After suffering long-term oppression from his advisor, a 3rd-year graduate student, Tao Chongyuan, from Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) in Hubei Province, China, told his mother: “Mom, I can’t stand it any longer. I don’t know how to get away from Professor Pan Wang!” He then ran off and jumped from the 6th floor of his dormitory building, ending his life. It was the morning of March 26, 2018, two days before his 26th birthday.
Tao’s death quickly caused a stir on social media. According to Tao’s sister, he experienced long-term oppression from his advisor, Dr. Wang, who even forced Tao to call him “Daddy.”
Tao was a good student and earned admission to the graduate program at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in his senior year in WUT. At that time, Wang was his tutor. Wang promised in writing that if Tao completed his master’s work at WUT, he would help him to pursue a Ph.D. degree abroad. For that reason, Tao decided to stay at WUT with Wang as his advisor.
Based upon Tao’s personal accounts, his sister said: “During his time in the graduate program, my brother was frequently asked by Wang to do his housework, look for his glasses, deliver or prepare his meals, wash his clothes, and give him morning wake-up calls. My brother had to be at Wang’s home around 8 p.m. every evening unless there was an urgent reason, in which case he had to get permission prior to not showing up. Wang even asked my brother to call him Dad!” According to online chat records, Wang once instructed Tao to “speak the six words frankly and openly”, to which Tao replied: “Dad, I will always love you!”
As Tao neared the completion of his Master’s studies, Wang did not keep the promise he made to him. Instead, he threatened to block Tao from graduating and exhausted every means to deter Tao’s personal choices. He drove Tao out of the laboratory, discharged him as a team leader, kicked him off the football team, and gave him an ultimatum to leave the graduate school within 3 days. Worse yet, Wang called the advisors of foreign universities to stop Tao’s advanced studies abroad.
After Tao’s death, his family presented all this information to WUT. In spite of this, the school did not provide any reasonable explanation regarding Tao’s death, claiming: “The advisor is not responsible, and the University has nothing to do with the incident.” WUT even prevented the family from meeting face-to-face with Wang. At that point, Tao’s family decided to disclose the online chat records between Tao and Wang to the public and to ask that they work together to make sure the truth does not get buried.
Translated by Jean Chen