In recent days, controversy has swirled around the backgrounds of Wang Linjia 王琳佳 and Ye Mengyuan 叶梦圆, the two Zhejiang middle school students who died in Saturday’s San Francisco plane crash, with some Chinese netizens saying: “good riddance” (好死了). While scrubbing of unsavory content from sites like Sina Weibo can make it difficult to gauge what portion of Chinese web users evinced happiness at the girls’ untimely death, one commenter on NetEase, one of China’s largest news portals, was far from alone in saying “a traitor in disguise is still a traitor, and most traitors to China are the children of the corrupt or tax-evaders – those who have become wealthy immorally. We’ll let God decide their punishment.”
Recalling a similar incident a year ago when the death of two Chinese students at the University of Southern California (who were gunned down off campus) inflamed populist anger on the Chinese Internet when it was revealed that they were killed while driving a BMW, the seeming luxury of an international summer camp, along with a number of details about the girls’ background have inspired numerous micro-bloggers and commenters on popular news portals to write the girls off as fuerdai (富二代), or “second-generation rich”. In a country increasingly defined by inequality, the fuerdai, and their close counterpart, guanerdai (官二代), the offspring of elite cadres, have earned a let-them-eat-cake reputation among average Chinese for indulging in sleek cars, lavish apartments, and wild parties.
Nearly nine hundred comments were posted beneath an article on NetEase entitled “Aviation Catastrophe Victim Ye Mengyuan: Master of the Four Arts of the Scholar” (空难遇难浙江女生叶梦圆：琴棋书画样样精通), which celebrated Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia as friends and outstanding students since their days at junior middle school. The article prominently featured Ye Mengyuan’s singing prowess and status as a “level ten” (十级) pianist as well as Wang Linjia’s three consecutive terms as class president (班长) and excellent calligraphy – for some, perhaps too prominently. The top comment on the article cynically asked, “Why emphasize their great calligraphy and level ten piano abilities? Isn’t it still a tragedy if a bad student dies? Or does it not matter?”
Most of those critical of the girls honed in on the cost of the summer study program (30,000 yuan, more than the median yearly income in China’s poorer provinces), and Wang Linjia’s tenure as class president as proof that the girls were not common folk. One commenter captured the outrage:
Of course a bad student deserves to die; all of us losers are from the countryside. Don’t even ask about level ten piano – the only music I know is that of an iron smelter. Those who are supposed to die are us – the common folks. It’s summer vacation and I’m working; I want to go to America too, but I don’t have money or a sugar daddy, and I still don’t know where the tuition for my next semester is going to come from. You city kids have all the advantages: when we go home after school, we have to put the cows to pasture and carry water; you guys just flirt all day. My god, one piano must cost more than what my family makes from quite a few years of rice harvests.
Microblogger “Li_Geng”, in a highly re-posted comment on Sina Weibo, derided the rest of the nearly eleven thousand commentson NetEase about the plane crash: “It is said that on NetEase, 50% of the comments pray for the girls, 30% hurl abuse at corruption, and 20% clap their hands in glee.”
A seemingly louder faction of web users joined Li_Geng and jumped to the girls’ defense. Many argued that most Chinese, not only the rich, can afford international travel today; others noted that often students educated overseas have parents bitterly toiling at home to scrape together tuition. The lion’s share, however, denounced the other side for reveling in other people’s death, especially the deaths of two such girls. As “San3-San3”, a micro-blogger on Sina Weibo put it:
Nowadays, as soon as there’s any kind of plane crash, especially abroad, there’s a group of people who will accuse students studying abroad of being fuerdai or guanerdai. They say that these students are stealing the few opportunities there are away from the babies of China’s poverty-stricken commoners, so it’s better that their dead; they say that it’s best that these victims be students abroad or the children of Cadres. All I can say is that those of you who think like this will never make a future for yourselves.
Links and Sources
Beijing Morning Post 北京晨报: 空难遇难浙江女生叶梦圆：琴棋书画样样精通
Image from Tencent Microblog via China Youth Daily 中国青年报: 花谢旧金山
Sina Weibo 新浪微博: The Weibo Account of San3-San3
Sina Weibo 新浪微博: The Weibo Account of Li_Geng