Death of Chinese teen who died trying to save drowning 'girl' sparks bravery debate

The death of a Chinese teenager who died trying to save a drowning victim that turned out to be a dog has reignited a public debate on the cost of being the Good Samaritan.

Rescuers retrieved the body of a 16-year-old boy from a river in Chengdu in southwestern China’s Sichuan province on Wednesday, two days after he disappeared in an attempt to save a dog that was initially thought to be a girl, local media reported.

The unnamed adolescent could not swim, his father told Jimu News. An only child, he was 190cm tall and described as “outgoing and kind-hearted”.

A witness said a girl shouted “help, save my sister”, by which she meant her pet dog, when the young man was playing basketball nearby on Monday. But a few others said the girl made it clear it was a dog that was drowning when asking for help from him.

He disappeared soon after diving into the water and his body was found 1.5km downstream after a two-day search.

The tragedy triggered a heated discussion on Chinese social media over the danger of displaying too much bravery and rekindled memories of the story of 14-year-old Lai Ning, a national hero from three decades ago.


Lai died after voluntarily joining firefighting adults to put out a forest fire in Sichuan province in 1988. He was named a “revolutionary martyr” and a national campaign to promote his bravery was subsequently launched.

“I cannot stop thinking of Lai Ning. Why did he finally disappear in official publicity? Textbooks we used in my childhood kept telling me to fight with bad guys when it comes to crimes like robbery. I was confused how I would win since I weighed less than a bag of rice,” one user commented.

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“I told my students today that only when you’re able to save yourself then you can go help others. One must act wisely in emergencies, not just bravely,” another poster said.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.