Hanging On--One man’s mission to save lives in Nanjing
Nanjing’s Yangtze River Bridge used to be the pride of China – its 4.5-kilometer span was once the longest in the world. And while it’s no longer the only bridge in town – a new bridge crosses the river downstream – the bridge has a new claim to fame: its Good Samaritan.
Chen Si’s mission is to save people from committing suicide. The one hundred-meter-high bridge attracts the lost and lonely who go there to throw themselves into the coffee-colored waters far below. What drives Chen to prevent people killing themselves? "All I want to do is to give those desperate people some hope," he says.
Chen has seen his share of hardship since his mother abandoned him at the age of six. He began coming to the bridge after he read reports about the suicides in local papers and was shocked when he read about a migrant worker who had fallen from the top of a building after the crowd below encouraged him to jump. "We have to teach people to love and treasure life," said Chen, who earns a living selling small commercial signs.
Chen has stopped forty people from taking their own lives. "Women are easy to deal with," he said. "You can talk to them and try and get them to cry out their pain. The men, I have to tackle because they seldom listen and can be very strong," he said. He arrives shortly after dawn on the weekends and patrols the bridge until sundown. He spends the days looking for clues in the souls of strangers, particularly watching solitary people staring down at the water. "Potential jumpers are very easy to recognize," he said. "They walk without spirit."
With suicide now the leading cause of death for Chinese between 15 to 34, Chen insists that he comes to the bridge because someone needs to. At least 1,000 people are believed to have jumped since it opened in 1968. "I've only got one pair of hands but if I can save one life, then that's one life," he says.