17 April 2007

(Updated below)

So it’s turned out the shooter in the grisly and appalling Virginia Tech murders was not a Chinese exchange student, though there was some unfounded speculation that the student was Chinese, or Chinese (Taiwanese?) descent VT student Wayne Chiang was the shooter based on his Livejournal musings about “obsessive love, movie downloads, and oh, the futility of life.” Oh, and guns:

“i put the cx4 [semiautomatic carbine] on the market cause i got bored with it,” he writes in one entry, accompanied by this photo. “personally, i don’t find it effective as a efficient manslaughtering tool, which definitely does not fit my needs.”

Sounds like a fun guy (actually, looking at his blog, he does seem like a cool guy, and the above quote seems more and more likely to be dark ironic wit - which I approve of heartily). Turns out the shooter was Korean, as if that makes any difference in the world. Homicidal rage is not determined by ethnicity. That apparently is lost on alot of people, especially some commenters over at fellow Asia blogger The Marmot Hole, and conservative blogger and occasional TV “expert” Debbie Schlussel jumped immediately to the possibility that Asian meant “Jihadist” “Paki”.

Xinhua I guess technically had the scoop that the shooter was not Chinese with its article No Chinese Students Found Among Victims in U.S. Campus Shooting, although one could no doubt hedge on the definition of “victims”. This was reported before the identity of the shooter was known thanks to a board member of the university’s Chinese Association of Students and Scholars, who was basing this simply on the fact that the association members to whom he had spoken didn’t mention any Chinese victims. It seems rather impolite to emphasize that none of your own citizens have died - I realize other nations press do the same, but I don’t remember seeing any headlines like “No Americans Dead in Plane Crash” - though I’m sure somebody did it somewhere before. I think current style dictates (or ought to) you mention your own nationals in the headline if they did die, otherwise you make the headline about those foreigners who did. You don’t lead with a relieved-sounding negative that implies “Relax, It Was Just Some Furriners”. Or at least I wouldn’t.

What struck me was that this comes only four months after the Sundance Festival premiere of Dark Matter, a film by Chinese American Chen Shizheng based on the true story Gang Lu, a physics Ph.D. from China who shot and killed five people, wounding another, at the University of Iowa in 1991. I don’t know what sort of distribution the film has picked up, and after this I wonder if it ever will. Variety seemed to think it wasn’t all that good anyway, despite having Meryl Streep.

Beijing Newspeak, who works for Xinhua, reports that the false report that the shooter was Chinese led to ringing “alarm bells” in the international news department and anxiety over how to describe the gunman. A Chinese CCTV reporter blogged, according to Danwei, that the story was scrapped once they heard the gunman might be Chinese. This sort of evasiveness, of course, feeds into the whole idea that the ethnicity of the killer mattered at all in the first place. Meanwhile, Dark Matter has been widely reported in the Chinese media according to a Baidu search, I guess since 16 years is long enough to avoid being “problematic for propaganda”.

UPDATE: Sadly No has the ultimate round up of reactions to the VT Massacre:

Shorter Everbody on the Internet:

The senseless massacre at Virginia Tech basically confirms everything I’ve been saying all along.

So true.

2nd UPDATE: Blogger-journalist Josie Liu points out some Chinese media did report the rumors that the shooter was Chinese, and has more reactions from the Chinese BBSverse:

Upon receiving such information, people in China started to post comments expressing feelings like “very sad” and “ashamed.” Some even tried to assess the reasons for such “extreme behaviors” of Chinese students in the US, such as pressure to excel and the disparity between their high self-esteem and humble reality.

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