Around 5 pm on September 16 2013, a 9-year-old Japanese 4th grader was swallowed up by the torrents of the typhoon-swept Yodo River in Osaka, Japan. At that critical moment Yan Jun, a student from Shanghai who happened to be jogging by, jumped into the water and saved the boy.
According to a local police officer, the boy slipped in an attempt to retrieve a memory card from his camera which had fallen into the river, and "would have been unlikely to survive if he hadn't been rescued immediately".
Both the boy and Yan were sent to hospital afterwards and neither suffered serious injuries.
"I did what I had to," Yan said, in reply to interview questions regarding the rescue.
The 26 year old Yan was in Japan preparing to pursue a PhD degree at Osaka City University in 2014.
Yan's bravery was acclaimed by the Japanese media. TV Asahi, a Japanese TV station, aired a 15-minute interview with Yan September 17, the day after the accident. Japanese netizens thanked Yan on their social networks, praising him as "brave", "kind" and "friendly", and offering comments like "When it comes to saving someone's life, there are no national boundaries", and "Regardless of nationalities, he is a magnificent human being".
Yan received an appreciation certificate for his rescue efforts from Shinzo Abe November 13 at Abe's official residence in Tokyo. On the authority of the Japanese emperor Akihito, he was also invested with a Red Ribbon Medal of Honor by the Japanese cabinet. The Medal, initiated in 1881, is a rare honor in Japan's award system, awarded only to people who save others' lives regardless of their own safety. Yan is to date the youngest among all those who have received the medal, and the only foreigner. Emperor Akihito even met him in person, enquiring about the particulars of the rescue and praising his bravery.
At a time when the Sino-Japan relationship is being disrupted by the Diaoyu Island dispute and other historical problems, some argue that Yan's action has helped to ease the tension between the two countries, and to improve China's national image among the Japanese public.
When asked for his views on this, Yan said he would have done the same if he had encountered such an accident happening to any other person in any other part of the world. "But if what I do can have some positive impact, that would be great," Yan added.