online mapping service. He later joined Paypal in 2004 and rose to the position of principal software engineer three years later.
Wang's high school teacher Dachin Wang told Hong Kong-based TV station Phoenix Television, "Qinggen Wang had visited me in 2010. He told me that he now works in the high-tech industry instead of the chemistry field because the pay is better."
"Qinggen Wang's talent and passion were in chemistry,” Wang said. “It was sad to see a chemistry genius give up his talent and passion just because he needs to make a living in a foreign country. Wang may have had a happier life if he had come back to China and worked in a field related to chemistry."
On China's blogosphere, many netizens also questioned why Wang worked as an engineer instead of in chemistry.
Many bloggers speculated that Wang had given up on his passion and that led to his unhappiness.
"Wang is an example that reflects the immigrants' dilemma: If they want to earn good money, they might have to give up their passion and persue another career. However, if they insist on staying with their passion, they risk having to work in a lower level job position after graduating," international student Guang Ming Qian wrote on Xici Net, a Nanjing-based blog.
Another international student who works in the United States agreed, posting on BBS VOICE, one of the largest microblogging websites in China, "I see many Chinese international students who may not find jobs or salaries that match their academic backgrounds/ skills/ degrees. I am now reconsidering if there are better options in my hometown in China."
Some Chinese parents, meanwhile, say their concerns for their children's safety could make them reconsider whether to send their kids to the United States.
Although they believe their children get a better education here, some are hesitant to send them to the United States because they say the pressures and difficulties are unpredictable.
One parent, Sizhong, who lives in Wang's hometown in Jiangsu Province, blogged on Xici Net, "I usually told my kids to learn from Wang since he studied hard and demonstrated an excellent academic performance. I expect my kids to be like Wang to get into a first class U.S. college. However, I also would like to see my kids be happy and safe. I now have to reconsider if the U.S. fits our needs."
Depression Among Chinese Immigrants
In the Bay Area, Chinese-language media outlets struggled to understand the tragedy. Some reports questioned whether Wang's death was an individual case or if the majority of Silicon Valley Chinese engineers suffered from work overload. Others framed Wang’s death as a reflection of the larger conflicts immigrants face struggling to fit into mainstream society.
The San Francisco Chinese-language newspaper World Journal wondered if Wang’s feeling of helplessness as a foreigner under tremendous stress from work had contributed to his death.
In an interview with University of California at San Francisco psychology professor Junjie Wu, San Francisco-based Chinese-language TV station KTSF asked whether Wang's death was an individual case or emblematic of a larger problem.
"Pressure is one factor that causes mental depression," Wu said. "However, depression isn't caused by merely one element. It usually combines several factors such as pressure, loneliness, genes, or disease history."
"There have been three engineers that have committed suicide at Paypal within the last two years,” Wu said. "However, I do not see engineers as the biggest group to have mental depression in my research."
The stigma surrounding mental illness in the Chinese community also makes depression harder to treat. Chinese often don’t ask their family for help and are reluctant to see a doctor, Wu said.
"Chinese usually feel ashamed or feel like they’re losing face to talk about their difficulties and weaknesses. Therefore, when they are suffering from depression, they just keep everything in, instead of being vocal about it. However, the more they are reluctant to go see a doctor, the more difficult it is to cure their depression," Wu told KTSF.
The Chinese-language newspaper Epoch Times reports that Wang's death has drawn attention to mental health issues in the Chinese immigrant community. Language barriers, cultural differences and discrimination may all play a role in causing depression among Chinese immigrants.
However, in an interview with the Epoch Times, University of Cincinnati psychology professor Dr. Lu said she sees peer pressure as another factor that can cause depression among immigrants.
New York psychiatrist Xiao Chun Jin agreed, writing on the Canada-based website CA 51, "Many Chinese immigrants were rich, had white-collar jobs or an excellent academic background in China. Coming to United States made them think they were superior to friends who lived in China. However, once they found their friends had gained fame or became more successful than them, [they] started feeling lost and depressed."
One Chinese researcher working in the United States who spoke on condition of anonymity said he regretted coming to the United States because he sees that his friends in China have achieved more than he has. "The feeling of regret led to my depression," he told the Epoch Times.
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