Chinese students living in fear in the USA
“You own a BMW, you poor little rich kid.”
“They deserved to die.”
These were two comments from Chinese Internet users responding to the murder of two Chinese students at University of Southern California in April this year. The students were gunned down and murdered off-campus sitting in a parked BMW. The above comments are by no means cherry-picked; other comments circulated on the Chinese Internet were more explicit about the reasons for the schadenfreude:
“Well-killed! Must prevent these heartless rich corrupt government officials who live off of the people and cheat the people from continuing their family lines!”
“Garbage is garbage, thinking they don’t have to worry about anything because their fathers knows how to embezzle money, just wait until their fathers die, and I’ll see how cocky these garbage will be then!!! Good riddance!!”
“I support the above! Hahaha! So good that they died!!!! Oh yeah!~~~~ Oh yeah~~~~ Oh yeah~~~~ Let some more overseas students die, let some more American running dogs who emigrated to America die! This news is great news for everyone!”
Source: China Smack
Many Chinese students abroad were shocked by such reactions from their compatriots back home. In online postings, they pointed out that a second hand BMW is not an expensive car in the U.S. and that the luxurious life of leisure that some imagine is not very common for Chinese students. While there are certainly plenty of Chinese students overseas who are spoiled brats, often called ‘second generation rich’ and ‘second generation officials’ (fu erdai and guan erdai, 富二代, 官二代) who live off the fruits of their parents’ corruption or enterprise, the majority of Chinese students in the U.S., Canada, Australia and other popular destinations are there because of a lifetime of scrimping and saving on the part of their parents.
Moreover, for many students, the U.S. in particular is a very tough environment to get used to.
A study released in June this year by Elisabeth Gareis in the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication analyzes the results of a survey of 454 international students in the U.S. looking at how their home countries and host regions in the U.S. affected their friendship experiences as students. Students from East Asia had the “least positive” experiences.
About 25 percent of the responses express a desire for greater open-mindedness and interest in other cultures [on the part of American students]. Thus, one student wrote “I wish they were more open and culturally sensitive” (male South Asian), and another “I think Americans don’t need to make Asian male friends” (male East Asian). Another theme is the perception of unreliability (19 percent), as in the following response: “I wish they were more constant in their friendships. Sometimes, you meet an American and never hear back from them again.
Anecdotal evidence on the Internet matches the survey findings. Here are two typical laments of lonely Chinese students in the U.S. on Weibo:
Chinese proverb lesson: All alone and lonesome (茕茕孑立，形影相吊). It means alone, lonely, on one’s own, so alone you can only comfort yourself by talking to your shadow… There is no better word to describe our lives in the United States.
This is only the beginning, it is inevitable that in the United States you will study long-term loneliness…
This writer has spent the summer this year rooming with a Chinese student in Beijing , whom I’ll call Abby. She complained about the same issues the Elisabeth Gareis survey noted. She finds American personalities to be very abrasive, blunt and outspoken.
At some point America disappoints me. My friends and I say that American girls have queen personality. They act like a queen. Very self-confident and say whatever they want.
Vickie, another Chinese student from The Ohio State University, also found personalty and culture to be difficult obstacles:
Even though I’ve been living in Columbus for three years, I still think learning the language and fitting in the mainstream culture are the most difficult things for me. I guess I just don’t have the language talent. I can’t express my feelings and tell my stories in English well and also because my personality is very reserved, I feel great pressure when I talk to strangers in English.
I think fitting in the culture is hard as well. Americans refer a lot of cultural phrases in conversations and I have no idea what they are talking about.
Agents in China work hard, sometimes unscrupulously, to recruit students to fill American university’s pockets, but that is not always enough to actually help Chinese students get by in the U.S., academically and away from the campus. Helping with applications, essays, English tests and placement is always the main focus of the agents’ work. Some Chinese students cannot remember what their admissions essays said, because they did not write them, the agency did. Their English skills are often poorer than their application make out. Such agents are woefully neglectful when it comes to preparing Chinese students for actually living in the U.S. and making friends.
