Publisher picks up hitch-hikers, hoping to inspire kindness in others
Newspaper publisher hopes the free rides he offers to strangers will inspire others to contribute their own small acts of kindness
Xu Zhijun, 44, is one of the publishers of the government newspaper the Land and Resources News, but he is better known by his nickname the "hitch-hike man". For nearly two decades he has been offering free lifts when he drives from his home near the China University of Geosciences in Beijing to his workplace in Xisi in the capital. In recent years, he has started taking photographs of people he gives lifts to and posting them online. He is always keen to meet new people.
How did you come up with the idea of giving free lifts?
I was offered a ride for the first time when I was six and a postman took me from my village to a township to see my grandma. That scene is deeply engraved in my mind. I was given more lifts when I entered primary school and middle school. I later went to boarding school and returned home once a week all the way from Jintan county to Zhiqian township [in Jiangsu province] and then on to my village of Zakou. Many people offered me a ride, on bicycles, motorcycles, tricycles and tractors. When I got my first car in the 1990s it felt normal for me to give others a lift. I was excited and happy to offer a free lift for the first time.
What is the purpose of the pictures and stories on your site?
It is like a journal. I jot down what happened and share it. I always ask permission to take a picture and 90 per cent of them say yes. The 10 per cent who say no have reasons. For example, a pregnant woman said she looked fat and preferred to have a picture taken after she gave birth. A mother with a primary school child declined to let the child go on camera. No one has complained about publishing pictures on social media. I want to show people it's not a big deal giving a lift and anybody can do it. There are many tales of people afraid of helping elderly people to their feet for fear that they might be blamed for the fall and be asked to pay hospital bills. But I have escorted many elderly people to hospital and nobody has blamed me for anything. I just want to show it is very easy to do good things. Some colleagues are starting to offer free lifts, too. I think we can change things little by little.
How exactly do you find those who need a free lift?
I keep an eye out for the needy. After years of practise I have learned who needs a lift. For example, people walking in a hurry, elderly people carrying bags inscribed with the name of a hospital. There is a walk of nearly two kilometres from my residential area to the main road and I usually pick up strangers there. I say something like: "Hello. I can offer you a free lift? Do you need a ride?" I don't stop at bus stops or taxi ranks. I also started a group on WeChat so people can book my car.
You must meet a lot of people?
The first person I gave a lift to after the Lunar New Year holidays, somebody who I thought was a complete stranger, told me she had been in my car before and I had taken her to hospital. Her husband had been in my car as well. Many strangers I have given a lift to actually work for my ministry and related companies. I have got to know many people that way. There was a time I took a woman to her workplace, but she declined to have a photo taken because she was a government spokesman.
What do you family think of this?
My eight-year-old daughter is very proud. My wife supports me, but worries. She wants me to be safe. I have some rules to ensure safety. My car, a Volkswagen Santana that is more than 10 years old, is valued at about 5,000 yuan (HK$6,300), but I have spent 3,800 yuan on insurance, including for passengers. I don't give somebody a lift if I don't know the route well, or if the passenger wants to go a long distance. It must be a convenient ride. I don't take drunk people or those who are smoking. If the passengers are two men who know each other, I won't offer them a lift either.
Have your ever charged passengers?
I have never accepted any money, not even five yuan, because once you accept even a small amount it changes the nature of what you are doing. One time someone left 50 yuan on the seat and I donated it.
Do you let your daughter hitch?
My daughter is only eight and I think she can only accept a lift when she is with me. I will offer some advice to her when she grows up, or to any woman, in fact. Do not take a lift for a long journey or go to a strange place in a stranger's car. Better choose public transport. Be alert for any risk. Safety always comes first.