Life more important than success, says activist
Beijing-based Zhejiang native Zhu Hai, 43, has failed in business and has a broken marriage behind him. But he feels there is one area where he is making a mark: maintaining a free suicide-prevention hotline he launched in 2005. Mr Zhu says he has persuaded hundreds of people not to kill themselves.
What led you to launch the anti-suicide hotline?
I was involved in various businesses in different cities for more than 10 years. I persistently tried to pursue wealth, but I also felt lonely and tired. I believed success in business was the benchmark of a successful man. But I was not very successful. Then one day I heard a speaker say helping others succeed was a good thing. I suddenly thought that helping others live would be a better thing to do. Life is more important than success. I hope I can become one of the main forces in the country for suicide prevention and help improve the overall prevention rate.
How did your family and friends respond to your idea?
I did not tell my family. They did not know what I was doing in Beijing until a newspaper in my home town reported on my hotline. My ex-wife asked me to go back home, and my brothers who are both businessmen did not support me because it was not financially rewarding. Even my father, who had threatened to set fire to his family's house if they did not let him volunteer for the Korean war, was against the idea.
Most of my friends were opposed, saying it was difficult to persuade a hopeless person not to commit suicide and I would be held responsible if I failed to persuade them not to do it. They also said it was unnecessary for me to do this. I struggled with the idea for quite a while, but I read books on the subject and I believed I could do it. With a little courage, I started the hotline and found myself addicted to it.
What are the difficulties?
To do it well, you must love people and cherish life from the bottom of your heart. When people first talk to me, they pour out their grievances. After they air these things, they feel better but I feel bad. So sometimes I feel exhausted and worn out. Now I have four other people doing this and we take turns talking to people in need. I hope I can do more of the management and organisation, and the hotline workers can be more qualified.
My problem is also a lack of money. Now I'm using my savings to maintain the hotline, pay the workers and the office's expenses. I don't know how to solve those problems yet. I don't want to charge fees from the hotline. If I wanted to make money, I would do some other business.
What is the key to preventing suicide?
Give people a chance to talk, and then help them reorientate themselves, recover their confidence and hope, and find their value. I am not an eloquent person, but I can use my heart to gain people's trust and find a solution for them. Sometimes I can use my business knowledge to help unsuccessful people with their careers. But I first judge and categorise the people coming to me. If they have psychiatric problems, I refer them to hospitals; but if they only have a personal blow such as in their career or emotional life, I can help them.
How has the hotline changed your approach to life?
I think our society does not care enough about the problem of suicide. Suicide is not horrible, but not preventing suicide is. I think that if I can save one person one year, it will be meaningful. I am not against euthanasia, but sometimes people will opt for suicide because they don't know the right way to handle difficulties. If they change their perspective, they may change their idea [about killing themselves]. I want to do something significant and different from others. Caring about life is a part of human nature.