The murder of the two Chinese students at USC has added another factor to the anomie and cultural difficulties: fear.
Murder, robbery and assault happen every day in the U.S., and some Americans may just see the USC murders as just another random act of violence. However it has left the families of the murdered students, their friends and other Chinese students studying abroad terrified and outraged. During an arraignment, which is a legal procedure where a person is formally charged for their crimes and asked to make a plea, on June 25 students from USC hoisted a banner that read, “Protect our Safety” with thousands of signatures from the Chinese community. A letter with 7,000 signatures was also given to District Attorney Steve Cooley and one line read, “”We and many others in China and elsewhere are paying close attention to this case.”
The unsympathetic reaction from China to the murder of the students was also shocking. My roommate Abby said some students in China had a different response “Maybe we are luckier than you because we are born in rich families, but that doesn’t mean we deserve to die.”
Vickie said the Chinese reports on the murders were also to blame:
Chinese media reported it in a completely biased, subjective way with no truth. I was even angrier by that and I’m sure a lot of Chinese students in the US felt the same way as I did. So we wrote a lot of blogs on Chinese Facebook (Renren) and Chinese Twitter (Weibo). The thing that made me upset is not the killing, but how Chinese people see this incident…
Internet users thought they deserved it. They thought the two victims were wealthy, spoiled kids doing nothing at USC, but that was a completely false perception from Chinese media.
Abby says that Chinese students have become very “freaky” about everything that goes on in the U.S.:
There is a television show called A Bite of China about Chinese food that is very popular right now. Since the “zombie attacks” in the States, the Chinese joke there should be a show called A Bite of America.
Abby also refuses to fly on any domestic American airlines in fear there might be a bomb on board. When asked if the she felt safe in the U.S., Vickie said she felt Shanghai, where she is from, is safer.
Despite the fears of personal safety, the USA is unlikely to lose its draw as a destination for Chinese students. Everyone from Xi Jinping (whose daughter is currently studying at Harvard) to Chinese families who find financial support by selling their homes and reaching out to their extended family are sending their children to USA for a better education and the status of having a USA educated child to show merit.
Whether the students are happy or not, their parents will push them to study abroad, and often to seek work and stay on after graduation. Abby’s mother encouraged her to study in the U.S., and look for a job opportunity there. However, the Chinese American Dream of living and working in the U.S. is changing, and many students can’t get work in the U.S. and prefer to come home. Abby really wants to follow the returnees after graduation, but she says she could never tell her mother that.
See also on Danwei: Study abroad websites for Chinese students
Links and Sources
ABC News: Miami Face Eating Attack 911 Calls Released
The China Daily: Chinese Students in U.S. Coming Home for Jobs
China Post: Viewers Get Fired Up Over Employment Reality Show (host mocks returnee graduates)
China Smack: Overseas Chinese Students Shot Dead at USC, Netizen Reactions
The Chronicle: The China Conundrum, American Colleges Find the Chinese-student Boom a Tricky Fit
Danwei: Confessions of a Chinese Graduate, Opening the door to American universities with lies, Study abroad websites for Chinese students, Notes from a Chinese student in the USA
Forbes: China Needs American Education. Here’s How to Bring it There.
Huffington Post: Capturing the Educational Moments in International Education, Asia Now Has the World’s Most Millionaires, Shaken by USC Shooting, Chinese Students Still Seek US Colleges
Journal of International and Intercultural Communication: Intercultural Friendship: Effects of Home and Host Region
New England Cable News: Arraignment Delay in Chinese Student Killings
Soul of Athens: Not Here or There
The Wall Street Journal: CCTV’s ‘Bite of China’ Takes Off, and Steam Pots, Pigs’ Feet Benefit Too
Weibo Quotes: @叮叮当当-咚咚锵锵 , @瑛妹拼命努力打败数英小怪兽中