Ellison, 61, was visiting the ancient town of Zhongshan, about 75 miles south of Chongqing, on Saturday when he heard the crowd scream and saw a young woman struggling in the water, the British Embassy said in a post on social media platform WeChat.
In the video, recorded by a bystander and later shared by the British Embassy in Beijing, Ellison leaps from a ledge before swimming to the woman, who is floating with her face in the water, barely moving. In the background, a woman can be heard saying the situation was “fortunate to have this foreigner”.
Another onlooker threw a life preserver to Ellison, who grabbed it as he guided the woman to shore. A handful of others on the bank then helped them out of the water.
“The situation was critical,” the embassy said in its post. It noted that the woman had lost consciousness, but because of the timely rescue, “soon regained breathing and consciousness and was all right”.
The embassy added that when Ellison, who was appointed to his post this year, was back on dry land, “he was well looked after by the local villagers,” who poured him a hot cup of coffee and gave him fresh clothes. One user on Chinese social media platform Weibo called Ellison the “Chinese people’s friend”.
But while praise for Ellison has poured in, other commenters focused on the fact that no locals had jumped in to rescue the woman and that they had done little to help as she flailed.
“So many people did not jump to save the girl, but waited for a foreigner to jump to save her?” one person wrote.
“It was outrageous,” another posted. “Most of them were taking videos, and there were only a few of them saving her, and the first one was a foreigner!!!”
Drownings are all too common in China, where many people do not know how to swim; in a 2018 article on the problem, Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party newspaper, lamented that “Chinese culture places little importance on learning swimming skills”.
Drowning is the number one accidental killer of children in China under the age of 14, according to the World Health Organisation.
There have been a number of incidents in recent years in China in which bystanders have ignored people in distress, apparently — at least in part — because of a widespread perception that if someone intervenes, there is a chance that person could be liable for hospital costs or otherwise held legally responsible.
Some instances, often those in which a video of the tragedy has gone viral — like when a toddler was hit by a car and ignored in 2011 or when a man beat his wife to death in the street last month — have prompted waves of national soul-searching.
In March 2017, in response to such incidents, China adopted its first “Good Samaritan” law, providing some legal protection to those who voluntarily offer emergency assistance to others. The law was intended to ease people’s reluctance to get involved, but some say attitudes have been slow to change.
The New York Times