- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2014

For China, last week’s Isla Vista massacre of three Chinese-Americans is only fueling concerns about the safety of the flood of Chinese students who have come to American universities and schools in recent years.

Within just the past two years, Chinese students have been among the victims in high-profile incidents that have included targeted shootings, a plane crash and the Boston Marathon bombing.

“The campus safety and security has always been one of the top concerns of the Chinese parents whose sons or daughters study here in the U.S.,” Ambassador Liu Jian, Consul General of China in Los Angeles, said in a statement supplied to The Washington Times.


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“As campus violence incidents occurred repeatedly in recent years, more and more parents express their worries.”

George Chen, 19, David Wang, 20, and James Cheng-Yuan Hong, 20, were stabbed by Elliott Rodger, who then went on to kill three more University of California, Santa Barbara students. Although all three were American citizens, the consulate quickly condemned the rampage and UCSB’s Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) organized a counseling workshop for the school’s more than 1,000 Chinese nationals studying there.

Richard Garrett, director of data & analytics, North America, at I-Graduate, an education consulting firm, said safety in America is always high on the totem pole when deciding where foreign students study, but the opportunity to study in America usually outweighs safety issues.

“The U.S. has that tag of being more violent,” he said. “There’s clearly no shortage for demand of U.S. higher education despite that background.”

Since 2000, more than 235,000 Chinese students have come to the United States to study. But the Chinese community has had to mourn the loss of several students along the way.

In one of the most chilling episodes, University of Southern California students Ming Qu and Ying Wu were fatally shot in April 2012 while sitting in a BMW. The 23-year-olds were in the U.S. studying electrical engineering.

After the shooting, Chinese students in the CSSA started a protest petition called “Protect Our Safety.” A banner with thousands of signatures was displayed outside the courthouse where the two American suspects were arraigned.

A Chinese student was also one of the three victims of one of the most high-profile terrorist attacks in recent years. Lu Lingzi, a Chinese graduate student from Shenyang studying statistics at Boston University, was killed by a bomb while standing with two friends near the finish line as runners completed the 2013 Boston Marathon.

Many of the comments on the Boston bombing on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, remarked on the dangers of simply being in America. “Still safest to stay in China“, said one poster, while another wrote: “See, America is no heaven!”

Then last July, Wang Linjia and Ye Mengyuan died after a San Francisco plane crashed on Asiana Flight 214. The 16-year-olds were spending the summer practicing their English in the hope of getting into and attending an American university.

While each case has generated headlines on both sides of the Pacific, Mr. Garrett noted these are isolated incidents with little common theme. School shootings, like Rodger’s rampage, cannot be put in crime statistics.

Many Chinese and Chinese-Americans say they do not see a racial component in the recent attacks, despite periods of tension between Beijing and Washington on other political matters. Kevin Ray Li, a 21-year-old Chinese-American and UCSB senior, told the semi-official publication China Daily he was relieved the UCSB killings were not an attack on the Chinese community.

“I have not spoken to anyone who knew any of the three deceased, but I can only say it was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said. “I’m glad the massacre wasn’t directed at the Chinese community in particular. Personally, I don’t feel any less safe after this incident.”

The Institute of Higher Education, in their 2013 Open Doors report, found the issue to safety to come after factors such as a school’s quality of research, reputation for future career and the university’s reputation for overseas students. The report, which represents 8,000 international students from 18 U.S. universities, found that safety ranked fifth place out of 26 factors for international students deciding which U.S. university to attend.

Mr. Garrett noted international students’ different perceptions on safety when they are attending a rural school compared with in an urban area. He said any student studying in an urban area in America will come in with eyes open, but said he did not see it as a huge problem when studying in an American university.

“Overall, safety is an important issue, but most international students don’t cite it as a problem on campuses,” he said.