Chicago Sun-Times: Virginia Tech shooter may have been from China

To follow up on a comment posted by Nanheyangrouchuan, The Chicago Sun-Times reports today that authorities are investigating whether the Virginia Tech shooter was from China.

Authorities were investigating whether the gunman who killed 32 people on the Virginia Tech campus in the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history was a Chinese man who arrived in the United States last year on a student visa.

The 24-year-old man arrived in San Francisco on United Airlines on Aug. 7 on a visa issued in Shanghai, the source said. Investigators have not linked him to any terrorist groups, the source said.

An eyewitness to the shooting, Erin Sheehan, described the man as:

“He was, I would say, about a little bit under six feet (183 cm) tall, young looking, Asian, dressed sort of strangely, almost like a boy scout, very short-sleeved light, tan shirt and some sort of ammo vest with black over it,” Sheehan said.”

Obviously details are still sketchy and while police admit that they have identified the shooter, they are not officially releasing his name or any other details at this time. It’s too early to say for sure who committed this heinous act or where he was from.

CCTV was–of course–all over this story (sickeningly giddy, really) during the morning newscast with plenty of images of the violence in the USA. I do wonder if CCTV will continue to be so excited if it turns out the shooter was actually from China…

UPDATE: Got a call while at The Roots concert in Beijing (They rocked, by the way) that the shooter has been identified as a 23-year old South Korean student. Yes the American media got it wrong. Of course CCTV was already broadcasting this morning that it was a “meiguoren” who was responsible for the shooting…not sure if they’re going to apologize for their “rush to judgment.”

As for those who think we are “disappointed” that it was not someone who was Chinese–that’s simply incorrect and vile. This was a major news story and China was dragged into it by reports in the US, European, Australian AND Chinese media. That put the story into the purview of this space. There was no “wish” on anyone’s part (except perhaps CCTV) that a particular country be implicated. Our thoughts, as everyone’s should be, are with the victims and families of this tragedy regardless of the national origin of the killer.


Four Questions about Lao Wai

Been a busy month…to say the least. But in my travels, I’ve come across a few conundrums all having to do with Lao Wai in China. I don’t really have an opinion on any of these things, so don’t take this post as a declaration of a particular set of positions–I’m genuinely interested in people’s ideas on these thorny little problems.

1) A friend of ours in town asked us how common was it for arguments/altercations to flare-up or even get physical when some people encounter a Chinese woman/foreign male couple. (There was apparently some sort of small bang-up at the local IKEA over the weekend.) While it has never happened to us (Jeremiah & YJ), we’ve heard stories, caught the occasional intemperate remark, and/or received the less infrequent glare or gawk, but nothing overtly hostile. Have people had these experiences? Is there a shift in the perceptions of these couples, or is it the same old same-old?

2) We’ve discussed this in the past, but at a fabulous dinner party hosted by Jack H. last weekend, we met a couple traveling in Bejing who asked us, point blank, why so many couples in Beijing are Chinese woman/foreign male and not the other way around. It was a hard question to answer because, appearances aside, all couples are different and it would be hard to find one reason or even one set of reasons that would apply in all cases. But the demographics of the situtation suggest that this is a topic worthy of serious (as opposed to simply race-baiting) discussion.

3) There was a recent thread on an academic list-serve in which somebody casually dropped the word “Laowai” into the conversation to describe foreigners who study China. One of the other listees objected saying that “Laowai” does not mean ‘foreigner’ (i.e. Koreans and Japanese are not usually referred to as ‘laowai’*) but specifically ‘white people’ and that, furthermore, the term is occasionally used as a derogation. I’ve had my own problems with the word, but the sensitivity to it by some foreigners reminds me a little of Lydia Liu’s discussion of the usage and objections to the word (what she calls a ‘supersign’) “yi” (夷) in the 19th century. Is the term “laowai” really so objectionable? What is the general consensus on this?

4) Finally, when I mentioned to a Chinese colleague recently that many in the foreign community here in China loathe “Da Shan,” he was shocked. He asked me why and I, lacking the Chinese word for “minstrel show,” couldn’t really answer effectively. I’ve never really had feelings one way or the other about the man, so I call on the Quacking Canard community to help me out here.

*And, as the old Talk Talk China boys once pointed out, many Chinese who visit America are genuinely perplexed when some of us walk past in the airport and refer to THEM as the ‘Lao Wai.’


Nixon and Deng

What a shame, that one “incident” did so much to damage the reputation of Deng Xiaoping, the man who did more than any other to set China straight after Mao killed off nearly all the remaining brain cells in the world’s most populous country. I haven’t forgiven him for the incident, but I don’t deny his greatness either, and would feel much happier were I to see his huge portrait looming over Tiananmen Square as opposed to the pig he replaced.

