Briton's bravery lauded across China

British diplomat Stephen Ellison has become a hero in China after video footage of him rescuing a student from a swollen river racked up tens of millions of views on social media. But other comments focused on the fact that no locals had jumped in to
British diplomat Stephen Ellison has become a hero in China after video footage of him rescuing a student from a swollen river racked up tens of millions of views on social media.PHOTOS: SCREENGRABS FROM WEIBO

BEIJING • The Chinese authorities yesterday praised a British diplomat who was filmed jumping into a river in southern China to save a drowning student, a rare warm moment between two countries at loggerheads over human rights.

Britain's mission in the southwestern city of Chongqing said on Monday that Consul General Stephen Ellison leapt into action at the weekend to save a woman who had fallen into a river coursing through a nearby tourist town.

The video on Chinese social media - viewed more than 170 million times in China - shows Mr Ellison pulling off his shoes and jumping in to rescue the woman, who was floating face down.

"I think he should be commended for his act of bravery. I'd like to give him a big, big thumbs up," said foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian at a routine briefing yesterday.

Mr Ellison's actions also earned praise from British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who tweeted: "His bravery and commitment demonstrate the very best of British diplomats around the world."

The 61-year-old former engineer had only recently been appointed to the role in the southern metropolis after serving for years at the main embassy in Beijing, and is an accomplished triathlete, according to local media reports.

One user on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform similar to Twitter, called Mr Ellison an "English gentleman". Another called him the "Chinese people's friend".

But while praise for Mr Ellison has poured in, other comments on social media focused on the fact that no locals had jumped in to rescue the woman and that they had done little to help as she struggled in the water.

"So many people did not jump in to save the girl, but waited for a foreigner to save her?" one person wrote.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2020, with the headline 'Briton's bravery lauded across China'. Print Edition | Subscribe