Hanging on to their jobs

Updated: 2012-05-31 08:42

By Ma Lie and Lu Hongyan (China Daily)

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Hanging on to their jobs
Clockwise from top

A cleaner hangs from a cliff to collect trash in cracks and on trees.

A worker sweeps the narrow lane snaking along Mount Huashan, in Shaanxi province.

A worker shoulders garbage down the mountain.

A rope is all that prevents a cleaner from falling down the cliff.

Tourists create most litter, discarding bottles, plastic bags and paper scraps.

Photos by Chen Tuanjie / for China Daily

Suspended by ropes from steep cliffs, the men who keep Mount Huashan clean are also lifesavers. Ma Lie and Lu Hongyan report in Xi'an.

Like "spider men", they hang from the cliffs, suspended by ropes, cleaning up Mount Huashan, in Shaanxi province. One of the country's top attractions, famed for its steepness, it stands 2,200 meters above sea level and receives more than 1 million tourists a year.

Since ancient times, there has been just one road up the mountain that snakes for 20 km around the five peaks.

Yang Wujun, 41, one of the mountain's 146 cleaners, starts work at 6 am, collecting trash that has accumulated in cracks and on trees. Yang is responsible for some 200 meters of the route and requires help from four colleagues, who tie their ropes firmly to the steel railings overlooking the cliffs.

"It's true. I do get frightened," the former farmer says. "But my duty is to keep the mountain clean, so I must overcome the fear."

Cleaner Meng Jianwen, 36, says tourists create most litter, discarding bottles, plastic bags and scraps of paper.

"Some tourists think that if they throw their waste off the cliff, it keeps the road clean, but they don't realize we have to collect it," Meng says.

During weekends or the peak tourism season from March to October, Yang says he collects up to seven or eight bags of waste, weighing more than 20 kg, in a work day.

Sun Shaoning, director of the management station, says the 146 cleaners are seasonal workers and at peak times work about 25 days a month.

They stay on the mountain when they are working. Some stay in mountain caves or in temples, as there is not enough alternative accommodation on the mountain. Every year, the team of cleaners picks up about 180 tons of waste, which they carry down the mountain on their shoulders.

The cleaners also occasionally help tourists, who are injured, or talk down those who are contemplating suicide.

In 2011, the cleaners dissuaded 46 people from jumping off the cliffs.

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