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75-year-old catches 6,000 thieves in 42 years

By Wu Yan | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2017-07-25 10:10

Armed with a homemade spiked club, a 75-year-old man in Kunming, Southwest China's Yunnan province, has caught 6,000 thieves in the last 42 years, all out of a sense of justice.

Sun Yunyi runs a key-making shop at the intersection of Longxiang Road and Fengzhu Street. Every day after lunch, he strolls the streets to look for thieves.

"Thieves are afraid of being found out and wear a certain kind of look on their faces. And they always stare at another's bag," Sun said. "I've recognized thieves without a single miss."

He caught thieves for the first time in 1975, when he was a 33-year-old strong man who helped police officers bust a criminal gang that stole 154 bicycles. Although proud of himself, he did not think of turning his good deed into a habit until an incident changed his life that same year.

Framed by a thief, Sun dedicates himself to catching thieves

While working in a hospital's canteen at the time, Sun found out a colleague had three times stolen cooking oil from the canteen. He forgave the thief the first two times as the latter begged him not to tell, but reported the thief the third time it happened.

However, the thief framed Sun, saying that Sun stole the oil and Sun lost his job.

"How can a man be so wicked? Since then I've hated thieves from the bottom of my heart," Sun said. After the incident, he made catching thieves his avocation.

Without a job, Sun started to make keys by installing a key-making machine on a bicycle and looked for customers around a bustling market on Longxiang Road, where thieves frequented.

His most outstanding achievements were catching 43 thieves in one day and eight at one time when working at the market.

When he caught the eight thieves, he asked others to call the police and he himself pinned one of the thieves down on the ground. When the other seven thieves persuaded him to release the man, the police showed up and caught the gang.

Making a spiked club to confront vicious thieves

As Sun often confronted thieves who had weapons, in 1983 he made a 1.5-meter spiked club to carry for protection.

Once, when a thief tried to stab him in his heart with a knife, Sun used his spiked club to snap the knife into half and save his own life. A small scar on his chest is a reminder of that encounter.

Years of struggle with thieves have left many scars on Sun's body, including many knife scars. He always has tincture of iodine and cotton swabs, which are used to deal with cuts.

"The most horrible weapons are female thieves' fingernails," he said while rolling up his trousers. His legs are scratched, bearing many black or red strip-shaped scars.

Skills rather than brute force are needed to catch thieves

Sun said catching thieves calls for skills rather than brute force and he constantly draws lessons from the past.

"Once I spotted three thieves but one escaped, eventually. I thought over the reason behind the escape and decided to not let it happen again", he said.

Sun said he is so familiar with thieves' actions that "once the thief raises a hand, he knows what the thief will do next."

Once he saw two thieves pretending to queue behind a woman but were actually trying to steal her wallet. He stretched out his hand between the two thieves. "When the thief in front stole the wallet and passed it to the thief behind, I caught the wallet," Sun said, adding that he then grabbed two thieves' belts and rapidly pulled them down to the ground.

Speaking of his experiences with thieves, Sun very vividly told his stories with hand gestures, as if he was on the scene.

He is brave enough to stop every crime, even a criminal with a gun. Once he saw a thief steal a gun and use it to shoot the gun owner, but he rushed to the shooter who opened fire on Sun. A bullet ran under his arm and he almost lost his life.

"On that occasion, I had no time to think about myself. But I pay attention to my safety in normal conditions," he said.

To reassure his family members, Sun sets a rule: Protect his own safety first and not be a 'dead hero'. If he can't stop a thief, he'll follow the thief and catch him when police show up.

Cases recorded in 10 books through 1998

The thief-catcher became famous in Kunming. Even the police gave him several criminal case record books and asked him to write down cases he encountered, including information on the thieves and the details of every crime. Once a book was finished, he would give it back to the police.

"I gave back nine record books and kept the tenth one, because when I wrote the last book in 1998, the market was relocated," Sun said.

After 1998, he caught fewer thieves, down to 30 to 50 times a year.

"I'm old now and began to catch less thieves, " he said. "I dealt with three cases of stealing by myself this year as the conditions were urgent, and reported to the police other cases for them to deal with."

Two weeks ago, the local government helped him build a makeshift house at his key-making stall on Longxiang Road to shelter him from bad weather.

Now he works at his new key-making shop, where the old spiked club stands against a stack of cabinets along a wall.

"I'm as upright as this steel file," Sun said, holding a steel file on his hand.

"The steel file will not become warped but break if you bend it," he said. "Similarly, I will not concede and compromise."

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