Taxi driver who truly serves the people
"A man cannot be known from his looks alone, nor can the sea be measured with a dipper."
The old Chinese saying came to mind immediately when I met Cao Qian, a taxi driver from Northwest China's Qinghai Province.
About 170 cm tall and wearing glasses, the 45-year-old looks more like a harmless bookworm than a hero who has just received an award for his bravery in fighting against crime.
The "Ready-to-help-a-just-cause Award for Drivers," issued in late June, is funded by PetroChina's Kunlun Lubricant Co.
A total of 10 drivers from across the country got the award for their selfless acts of bravery. Cao is among those who won the most votes.
In this case, the old Chinese saying is dead on. There is no way that I could have fathomed this man's courage and bravery from his unassuming appearance.
The only hint of give-away was his bright, piercing eyes. Once he started telling his stories to me, he became very animated. His eyes seemed to penetrate everything they came upon.
In Xining, the provincial capital of Qinghai, Cao is a bit of a legend.
Since 1997 when he first became a taxi driver in the city, he has tracked down and captured many criminal suspects, including two who were later sentenced to death, involved in at least 150 criminal cases of various types, including drug trafficking, rape and murder.
"In most cases the situation was dangerous but also exciting," Cao said.
He recalled a night in March 2001. About 11 pm two drivers had a disagreement over a minor problem and eventually came to blows. One of the drivers, who drove a Santana, pulled a knife and stabbed two people in the group that had sided against him, a father and son.
Almost all other onlookers were frightened and fled the scene, except Cao who happened to have witnessed the entire thing.
Cao quickly jumped out of his car, walked towards the man with the knife and quietly told him to put it down.
"He told me to 'bugger off,' but I didn't hesitate. I calmly walked up to him. My composure befuddled him and he didn't know quite what to do. I took advantage of his hesitation, suddenly grabbed him by the wrist, and threw him on the ground," Cao recalled.
The police arrived in 10 minutes, to find that the knife wielder was squatting obediently.
But Cao did not leave it at that. He drove the wounded father and son to hospital.
On another occasion, in May of last year, two dubious looking men took his cab.
"They looked exactly like the sinister characters we see in movies. One looked like he was the ringleader, while the other appeared to be his underling," Cao said.
After getting in his car they made a few phone calls. Several minutes later they told Cao to stop.
The one who looked like an underling then got out, walked to another person waiting at the roadside, passed a small bag to him, and then returned to the car.
This happened three times. Cao's experience told him that the two men were traffickers completing drug deals.
The underling left after completing four deliveries, but the one who appeared to be the ringleader stayed in the cab.
"But it was impossible for me to take action. We were driving on a deserted street, there were few pedestrians and passersby," Cao said.
While he was still pondering what to do, Cao noticed two traffic policemen. Not far away, their police car was parked.
"I am quite familiar with most of the police officers in Xining and I remembered that one of the young men standing out there had been in the anti-riot squad before he joined the traffic police, so I knew he would be of help," Cao said.
So Cao stopped near the police car. The suspect, who realized what was going on, opened the door, jumped out, and started to run away.
The traffic policemen understood the situation immediately. One of them pounced on the suspect, but was knocked down.
The other policeman grabbed the suspect from behind. Cao, while trying to catch the suspect, was also knocked down.
"He was tall and bulky. His thigh was as big as my waist," Cao said.
They finally overpowered the suspect, and found that he was carrying 8 grams of heroin.
Born a 'meddler'
Cao said his always being ready to get involved in things that did not concern him was "instinctive."
"I was born a meddler. I cannot pretend not to notice when other people need help. It is like a hobby and I am addicted to it," he said in self-mockery.
When he was a child, he was frequently bullied by other children. That led him to learn kung fu so he could protect himself and the weak.
His two elder brothers were wushu practitioners, and he learned a great deal from them.
But he never attended any formal kung fu courses.
The first time he suffered from his unusual "hobby" was in 1984, when he was still an employee of a local building supply company. He fought single-handed against seven thieves. His lower jaw was cracked and he was hospitalized for 126 days.
When he left hospital, his weight had dropped from 65 to 45 kilograms.
In 1997 he quit his job and became a taxi driver. The new job meant that he had to deal with people from all walks of life every day, giving him many "opportunities" to get himself involved in a wide variety of criminal cases.
Besides his lower jaw, both of his arms and one of his legs have been injured.
He has also got more than 50 stitches: three on the back of his neck, six on his left palm, eight on his head, seven on his forehead, and two dozen more on different parts of his body.
He got a cut on his forehead last year, during an unexpected attack. He was driving his cab in an alley when he saw a man standing at the roadside waving to him to stop.
As soon as he stopped his car, he was jumped by several people who appeared from nowhere. They cut his forehead and then ran away immediately.
In another unexpected attack, he luckily escaped being shot.
He still does not know what was behind the attacks. Cao thinks they were revenge attacks.
He added that he is never afraid, neither when involved in a fracas nor afterwards.
"I just feel the need to be involved. I never feel any fear at any time," he said.
But he cannot help worrying about his family - his wife and his 16-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter. In order to guarantee the safety of his family, he even moved his home two years ago.
Cao's unusual bravery has also won him numerous local, provincial and national awards.
But he says he does not care too much about the awards. What he does care about is people's gratitude.
He says he likes it when people he has helped thank him.
"I treat them like my own brothers and sisters. When they thank me, I forget all the pains and economic losses I have suffered," he said.
Once Cao met a teenager who ran away from home without informing his family, and took him home.
"The young man's grandfather, who was over 70 years old, knelt down before me when I brought his grandson home," he said.
After this was reported in the local media, his name became widely known in Xining.
Many local people express their respect for him in their own way. Once he received a bullet-proof vest from a couple who did not know him at all. They sent the vest to his company, together with a letter saying that they adored his prowess and wished him safe keeping.
The local media also strongly approve of what he is doing, and they will not use any pictures that show his face clearly.
The local police have made efforts to guarantee Cao's safety. The local 110 hotline, the emergency rescue service run by the police, have Cao's mobile phone number in their computerized control centre.
"In any emergency, all I have to do is dial 110. I don't need to say a word. The police will know it is me and come to my aid. I am the only person that enjoys this special treatment," said Cao.
However, his life as an ordinary taxi driver has not changed too much. Every day he earns about 160 yuan (US$19), the same as other taxi drivers.