In A Nutshell
China has emerged as one of the suicide capitals of the world. Many choose to kill themselves by leaping into rivers. It has become such a problem that there are now people who are employed as “body fishers,” dragging corpses back to shore to be recovered by grieving family members.
The Whole Bushel
China has one of the highest suicide rates in the world; according to the China Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, well over 250,000 people take their own lives there annually, many of them women. It is estimated that 26 percent of all the world’s suicides happen in China.
So many kill themselves that a chilling cottage industry has sprung up, a career of “body fishing”—prowling the Yellow River in search of floating corpses, which are then recovered and sold back to grief-stricken families for a tidy profit. Most of the victims are swept downstream from the city of Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province in Northwest China. It is suggested that while some of these bodies come from murders and accidental flood drownings, some 85 percent are the result of suicide.
It is a sad and ugly business; body fishers keep their catch submerged to keep the face from rotting. It is much easier to make a profit when relatives can positively identify their loved ones. Wei Zhijun, a body fisher who earned the nickname of the “Yellow River Ghost Man,” makes a tidy profit practicing his macabre craft, claiming that during the summer flood season, he has found 20 bodies in a single day. Most times, the corpses are snagged up in other garbage in the river; if they make it far enough downstream, they are sucked into the turbines of dams and gruesomely dismembered.
According to statistics posted by the Lanzhou city water station, around 30 percent of the victims go unclaimed. After around three weeks, the body fishers will untie their “catch” and allow it to drift away. Perhaps most disturbingly of all, the Yellow River serves as a source of drinking water.
Of course, the problem isn’t limited to the Yellow River; in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge is a popular place to leap from, so much so that at least one Good Samaritan has made it his life’s mission to patrol the length of the bridge, trying to save distraught jumpers.