People were recently saddened by the heart-breaking death of a 28-year-old young man working with ByteDance, one of China's top social media firms. The man surnamed Wu had felt unwell while exercising at the company gym and died after 41 hours of emergency treatment in a hospital.
His passing away is a devastating blow for his family. Two months pregnant, his wife is left with a home mortgage which requires an installment payment of 21,000 yuan (US$327) per month for 30 years that she cannot afford. Their misfortune resonates with millions of young Chinese that could face similar situations.
The number of sudden deaths in young and middle-aged population has been on the rise in China.
On Jan. 6, 55-year-old Wang Xinhua, an ER doctor with a hospital in Zhoukoudian, Henan Province, died after 13 hours’ non-stop work in anti-COVID operations. Earlier, in another city in Henan, a senior high-schooler collapsed due to sudden death during a running session.
According to the data released by the Cardiovascular Disease Prevention and Control Research Center of the Ministry of Health in November 2009, 545,000 people die of sudden death every year in China, at a rate of one death a minute. Though updated data is unavailable, we can assume that the number is on the rise due to multiple factors.
The top culprit is overtime work prevalent at the workplace, especially in high-tech and internet companies.
According to statistics released by the Chinese Journal of Emergency Medicine in 2020, fatigue is the primary cause of sudden death, accounting for 24.53 percent of the total. In 2007, WHO classified "staying up late" as a Class 2A cancer risk, although working into the night is typical in many businesses and research institutes.
Cut-throat competition between tech and internet giants gives rise to prolonged working hours. When overtime work is glorified as a virtue and turned into a company policy, it is more of a curse than a blessing.
A few years ago, in many internet companies, the so-called 996 system was in full gear, which means the employees work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. for 6 days a week. On April 11, 2019, the official People's Daily ran a commentary criticizing compulsory overtime work.
Compulsory overtime work has been largely reduced in the past two years thanks to the State's labor protection laws and the overall improvement in working conditions in businesses. But voluntary overtime work is still common as employees strive to work their way up the career ladder. Driven by a desire to succeed and earn more money, many young people sacrifice their health. Tangdoudou, an influential Vlogger, died at 27. He had been unwell long before his death, but his zeal for success prevented him from seeking timely medical treatment.
Additional causes of sudden death are an unhealthy lifestyle and lack of physical exercise. Many young people stay up late not working, but checking on social media or playing games. Many young people do not go to bed until midnight, and their risk of sudden death rises sharply. According to the White Paper on cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular Health of Young and Middle-aged People, 15.3 percent of the population aged 20-29 are at a high risk of cardiovascular disease in China.
A sedentary lifestyle, intake of high-calorie food and alcohol and cigarette smoking all contribute to health problems in the young.
Life is priceless and preventing premature death calls for joint efforts from both businesses and individuals.
(The author is an English tutor and freelance writer.)