The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Chinese daredevil plunged to his death while attempting to do pullups off a skyscraper

Night view of high-rise buildings in Furong Square CBD in Changsha city, central China's Hunan province in 2011. (Imaginechina)

Chinese state media called for greater regulations on live-streaming after video of a daredevil's fatal fall from a skyscraper was apparently leaked online this week.

In an editorial, the China Daily News said the death of Wu Yongning was driven in part by the affirmation he received after he posted videos of himself in precarious situations. Wu died Nov. 8 as he attempted to do pullups off the top of a 62-story skyscraper in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, Chinese news outlets reported.

The 26-year-old daredevil, sometimes referred to as “Chinese Superman,” had amassed a considerable following online for his adventures in “rooftopping,” or scaling tall buildings without protective gear or safety harnesses.

“From his interactions with his audience, it seems he really enjoyed the attention,” the China Daily editorial stated. “But with all the likes and comments, he overestimated his own abilities and finally lost his life because of that feeling. Had Wu not been so popular on live-streaming apps, he might not have died.”

Wu’s stunts were not for the faint of heart.

On Weibo, a Chinese social media platform similar to Twitter, Wu posted videos of himself in the unlikeliest of places: Lying down atop a skyscraper or tiptoeing (barefoot, even) on the edge of some bridge scaffolding. Often, he had a selfie stick in hand to capture his heart-stopping escapades.

Despite the risks, Wu always survived his stunts and his Weibo posts usually received thousands of likes and comments from his roughly 60,000 followers. However, his lucky streak came to an end last month.

Video circulating of his final, ill-fated stunt shows Wu at the top of the building, appearing calm as he uses a piece of fabric to wipe down a ledge. He then swings both legs off the building and practices hanging off the edge with his elbows still bent. After about five seconds, he climbs back up and readies for another try.

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On Wu’s second attempt, he fully extends his hang and does three full pullups before trying to climb back atop the roof. This time, he visibly struggles to regain his footing on the side of the building.

After struggling for about 15 seconds after his last pullup, Wu loses his grip and falls from the side of the skyscraper.

Though the fatal fall took place last month, his death was not confirmed until last week, when Wu’s girlfriend posted about it on social media, according to The Chinese news site reported that Wu had trained in martial arts and previously worked as an extra in the film industry but turned to recording his climbing stunts full time because it was more lucrative.

According to the South China Morning Post, Wu was trying to win a $15,000 prize in a rooftopping challenge — allegedly to pay for a coming wedding and to cover medical costs for his mother — when he fell to his death.

But in its push to crack down on live-streaming, Chinese state media noted Wu was just as motivated by the “many likes and comments” he got after he posted selfie videos.

“More sources show he was on several live-streaming apps and he got many likes, too,” the China Daily News editorial stated. “His death should remind us to strengthen supervision over live-streaming apps. Some of them try to hype things up with obscene and dangerous things, and their purpose is to attract more eyeballs and make a profit. It is time we ended this.”

“Rooftopping” has gained popularity in recent years among a small but devoted subset of adventure-seekers and photographers. For some, it’s an extension of urban exploration or a way to push the boundaries of photography. Others say the hobby can be thrilling and extremely profitable, according to the Guardian, which explored the phenomenon earlier this year in a piece about obtaining the “ultimate selfie.”

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Sometimes, it’s a combination of all of the above.

But, needless to say, law enforcement agencies frown upon the practice, and several “rooftoppers” have been arrested in recent years, often charged with trespassing or public-order crimes.

“I believe that eventually somebody is going to make a mistake, and it will be a critical one,” Toronto police spokesman David Hopkinson told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. last year, in a push to stop the city’s rooftopping enthusiasts.

In October, a 44-year-old man died after falling from the top of a Chicago hotel.

Neil Ta, a former Toronto-based “rooftopping photographer,” said he was quitting the practice in a 2014 blog post titled "5 Reasons Why I’m F***ing Done With Rooftopping.” In part, he blamed the onslaught of “a newer breed of rooftopper.”

“Something fundamentally changed when it became less about just going up and having a good time with friends and more about who can take the photo of the other person in the most precarious situation,” Ta wrote. “Danger sells. There was a market for our images and whoever had the most ‘vertigo-inducing’ photo reigned supreme. It felt too fake, too contrived.”

Nathan Paulin walked from Trocadero Square to the Eiffel Tower, nearly 200 feet above ground, as part of a stunt for charity in Paris on Dec. 9. (Video: Sophie Mallett/Instagram)

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