Wed. Feb 21st, 2024

Li Yuan Li Yuan

In response to the sudden death of 24-year-old Ogilvy & Mather employee Li Yuan (aka Gabriel Li) at the agency’s Beijing PR office, O&M China Director Sarah Guldin tells Business Insider that the rumors Li had worked excessive overtime prior to his death were not true.

The agency emailed a translation of a story from the Beijing Times, which the agency was quoted in the day after Li’s death.

In contrast to previous reports that Li died from “overwork,” the Beijing Times’ piece states that Li had not worked overtime for a month straight prior to his death. In fact, according to Li’s supervisor, Selina Teng, he had taken a week off due to ill-health. The day he died was his first day back at the office after taking the sick leave. 

“That afternoon he seemed normal during lunch but just ate less.” Teng said.

The Beijing paper also reported that Li had been in the process of taking a series of medical tests due to feeling “stomach discomfort but prior medical exams had not revealed anything abnormal”. Li was intending to have further medical check-ups. 

Teng confirmed that Li let out a loud shout and collapsed at his desk at 5 p.m. Monday, and that colleagues phoned for help soon thereafter. According to the paper, a person at the scene blogged that Li’s “face was sallow with dilated pupils [and that he was] lying stiffly on a stretcher. [His] chest was being pumped but with no signs of improvement.” 

Doctors announced that the cause of death was due to sudden cardiac arrest. 

By 3 p.m. the following day, O&M China made its official statement via social media:

Last night, we’ve forever lost a young partner. This Ogilvy Public Relations Beijing staff was well-liked by his colleagues and clients for his professional capabilities and team spirit. This sudden tragedy has caused us deep grief. We hope he can rest in peace in another world. We hope that our partners will join us to pray for him, light a candle and warm his way to heaven.

The young Chinese adman’s sudden death seems to have a struck a nerve in a country known for overworking its employees. Initial reports were quick to attribute Li’s fatal heart attack to stress and fatigue due to spending long hours at the office. Death caused by overwork is common in China – 600,000 Chinese workers are reported to die of exhaustion each year – that the term, guolaosi, has been coined to describe it. (A similar phenomenon is prevalent in Japan where it is known as karoshi.) 

Li was a member of the company’s technology team. He would have celebrated his 25th birthday this Sunday.

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