The Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge is a suicide hotspot. Since it was first built in 1968, over 2,000 people have jumped to their deaths from the bridge.
In 2000, Chen Si was in a bus traveling across the imposing structure when he saw a woman crying on the footpath. Fearing the worst, he left the bus and ran over to her.
The woman told Mr. Chen she was at her wit’s end. She had not eaten for days and had no money. She felt the only answer was to jump. Mr. Chen convinced her otherwise and talked her down.
Saving a life changed Mr. Chen’s life too. He explained that it made him realize that the kindness of a stranger could make a difference.
Several years passed, and Mr. Chen read more articles about people jumping off the bridge. Some days three or four people would end their lives in this way. They appeared to be mostly migrant workers.
As the son of a migrant worker, Mr. Chen sympathized with them. He knew what it was like to be an outsider.
Mr. Chen began patrolling the bridge on foot every weekend. He began approaching people who were about to jump. He persuaded them that life was worth living.
He has since saved over 300 people, nearly one every two weeks. The oldest was a man in his 80s. The youngest was a small baby girl about to be taken over the side of the bridge in her mother’s arms.
Mr. Chen sometimes wrestles people from the bridge. Mostly he offers them a friendly voice and a helping hand.
He has no training in counseling, but he has a big heart. He tells the people about to jump, “I can’t help you. I can only give you a road.”
He will then take them to a church or buy them a meal. He lets them know they are not alone. In many cases, he forms lasting friendships with the people he has saved.
Shi Xiqing racked up heavy debt paying for his daughter’s leukemia treatment. To make matters worse, angry loan sharks beat him up. He was saved from jumping by Mr. Chen. He remains eternally grateful to the man he now calls a friend.
Mr. Shi often accompanies Mr. Chen on his regular patrols of the bridge as do a few American volunteers.
Mr. Chen has seen more than 50 people jump before he could reach them, but he never gives up. He now rides a motorcycle so he can reach people faster. The bike brand is a Tianma, or heavenly horse, which is a fitting choice for the Guardian Angel of Yangtze Bridge.