Jumping to death off the Yangtze River Bridge

A very strange and poignant story in today’s Times tells of a man in China who has volutneered to do the oddest public service: he tries to spot potential suicides as they approach a bridge, and stop them from jumping. Quite amazing.

By his own count, Mr. Chen, who is in his mid-30’s, has stopped 42 people from jumping since he began his patrols a year ago. He has talked them down and wrestled them down. He will hike up his pant leg to show a deep laceration from one tussle. He also has watched five people slip out of his grasp and fall to their deaths in the Yangtze.

It is a job that has required him to become a detective looking for clues in the souls of strangers. He stands on the southern end of the bridge, wearing sunglasses and a cap to block the boiling sun. He does not smile or talk much. He watches people, particularly the solitary figures staring down on the coffee-colored water.

“It is very easy to recognize,” he said of potential jumpers. “A person walks without spirit.”

Mr. Chen says he comes to the bridge because someone needs to – suicide is now the leading cause of death for Chinese aged 15 to 34. The Yangtze River Bridge, like major bridges in other countries, attracts a steady stream of jumpers. At least 1,000 people are believed to have jumped since it opened in 1968. The bridge is a national landmark in China; it is also more than 100 yards above the roiling Yangtze.

“It’s a place that has a 100 percent success rate,” said Fang Xueming, an attendant who works at the portable bathrooms on the bridge.

Chen has become somewhat of a celebrity, and people considering suicide call him constantly for psychological help.

The Discussion: 11 Comments

I saw this guy on TV back when I was in Nanjing, and thought he was a pretty cool guy. Now I’m glad to see he is getting some more of the press he deserves. People doing things like this, for the good of others, is something that I really hope could develop more here in China.

September 21, 2004 @ 9:09 pm | Comment

wouldn’t it be easier just to string some nets under the bridge.

September 21, 2004 @ 11:52 pm | Comment

“coffee-colored water” … ewww … not the type of coffee that would appeal to me

September 22, 2004 @ 2:55 am | Comment

This is really interesting. Suicide in the PRC has intrigued me. Oddly enough, the PRC is the only country in the world where female suicide rates exceed male ones. Why this is, I still haven’t been able to figure it out. Perhaps it is simply statistical error though it seems to be fairly accurate as figures were in part supported by the WHO. I’d like to think it was sexual egalitarianism fostered by 3 decades of Marxism-Leninism, yet this is unlikely too as all other communist and former communist states still fall in the normal male>female suicide rates. The inverse maybe true as well since China has traditionally been a highly patriarchal society, yet the same could be said of any number of societies in the world let alone Asia yet female suicide rates are universally lower excepting in the sole case of China. This anomally really just bugs me because I haven’t been able to pin it down to my satisfaction yet. Perhaps if figures were available for the DPRK I could finally work out an expalantion to my liking, but I doubt it.

September 22, 2004 @ 6:33 pm | Comment

a net would be a fun way to resolve this problem, but based on my own experiences here, i am sure that the only thing hopping off of this bridge more than people would be trash. just imagine all the trash that would gather there… ew…
and as for female suicide rates, i would tend to think that they may come from the same source as the high female infanticide rate. umm…”sexual egalitarianism fostered by 3 decades of Marxism-Leninism?” sorry, nope.

September 22, 2004 @ 8:30 pm | Comment

See that explanation doesn’t work at all for a glaring number of reasons. Namely that many other patriarchal societies which face a population imbalance retain the normal male>suicide rates. For example, South Korea’s gender imbalance is nearly as great as that of China’s (though admittedly it gets less attention) and it stems from the same exact root causes that has affected China. India too, suffers from the gender imbalance though to a slightly lesser degree, yet it’s suicide proprotions are normal as well. For some reason, China is the only nation where more women kill themselves than men, and the simple oft used explanation of patriarchy is useless considering there are any number of other equally patriarchal societies where this is not the case.

September 22, 2004 @ 9:11 pm | Comment

your point doesn’t quite hold up, because it is wrong. boys to girls, south korea: 110 to 100, and china is 119 to 100. that is not about the same, especially considering that china does not have the strongest record keeping methods for rural villages. could you provide me with any evidence that the female infanticide rate in south korea is even close to that of china? i know that China loves to portray itself as a place fall for it, kind of, but now I consider the conditions for girls and women in China to not be anywhere near what they are portrayed as.

September 23, 2004 @ 12:13 am | Comment

Rosh Hashanah: The Angel of the Yangtze Bridge

Chen Si has saved at least 42 people from certain death. How? By noticing that they “walk without spirit”. Who are you an angel for?

September 23, 2004 @ 12:25 am | Comment

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All the news that’s fit to post… Hong Kong, Taiwan and China With the peaceful rise of Hu Jintao, Richard has a good look on what it all means, although CDN contends Hu has sold his soul. At the same time some things haven’t changed (the article in q…

September 23, 2004 @ 12:52 am | Comment

At one point just a few years ago, South Koreas male/female birthrate reached almost as high as China’s. However rising affluence and aknowledgement of the problem has driven it down. In either case, you fail to create an effective connection to the two events. How does a patriarchal society neccessarily lead to masses of female suicide? Considering the value of women in wahbist Islamic societies such as Saudi Arabia, going by your line of reasoning one should expect women lining up to kill themselves.


Theres also a number of other articles which states that South Korea’s birth ratio, at least in 1988 was 114/100.

Another article here, more recently states that South Korea’s ratio was as high as 116/100.

Suicide data can be found here. http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/suiciderates/en/ and it shows that China is clearly the only nation that shows a higher female/male suicide rate. Simply attempting to explain this off as due to China’s population imbalance just doesn’t cut it.

Personally, I’m thinking it maybe due to a statistic anomaly of some sort possibly due to sampling errors.

September 23, 2004 @ 4:06 pm | Comment

Another possibility for the higher female suicide rate in China may be the population control regime – my understanding is that China has a fairly drastic control in this regard. If fewer women are having children, and women who have children have fewer children, that may change a control parameter: (1) children bring meaning to a woman’s life (which is not to say they are the only thing that does, only that they very clearly are important that way) and in some cases that meaning, the pleasure involved in having children, may be decisive, tipping the scales towards living for someone on the cusp; (2) women who might be tempted to commit suicide in other societies don’t because they have children to look after (here, the influence is from duty rather than meaning or enjoyment).

September 24, 2004 @ 5:37 am | Comment

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