Huang Li swam more than a mile in the Xiang River on Tuesday, traveling with the current, her father said. The girl swam by moving like a dolphin and would sometimes paddle with her bound hands.
"Her swimming skills are perfect and she insisted on doing this," Huang Daosheng said in a telephone interview. The girl, who lives in the city of Zhangjiajie in Hunan province, got the idea after seeing something similar on a local television program, he said.
With the Beijing Olympics less than a year away, sports is grabbing greater attention in an already sports-crazed country. Huang Li's swim is at least the second time in recent months that a child athlete has drawn media attention.
This past summer, 8-year-old Zhuang Huimin ran 2,212 miles from her home on the southern island province of Hainan to Beijing in 55 days, her father trailing behind her on a motor scooter. The run drew criticism from some media commentators as excessive for a young child.
News photos showed Huang Li, wearing a skirted swimsuit, being picked up out of the water by her father. Her ankles were tied together with string and her hands were bound by a strip of cloth. A newspaper report said the girl was so cold her face had turned blue.
"It's not dangerous because, first, her swimming skills are really good and second, I was swimming with her, staying close to her," the father said. "I had her when I was 35, so she is my heart. I would never play around with her life."
The father, a teacher who enjoys swimming, coaches his daughter and said the family does not have enough money for her to have a better coach. The girl started the sport when she was six and her father said her goal is to one day swim across the English Channel.
"She asks me every day, 'Can I achieve this? Is the English Channel wide? Are the waves really big?"' Huang Daosheng said.
For financial reasons, the family had not bought any insurance to protect the girl from potential harm during the swimming, reports the China Daily.
Huang Li's father said she is a swimming prodigy. She learned to swim at five and her father has been her coach.
"Next time, she will swim farther and I'll follow her in a boat to ensure safety," said the father. "In fact, I've always wanted to find her a better coach but we don't have the money."