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November 26, 2012

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Self-styled anti-crime hero hit bottom but scars now healing

THE scars on Wu Fujia's neck were routine to treat in the hands of a capable plastic surgeon, but the scars of the soul heal more slowly for the self-styled, anti-crime crusader.

Wu, 29, developed an obsession about being a crime-stopper hero after his father, a security guard, was stabbed to death in 2000 while trying to apprehend a thief on the streets. Over the years, Wu has tackled any number of pickpockets as he combed the streets looking for sneak thieves lurking among crowds.

His one-man crusade left him with deep scars, particularly on his neck, and a string of failed jobs and former girlfriends. He became self-absorbed with a hero image few shared, and that led to depression and even a suicide attempt.

Only one treatment remains

Wu's plight came to the attention of Shanghai Daily earlier this year. As a result of the publicity, a local hospital offered to treat his neck scars free of charge.

The scars are now receding, and Wu said his mental health is improving.

"There's only one medical treatment remaining, and then we will have a period of observation to see if further work needs to be done," said Liu Qi, media coordinator at the Shanghai Time Plastic Surgery Hospital.

Wu, who lives with his widowed mother in the Baoshan District, is trying to start anew. He hasn't completely given up stalking pickpockets, but he is trying to find a steady, full-time job. Most recently, he was doing part-time work conducting street surveys for an advertising company.

"I have applied to a company to sell bottled tea, and I'm still waiting for word back on that," Wu told Shanghai Daily last week. "I need a job, otherwise I can't survive."

Wu, who considers himself a good Samaritan in a sea of public apathy, has been regarded by many as a bit of a crackpot.

He has been labeled a troublemaker for his exploits and even derided as a petty gangster because of his facial scars. Though he has nabbed many pickpockets, most walked free because both victims and witnesses have refused to come forward.

"I don't understand why they didn't want to stay on the scene, talk to police and testify against their attackers," he said. "They should have done the right thing."

Without witnesses or victims, Wu's heroics have often been dismissed as personal disputes played out in street fights.

Good deeds not recognized

"Why is society like this?" he asked. "I had hoped there was more righteousness in the city. I wish there are more people like me who take street crime seriously."

In March, Wu was fired from his job in a restaurant, got drunk and decided to take his own life by jumping into the Huangpu River. He was saved by a church pastor and police as he hung from the rails of a flood-control wall on the Bund.

"Wu did a lot of good things that should have helped his self-esteem, but instead he was depressed because his good deeds weren't recognized by the authorities or the public," said Pastor Wang, of a local church. "He was lost in his own world of catching thieves. He couldn't see his self-worth. He needed to find himself."

After hitting bottom, Wu's life began to turn toward the better. He started medical treatment and got jobs as a salesman and waiter. But they never lasted long. With only a middle-school education, his employment opportunities have been limited. He said he wants to enter a job-skills training program and possibly become an electrician.

"I don't care too much about money as long as I have a steady income," Wu said.

Left unsaid is the impression that Wu's obsession with foiling pickpockets helped turn him into a social misfit who finds it hard to mix with other people or fit into workplaces.

While he may lack interpersonal skills, he doesn't lack heart. Wu has twice been given awards by the Putuo District for catching pickpockets and returning stolen goods to their victims. He was also presented with the Magnolia Award by the Shanghai Blood Administration this year after donating more than 20 liters of blood. Early next year, he's going to Beijing to receive an even higher award for his contributions to the national blood bank.

The recognition has helped buoy his spirits.

"I am happy that blood is used to help those in need," he said. "And I am thankful that I have my health and can do that."

He was also heartened by recent reports of two other good Samaritans who nabbed pickpockets in a Metro station and at Shanghai Railway Station.

"The world is getting better," said Wu.

Shanghai legislators are drafting a law that would protect the legal rights of good Samaritans such as Wu and ensuring care for those who are injured while doing brave deeds to help other people in distress.


How have the past few months affected your life?

I've changed my view toward society. Now I understand that I won't be regarded as a Good Samaritan every time I do a good deed. The authorities have to judge events by every different set of circumstances. But I think there are many good people in society who do deeds that won't be forgotten.

How have the scars and the treatment changed you as a person?

I'm still keen on catching pickpockets, but I've learned to protect myself in the process. Now I observe and then call police if I see something suspicious. I don't react unless a thief has grabbed something and started to flee.

What are your plans for the future?

I need to find a job first, I mean a permanent job, and get my life back on track. The sub-district government officials have suggested that I learn a skill, and I have agreed. I want to become an electrician, and when I have saved enough money, I'd like to get a driver's license. Someday, I hope to open a small shop. I'll be 30 next year, so I need to think about the rest of my life.


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