Thursday, April 24, 2008
On his weekends, Chinese Samaritan saves lives
The woman was still wearing her kitchen apron when Chen Si spotted her on the other side of the Nanjing Bridge.
By the time Chen raced across four lanes of screaming traffic that recent Sunday morning, the woman had already started climbing the narrow railing separating her from the surging waters below.
"After I yanked her back, all she did was cry," said Chen, who is all too familiar with such scenes: The burly 39-year-old has spent practically every weekend of the last four years patrolling this stretch of roadway above the mighty Yangtze River, looking for signs of human despair.
Chen is a self-appointed lifeguard on the so-called Chinese bridge of death. His record so far, he says: 144 lives saved.
Not bad for a one-man crusade. But it hardly makes a dent in the suicide epidemic sweeping this land of mind-numbing change, where the social safety net of the early communist era has given way to the stress of a market-driven economy. By official estimates, as many as 280,000 Chinese kill themselves each year, twice the rate in the United States.