This Hero Spends His Weekends Saving People From Jumping Off a Bridge

Some say the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge in China is the world’s most popular place to commit suicide. Since the bridge went up in 1968, some 2,000 people have leapt from it to their deaths. For well over a decade now, a man named Chen Si has made it his personal mission to stop people from doing that.

Chen Si is a regular guy with a regular job. During the week, he works for a transport company as a logistics manager. He has a wife and daughter. He makes a decent salary, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary. How did a man like this become the guardian angel of the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge? All it took was compassion and empathy.

Chen Si grabs man attempting to jump.

Chen Si grabs man attempting to jump.

The Chinese constructed the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge in 1968. The bridge sits 100 yards above the river, a height guaranteed to ensure anyone who jumps will indeed die. At times, three or four people reportedly have taken their lives there on a single day. That appalling fact is simply unacceptable to Chen.

Chen’s first rescue happened on the spur of the moment in 2000. On a bus sitting on the bridge, he’d just read a newspaper article about someone who’d jumped. He looked out and saw a despondent woman and just knew what she was going to do.

He jumped off the bus and ran to the woman. Though she was at the lowest point of her life, Chen talked her out of jumping.

“That incident had a huge impact on me,” Chen told The National. “It made me realize that if someone just talked to the person, you could stop him or her.” For a time, that one rescue stood alone.

Then in 2003, Chen heard about a young woman from his hometown who’d just graduated from college. She committed suicide by jumping from that same bridge. That story galvanized Chen into action. He began devoting full days on Saturdays and Sundays to patrolling the bridge for people who looked like they might just decide to jump.

“If I save one person,” Chen told The New York Times in 2004, “one is a lot.”

Using all his free time this way is a huge sacrifice, but Chen is a dedicated man. By 2016, in fact, he’d saved an amazing 321 people. He’s been steadfastly patrolling on his motorbike for over 13 years now.

Saving them is only part of the job, however. Chen typically takes those he saves to a nearby restaurant to feed and talk with them. Later on he follows up with them, helping them solve their problems, if he can. He figures it makes no sense to save them if they’re going to go right back out there and try again.

Chen even rented an apartment near the bridge so he has someplace to take those he saves, if they have nowhere else to go.

How does he know who’s about to take the leap?

“It is very easy to recognize,” he told The New York Times. “A person walks without spirit.” Even when Chen successfully identifies someone with suicidal intent, though, it doesn’t always end well.

“Often it really is a life and death struggle,” he told NPR. “They’ve already climbed over the railings, and I’m left hanging onto them by an arm. I have to drag them back over. Sometimes after I’ve saved someone, when I’m not paying attention, they jump. And there are those I don’t reach in time.”

Suicide is a huge problem in China. It is the single biggest killer among those between 15 and 34 years of age. Approximately 22.23 people out of every 100,000 in China kill themselves annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s some 287,000 people every year. More women than men commit suicide in China — up to 500 every day.

A number of factors drive the high suicide rate, including China’s one-child rule. The Chinese sometimes see suicide as one way to resolve insurmountable problems — psychological, health, financial or family problems, mostly.

“When I was young, even though we didn’t have meat to eat, the suicide rate was very low,” Chen told NPR. “Now, even though we all have meat to eat, there’s a lot of jealousy and spiritual emptiness. People are no good at dealing with stress nowadays, particularly the single-child generation.”

Chen’s work inspires others to help him. Volunteers sometimes assist with his patrols so he doesn’t have to do this job all by himself. One man Chen saved now accompanies him to the bridge sometimes and eats lunch with him. This self-imposed responsibility weighs heavily on him, so the companionship helps. Chen’s wife doesn’t like him spending so much time and money in this way.

Word of Chen’s amazing work reached filmmakers Jordan Horowitz and Frank Ferendo. Together, in 2015 they made an award-winning documentary about Chen Si called Angel of Nanjing. The film brought Chen’s story increased worldwide attention, but he remains a humble man.

The Angel of Nanjing filmmakers responded to steady requests for a way to help Chen by establishing a fund for him. Now, those who want to assist Chen’s work can help pay his expenses so he doesn’t have to cover it all himself. Surely that will please his wife, right?

This is a stellar example of the difference one person can make in the world. So many people got a second chance at life because of Chen Si. He believes strongly that someone has to be on that bridge to help them. He’d probably be there it every day if he didn’t have to support his family. The fact that he’s been doing this work non-stop for over 13 years is nothing short of amazing.

How many of us would dedicate so much money and time purely to help desperate people? Chen’s an activist deserving of respect and praise. We need more people like him, especially these days. Compassion and empathy are in short supply, but they are out there. Oh yes, they are out there.

Photo Credit: "Angel of Nanjing" press materials

45 comments

Marie W
Marie W6 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Melania P
Melania Padilla7 months ago

What a waste of time

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Ingrid H
Ingrid H9 months ago

Remarkable. Thanks.

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heather g
heather g10 months ago

Chen certainly needs local recognition - not in terms of a medal, but funding for his time and his commitment to this cause. This work is also stressful when he's not successful. He also needs regular assistance.

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Celine R
Celine Russo10 months ago

I guess that not everybody wants to stay though... What happens if one tells him "No sir, I really just want to die can you leave me alone please?"?

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Shirley S
Shirley S10 months ago

The police should be keeping a lookout on the bridge.

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william Miller
william Miller10 months ago

Thanks

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John B
John B10 months ago

Thanks Susan for sharing the story and history. Kudos to Chen Si!

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Joan F
Joan F10 months ago

I think he should mind his own business.

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Anne M
Anne Moran10 months ago

I hate to break it to you Chen,, but being an adult, you will eventually "shoulder heavy burdens".... - It's part of life, and some will "shoulder" more than others.. - I know I've 'shouldered' more than most,, but I'm still here, and would never think of bumping myself off.. - In fact,, all my horrible experiences only made me stronger.. - But hey,, that's just me...

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