Following the murders of two Chinese international students at USC, many of their peers have expressed outrage at disparaging remarks on the Internet about the victims — not just from the United States, but also their native China.
Reactions from China highlighted the nation's deep class divide and the widespread resentment toward the upper class. Among the various contemptuous comments left on 163.com, a popular Internet portal, one reads, "They must be kids of corrupt officials or profiteers." Another one says: "Hope all the children of corrupt officials and rich people die.”
The engineering students Ying Wu and Ming Qu were shot early in the morning of March 11 while sitting in Qu's car a mile away from campus. Some netizens and media reports in China, like the United States, assumed that the students were wealthy. "I read news coverage in America, in China, and some fellow Chinese's comments," Tong Zhi, a USC student, wrote on Renren, China's equivalent of Facebook. "Nobody cares about the two victims. All they care is that they died in a BMW. These people are cold-blooded."
Indeed, much of the initial coverage and commentary in China focused on Qu's car make: a BMW. The initial reports in both English and Chinese press said that it was a luxury vehicle worth $45,000 to $60,000. Although the victim's BMW was reportedly a second-hand model worth $10,000, according to the slain students' friends, for many Chinese commenters, the car make alone was reason enough to dismiss the victims as members of the privileged class.
The German automobile has gained a bad reputation in China since 2003, when a BMW sports car driver ploughed into a group of people after a brush with a tractor, killing one and injuring 12 people. Ever since this incident, BMW owners are frequently portrayed as rich and heartless people in China's news.
Much of this disconnect in perception is rooted in China's growing income divide. The country is also roiled in its biggest political scandal in decades, with recent ouster of former leading politician Bo Xilai amidst sensational allegations of his family's involvement in murder, corruption and high living. Much media coverage has focused on the role of Bo's son Bo Guagua, who was studying at Harvard and had a reputation for hard-partying and fast cars.
The younger Bo's colorful escapades is the latest in a string of stories on the high-flying lifestyles of a small group of China's "princelings", or children of wealthy cadres, many who are studying abroad. However, these members of China's elite are just a fraction of the thousands of Chinese students studying in the U.S.
Following the shooting, some of these students are trying to correct these misperceptions online. Friends released a statement with the worth of the car and stating that Ying Wu and Ming Qu were frugal and hard-working. Other explained that driving cars in the U.S., especially in a city like LA, are necessary, unlike China, where use of public transportation is the norm for college students.
A user called @6uopjmS wrote on his microblog, "I don't understand the correlation between a second-hand BMW and our students killed." This microblog user called the misleading headlines "stupid." This message was reweeted nearly 20,000 times.
A memorial for the students will be held on Wednesday night at 6pm. USC Presidence C. L. Max Nikias sent out the following invitation:
As we continue to mourn the loss of two treasured members of our Trojan Family, Ying Wu and Ming Qu, I want to personally invite you to a memorial service at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 18 in the Shrine Auditorium. I know we are all deeply saddened by these students' tragic deaths, and this will be an opportunity to come together and pay tribute to their lives, as well as their many accomplishments. It will also be an opportunity to mourn their passing as a community.
This event is open to the public, and non-hosted parking will be available at the Shrine Auditorium and on campus. We will open doors at 5:20 p.m. Any questions should be directed to USC's Office of Cultural Relations and University Events at (213) 740-6786.
I want to emphasize once again that our thoughts and sympathies remain very much with the families and friends of Ms. Wu and Mr. Qu.