British diplomat leaps into river to save drowning woman in China

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor
·2-min read

Watch: British diplomat saves student in China

A British diplomat has been hailed as a hero after he dived into a river to save a drowning Chinese woman in a rescue that was filmed and then went viral on social media in China and the UK. The incident happened on Saturday.

Stephen Ellison, 61, consul general in Chongqing, was walking by a river in a nearby village when the woman, 24, slipped on rocks into the deep water.

Footage filmed by onlookers showed her struggle in the current, disappear under a footbridge and emerge face down, apparently unconscious.

Ellison took off his shoes and dived in to save her. She has not been named, but was a student.

Critics on social media asked why so many Chinese people seemed to be watching her drowning from the side of the river instead of intervening to save her life, but some said very few Chinese people know how to swim and others that there is a fear of becoming involved in a public incident.

The footage of Ellison’s rescue mission was put on the UK in China Twitter channel and led to thousands of views. Ellison is shown taking off his shoes revealing some alarmingly striped socks, diving into the river from the side fully clothed, capturing the woman and then being thrown a large red life belt which he uses to help drag her to safety by the bank of the river.

“We are all immensely proud”, the UK diplomatic mission in China tweeted Monday. The diplomat himself said the female student, who is from Wuhan and attends Chongqing University, was shaken by the experience and recovered slowly.

But she was extremely grateful and has invited him to dinner with her family next weekend.

The hashtag “British consul-general in Chongqing saves female student who fell in the water” had gained almost 40macknowledgments on Weibo by Monday evening as news of Ellison’s bravery spread.

“For a man of such advanced age to save another person from the water in such cold weather, regardless of his own safety, he is a hero and gentleman!” read one comment, liked nearly 2,000 times.

“Regardless of our differences … to act heroically is a virtue and should be praised,” wrote another.

UK-China relations are at a low ebb ever since China ended Hong Kong’s political independence and the Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei was banned from providing 5G networks to the UK on the basis it might be a security threat.

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