Which brings us to today’s article, which addresses a topic I’ve thought a lot about over the years, i.e., the achievements of Deng and Nixon in comparison to their reputations. I hated Nixon and always will, but there’s no denying his achievements, especially in terms of foreign policy. (Though there’s still a very dark side to these achievements, like the secret bombings of Cambodia and a host of other atrocities; like I said, I still hate the guy.)

I don’t hate Deng. I respect him and think if China really needs a hero to adore it should be he. Of all the scum Mao surrounded himself with, Deng was consistently the pearl among the swine, and while there are things I will always despise about Deng, I will always feel this respect and sympathy for him.

Rarely in history has one dictator held in his hands such discretionary power to choose between further enslavement of his subjects and their rapid empowerment through economic liberation.

In disassembling Maoism, Deng chose the latter route, validating both Nixon’s previous strategy and discrediting Gorbachev’s later decision to pursue political glasnost before economic perestroika in the now-defunct Soviet Union.

Richard Nixon routinely ranks as one of our nation’s worst presidents, and Deng Xiaoping appears forever doomed to live in Mao’s dark shadow, but neither deserves this historical fate.

Instead, both should ultimately be appreciated for what they were: lead architects of our globalized world, one marked by more peace and poverty reduction than ever before witnessed in human history.

You look at what Nixon did, love him or hate him, and his importance can’t be argued. And yet, the man who ended the Vietnam War and opened relations with China will always be remembered for the unforgettable line, “I’m not a crook.” Just like that other president who did not have sex with that woman. Well, he was a crook, but he was more than that, just as Deng was more than the man who gave the final orders to use live ammunition on June 4 in Tiananmen Square. I do believe he had China’s interests at heart, and I still can never, ever forgive him totally. And neither can I deny his greatness in saving China from complete annihilation in the face of the Gang of Four and suceeeding in perhaps the most astounding turn-around in all human history.



It’s the proverbial week from hell, and I’ll be away the entire week. You can use this as an open thread.


Bill Stimson: A Lesson for China

A guest post. Its views do not represent my own.

A Lesson for China
by William R. Stimson

Every morning as I make breakfast, I listen to my Mandarin lesson. This morning, the sentence I learned was, ‘Taiwan is about the same size as Holland.’

It struck me there wasn’t just a Chinese lesson in this for me. Here was also a Chinese lesson for China. Not just in size is Taiwan comparable to The Netherlands.

The people, culture, and language of Taiwan are Chinese. Those of The Netherlands are Germanic.

Somehow, however, The Netherlands didn’t get absorbed into greater Germany, as did so many comparable areas with their distinctive local cultures and ways of speaking. It got to pursue a different course of development and came to play a unique and important role in history. Europe would be poorer without the little Netherlands, and so would the world.

Asia, and the world, would similarly be poorer without little Taiwan.

In ways that were unique and different from any other country, Taiwan – its business community that is – was able to make the early move into China and set in motion developments that later made China into a great economic power.

Nowadays, the economy of big China eclipses that of little Taiwan, but Taiwan’s usefulness to its big neighbor is far from ended. Taiwan will again play a unique role in what promises to be China’s next big crisis and perhaps most difficult transition.

Should it come as any surprise that freedom can sometimes happen in a small place easier than in a large one? When the U.S. became free it was little and England was big. However, now that the U.S. has become a big superpower, it is losing what was always most special about it. Being big isn’t as important as being free. Hence the importance of the small.

The Hindu elephant God named Ganesha represents, among other things, what is big and powerful. Always, at the feet of Ganesha there is a little mouse.

Thus, it can be seen that the Hindu religion recognizes that the power of the big is connected with the power of the small.

Taiwan is the little mouse at China’s feet. The reason Taiwan is so important to China is because it is small, independent, and free.

In the history of Europe and the world, small independent states have often played a role out of proportion to their size. Why is it proving so hard for Beijing to grasp that Taiwan’s value to China is in its independence from China and that it serves China better if it remains the way it is?

The answer is simple. Just as a small bird will grab whatever is at hand to weave its nest, even bits of trash and refuse, so China, in its frantic scramble to reinvent its identity, has snatched up an inappropriate aspect of its past and woven it into the nation’s new self-concept.

The notion of a so-called ‘One China’ that Beijing has wielded to bully Taiwan has to finally be seen for what it is – a euphemism for the brutal central dictatorship that for too long now has crippled so many prosperous and promising regions of China and forced them into a misguided cultural and economic stagnation.

The ‘one China’ notion needs to be discarded before it does more damage than it already has.

