Model's death puts light on overwork

Updated: 2011-05-21 09:17

By Hu Meidong and Wei Tian (China Daily)

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FUZHOU - The obituary notice of Ai Weiwei, an online model in East China's Fujian province, has been widely circulated in cyber space, generating sorrow at the loss of a young life and retraining the spotlight on health concerns of young workers.

The young woman, just 22 years old when she died on May 14, was a popular online model and the deputy managing director of a local media company. She gained fame as a "football baby" in the online promotional campaign for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and as an icon of an online game.

But Ai was described as a workaholic who gave little attention to her health.

"Working overnight was very common for her," said Zhu Xing, Ai's agent. "She even used to work without rest for three consecutive days."

"Ai had a bad stomach, which may resulted from irregular eating habits. She also often caught colds. But neither she nor we thought too much about it, because that's the price a model must pay," Zhu said.

According to Zhu, Ai left her hometown in Jiangsu province for a performing career when she was 16, and she worked at part-time jobs to pay for her study at an art school. In 2006, she came to Fuzhou, capital of East China's Fujian province, to join the Julong Network, where she gradually become a star model.

"Just had some oats for breakfast, and now my stomach really hurts" was one of the last entries Ai made on her micro blog in February. "It's Lantern Festival, and I am again all by myself. I miss you, Daddy "another one reads.

One week after the festival, Ai collapsed at work. She was diagnosed with leukemia in a hospital in Fuzhou. "And even when she was dreadfully ill and all her appointments were suspended, Ai insisted on continuing to work and keeping the degree of the illness a secret," Zhu said. "Finally, she left in peace, surrounded by her parents and boyfriend."

Ai's death was announced on her micro blog and the company's homepage.

Zhu dispelled the rumor that news of her death was "hype", saying that life was not something to joke about.

Chen Junmin, head of the hematology department at the First Affiliated Hospital of Fuzhou Medical University, said leukemia is often related to overexposure to radiation and benzene compounds, and viral infections can play a role.

Hardworking young people dying from overwork is nothing new in China. In April, a 25-year-old PricewaterhouseCoopers employee unexpectedly died of a stroke. In a survey after the news became known, nearly 80 percent of respondents said they had experience of working overtime, while 26 percent said they worked on average more than 10 hours a day.

"It's a society filled with competition, everyone is trying to grasp every opportunity," said Zheng Qiwu, a sociologist with Xiamen University. "But we badly need a law to protect young workers from being harmed by overwork."

"I hope Ai's tragedy will ring a bell for those who pay excessive attention to work instead of their health. Don't wait until the last moment to learn the real meaning of life."

Strait News and Zhu Xingxin contributed to this story.


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