China’s drowning cases highlight need for swim skills

By Manav Keeling Source:Global Times Published: 2018/7/17 19:13:39

Last Thursday, two brothers aged 6 and 4 both reportedly drowned playing near a river in Shanghai's Songjiang district while their parents were at work.

Every summer in China, it seems that there is at least one new daily drowning reported in the news. While the world laughs at photos of overcrowded Chinese beaches and pools overrun with locals wearing inner tubes, China mourns its all-too-frequent drowning victims.

Nearly 700 Chinese citizens were killed while traveling overseas last year - one-third of them died during water-based activities while on holiday, such as swimming and snorkeling, according to an article in the South China Morning Post in February.

With more and more Chinese venturing abroad during public holidays and summer vacations, including to Asia's vast number of exotic beach destinations, a rising number are also drowning.

China is the biggest source of foreign visitors to Thailand, as reported by CNN, with almost 10 million Chinese nationals visiting last year. Thailand has hundreds of islands, along with hundreds of some of the nicest and most popular beaches in the world. But what is this great attraction that the Chinese have with beaches when they can't even swim in them?

In 2017, 61 Chinese tourists drowned in Thailand, reported. On July 5, two boats carrying more than 120 Chinese tourists capsized in a storm off the Thai resort island of Phuket. According to the Global Times, at least 47 of them were confirmed as drowned.

According to the World Health Organization, drowning is the single leading cause of injury death in Chinese children aged 1-14 years. An article in reported that "drowning deaths often occur in summertime, and commonly in rural areas, when Chinese adolescents swim in rivers without parental supervision."

A universal fact of life is that children love to splash in the water on a hot day, but the number of related deaths increases exponentially depending on their respective society's ability to swim. Oddly enough, Chinese culture places little importance on learning swimming skills.

"About 60,000 people drown in China every year, not including those who die in floods or boat and ferry accidents, according to government statistics. Up to 70 percent of the victims are children," USA Today reported in 2016.

Even Chinese water sports performers can't swim! In April, 17 people drowned after two dragon boats flipped over in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, during Dragon Boat Festival, the New York Times reported. These were trained, experienced boat paddlers who failed to wear life jackets.

Shallow, supposedly safe "kiddie pools" can become death traps, too. Last year, a 4-year-old boy drowned in a knee-deep pool while his mother, who was standing only two meters away, played on her mobile phone, as reported by in January 2017. In May, Sina News reported on a video showing a 2-year-old child getting stuck in his inner tube underwater for 72 seconds before narrowly being rescued by a passing adult swimmer.

Such tragedies highlight the fundamental absence of adult supervision in Chinese swimming pools, beaches and water-sports spots. A recent lifeguard competition held in Pudong New Area aims to remedy this problem, with the Global Times reporting that there are now 7,000 licensed lifeguards in Shanghai, many working at the city's popular public pools.

But the real problem is the dire lack of swimming education in China. Community based, supervised swim lessons for school-age children in Western countries is why those nations have very low drowning rates. Thus, if China wants to reduce its tragically high number of seasonal swimming-related deaths, it absolutely needs to make swimming a compulsory skill that all Chinese children must learn and pass by primary school.

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.

Posted in: TWOCENTS

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