Taiwan’s politicians often act like a bunch of circus clowns. And that’s all they would be – were they not inventing from within Chinese culture a form of democracy that is as uniquely Chinese as the economic miracle their fathers invented before them, and then passed on to China.

Small Taiwan hasn’t stopped cooking. It’s just got something new on the stove right now. It’s more useful to big China and the world than ever. It would be a tragedy if China grew too big and too full of its new wealth and power to grasp this.

As the example of the U.S. illustrates today, big, arrogant and proud countries can be the slowest to learn – which is all the more reason why the small, independent, and free ones are so useful to have around.

* * *

William R. Stimson is an American writer who lives in Taiwan. More of his writing can be found at


Can’t plant those trees fast enough…

Via Global Voices Online comes a link to photos of the world’s timeliest sandstorm…right in the middle of a speech by Pan Yue during a tree planting event. Who says nature doesn’t have a sense of humor?


The greatness and sufferings of Chairman Mao

A 10-part indie video series. Do not miss it. Repeat, do not miss it.


All hail the Great Helmsman, the man who gave China its spine and pulled the broken country up by its bootstraps. Every time I pass by one of his ubiquitous portraits or statues, I stand up a little bit straighter and think about just how lucky China was to be the recipient of his magnanimous and beneficent rule. So, so lucky.


^_^ vs. :-) and Asian – Western facial expressions

It was something I noticed within a few days of starting my first job in Asia, back in Hong Kong. One of my co-workers sent me an email that included a smiley, only it had distinct Chinese characteristics. Instead of the usual (for Westerners) smile of :-), it had the eyes on top and the mouth on the bottom: ^_^. I’ve since seen this countless times throughout Greater China.

My immediate thought was that this was meant to symbolize the shape of local people’s eyes, as opposed to rounder Western eyes. But according to this article, the difference between the two smileys is of much deeper significance, and in fact represents a difference between how Westerners and Asians express their emotions, and how we interpret the emotions of others. The article focuses on Japan, but I would guess the findings would apply to much of Asia.

Research has uncovered that culture is a determining factor when interpreting facial emotions. The study reveals that in cultures where emotional control is the standard, such as Japan, focus is placed on the eyes to interpret emotions. Whereas in cultures where emotion is openly expressed, such as the United States, the focus is on the mouth to interpret emotion.

Across two studies, using computerized icons and human images, the researchers compared how Japanese and American cultures interpreted images, which conveyed a range of emotions.

“These findings go against the popular theory that the facial expressions of basic emotions can be universally recognized,” said University of Alberta researcher Dr. Takahiko Masuda. “A person’s culture plays a very strong role in determining how they will perceive emotions and needs to be considered when interpreting facial expression”

These cultural differences are even noticeable in computer emoticons, which are used to convey a writer’s emotions over email and text messaging. Consistent with the research findings, the Japanese emoticons for happiness and sadness vary in terms of how the eyes are depicted, while American emoticons vary with the direction of the mouth. In the United States the emoticons : ) and : – ) denote a happy face, whereas the emoticons 🙁 or : – ( denote a sad face. However, Japanese tend to use the symbol (^_^) to indicate a happy face, and (;_;) to indicate a sad face.

So we in the West first look to people’s mouths to judge whether they are happy or sad, while the Japanese tend to look at their interlocutors’ eyes. Maybe this is why so many in the West have for centuries described Asians as “inscrutable” – because we can’t tell from their facial expressions how they feel, but only because we aren’t looking at the right part of the face. If we looked more closely at their eyes instead of their mouths, maybe we’d see they aren’t so inscrutable after all. Interesting idea.


Search Google in Chinese, Using Pinyin…?

Yes, it looks like it’s really here. Google scares me sometimes, but i am always in awe of the things they come up with. (Google Desktop literally changed the way I work. I.e., I don’t lose stuff anymore.)


The Australian on Africa’s lack of action over Mugabe – “neo-racism”

Read this hard-hitting condemnation of Africa’s repeated lack of action over Robert Mugabe’s reign of terror in Zimbabwe.

Neighbours wring their hands while Zimbabwe burns

There isn’t much I can add to it, though I will highlight the following.

Doffing their race-laced caps to an old revolutionary, African nations have become complicit in the killing of a neighbouring people. Taking action against Mugabe would essentially mean siding with white Western leaders, apparently a sin worse than genocide. This African-style neo-racism means that a black despot goes on killing black people.

The simple fact is that African nations must stop being so blinkered and not protect a man because of something he did years ago, just because of what the newspaper terms “neo-racism”, which in some respects is a very apt description of the motivations of some African states in protecting Mugabe. Zimbabwe is on the verge of collapse – if those who have the power to isolate Mugabe do nothing then the millions that suffer under his regime will point to them, not those who lost their influence over their country decades previously.