In today’s modern life, is extremely easy to get lost in our own little worlds. We are so busy focused on doing our own thing, sticking to our personal routine, or perhaps, just drinking at the pub. But that is not what Chen Si, a 48-year-old worker in China, is doing with his time.
Every week Mr. Chen drives 12.4 miles from his home to the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge, one of the most famous bridges in China. The enormous structure was completed in 1968 and it used to be a strong symbol of Communist China’s industrial power, but nowadays is known as China’s most notorious suicide spot. From 1996 up to 2006, more than 2,000 people ended their lives in this grim part of the city.
“I was once one of them”, Mr. Chen recounts in an interview. “I was facing extreme hardship working as a vegetable seller in Nanjing, and almost ended my life, but a kind-hearted person helped me to find hope on that day.” He further adds, “When my life got better, I wanted to help others find hope.”
Mr. Chen never forgot how difficult life was for him in 1990, back when he was a migrant from a poverty-stricken village trying to find his way in the big city, “Sometimes, you face difficulty while living alone away from your home, all you need is a little encouragement from others.”
The friendly passer-by helped Mr. Chen get back on his feet and counseled him to open his own grocery store. He decided to heed his good friend’s advice and things started looking up for him. With the growing rate of people who visit the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge to commit suicide, Mr. Chen decided that he had to do something.
September 19th, 2003 was his first day as a volunteer on the bridge and on that same day he met Wang, a man who was ready to end his life. Mr. Chen patiently talked to Wang who claimed to have lost all hope after being wrongfully convicted and being imprisoned for two years. He was the first man among 321 people to be saved by Mr. Chen throughout 13 years of voluntary work.
Most people who attempted suicide on Mr. Chen’s watch were dealing with either one of five issues: debts, emotional trauma, domestic violence, terminal illness, or mental illness.
Day in and day out, Mr. Chen patrols the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge to save those who have given up on life. Having a meager salary of £464 a month, he spends half of it in providing further assistance to the people he has saved from death. He went as far as renting a two-bedroom flat near the Yangtze River costing him £116 a month to temporarily home those he has saved.
Mr. Chen has also posted steel plates with his phone number all across the bridge, acting as a suicide hotline on days when he cannot drive. He says according to his telephone bill, about 55,000 people have called on him to talk.
With his kind and selfless acts, Mr. Chen Si has cast light on what appeared to be a dark and somber bridge over the Yangtze River.