A group of 20 boys and girls who acted courageously in last month's quake relief efforts in Sichuan province were named "heroic youths" at a ceremony in Bejjing on Friday evening.
The youngsters received the most online votes among 50 candidates, all from primary and secondary schools of quake-hit regions.
The remaining candidates are scheduled to receive accolades at a ceremony broadcast by the China Central Television (CCTV) on Saturday evening.
The votes for the awards, collected online at various official websites and through short-text messages between June 16 and 21, hit a record 52.7 million.
The youths were mentioned in numerous stories shared nationwide that recounted the bravery and determination that accompanied quake relief efforts. Images of young students risking their lives to save their peers and teachers were widely applauded.
About 100,000 related articles and postings were reportedly put up on the Internet by people of all ages, hailing the youths as national heroes.
CCTV's discussion forum at http://fuxing.bbs.cctv.com featured text, videos and photos of young candidates.
More than 6,000 Internet users alone left words of encouragement and admiration on the page that featured 14-year-old Ma Jian.
The ninth-grader at Xuankou Middle School in the severely hit township of Yingxiu in the quake epicenter of Wenchuan saved a 13-year-old girl from the ruins with his bare hands. He rescued the girl after digging for hours in heavy rain.
"I see the hope of this country through Ma Jian's determination," one person said.
"Please treat them well, they are the true heroes and the backbone of our nation."
The other candidates for the awards were similarly heroic.
He Cuiqing, a 13-year-old schoolgirl from Qingchuan county, was buried for 50 hours and had her right leg amputated - but not before she saved more than 10 classmates in the first few minutes following the quake.
The girl said she has no regrets. "I heavily underestimated the virtue of our children and what they are capable of achieving. I was wrong - I am sorry," another Internet user said of the heroic youths.
(China Daily June 28, 2008)