When Stephen Ellison heard people screaming he rushed to the river bank and saw a young woman drowning. He jumped into the water and swam her to safety.
The 61 year-old is the British consul general in Chongqing. He was visiting the scenic destination of Zhongshan Old Town when the woman fell into the river after taking photos from nearby rocks.
“She was struggling and she disappeared under the water… so it is just instinct that you get in and help [and] hope you can do something,” the diplomat explained.
Footage of the rescue was hugely popular on social media, with Zhao Lijian, a foreign ministry spokesman, mentioning it at the daily briefing on Tuesday. “It is a good deed, and his bravery deserves praise,” he said.
That gratitude was echoed by many netizens. “Kindness has no borders,” wrote one on weibo. “Brave! Noble! Benevolence does not discriminate between nationalities. His altruism has touched countless Chinese people!” praised another.
While the rescue drew applause, there were still those who took a more cynical view, claiming a discrepancy in how the media treats the achievements of the Chinese versus those of foreign nationals.
“Chinese people do good deeds abroad but there is no reporting of it. An English person does one good deed and it immediately becomes a headline,” read one comment.
Others were more upset by the lack of intervention from other bystanders, some of whom captured the rescue on their smartphones.
“How infuriating. Most people are just filming the incident. There’s only a couple of people who try to save her and the first one to do so is a foreigner!” fumed another contributor.
Nine years ago we wrote about a much-lamented case in which a toddler was killed in a road accident in Guangdong (see WiC127). The two year-old was hit by vehicles a number of times before someone intervened. At least 18 people walked by, none of them willing to help.
The case prompted an outpouring of concern, although many blamed the ‘Peng Yu effect’ for the failure to intervene (in 2006 an old woman who fell over sued Peng Yu, the man who helped her up).
Witnesses in this month’s rescue told local media that several men had initially attempted to pull the woman out of the river. However, in a panicked state and unable to swim, she was swept away by the strong current.
When she then re-emerged under a nearby bridge she was face down in the water and in a perilous situation.
After the dramatic rescue, villagers brought the drenched Ellison back to a nearby home. They gave him dry clothes, hot coffee and a six-metre painting of Chongqing. The woman soon recovered and has thanked the Briton by inviting him to dinner with her family. The diplomat said he looks forward to it. In the meantime he can take some pride in doing more for Sino-UK relations than anyone in the British government this year…
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