The president of one of China’s biggest railway companies passed away this weekend, but details surrounding his death are as elusive as those in a Sherlock Holmes story. No one is clear how Bai Zhongren died, or even why.
Bai’s company, China Railway Group Ltd. (SHA:601390), released a statement on Sunday announcing that Bai died on Saturday afternoon in an unspecified accident, giving no other details.
But Chinese media quickly dismissed the death as an accident. China Business News, a Chinese paper, reported that the 53-year-old executive leapt to his death from a four-story window at his home due to suffering depression in recent months, as his company’s debt grew out of control.
As of October 2013, the company’s outstanding debt reached 531.9 billion yuan ($87.88 billion), while its assets were worth 626.5 billion yuan – a debt-to-asset ratio of nearly 85 percent.
The story quickly spread through China’s major papers, but Chinese netizens were even quicker to call bluff in turn on the media report, pointing out that since China Railway Group Ltd. is a state-owned enterprise, the theory doesn’t make sense. Most executives of state-owned enterprises are bureaucrats and Communist Party officials who only assume the leadership of these companies for a few years before moving on to other posts.
“The debt of a state-owned enterprise can make its president commit suicide?” wrote microblogger @修李的家. “That’s news-worthy indeed!”
“Maybe he can’t make up the money he took,” @快乐旅行2012 wrote.
“China Railway’s debt or his own debt?” @胡杨树50后 questioned. “What does China Railway’s debt have to do with him?”
While all of these, including the suicide theory from the media, are still currently speculation, they do point to the distrust and scorn the Chinese public harbors for the nation’s ruling elite. Over the past year, President Xi Jinping’s administration has cracked down on corruption, and the public rarely has favorable or sympathetic sentiments for the fallen officials.
Sophie is a graduate of Northwestern University. She covers the emerging markets in Southeast Asia, with a particular interest in foreign investment in the region....