Sunday, February 15, 2009
Virginia Tech again?
If we glom all Asians under one label, as a shallow democracy might, then we would say that the 'Korean-born' Seung Hui Cho and the Chinese graduate student Zhu Haiyang, who beheaded a fellow Chinese graduate student at the campus Au Bon Pain with a kitchen knife, had both suffered isolation and a kind of anti-socialism in Blaksburg Virginia.
But these are separate and distinct incidents. The first got huge media attention because of its supreme violence involving the death of Americans, many Americans, 33 Americans, including the killer himself, who, despite being 'Korean-born,' was raised in America. It was impersonal as pushing a button, 33 times, on a video game, it was random in its targeting, it was deftly planned out, required the nerves of superhuman steel, and terrified us all in its implications of a parallel universe that could be so deeply steeped in anger and imbalance that it could surface into a horrifying reality.
The second has barely gotten any attention, aside from its initial report of an act so morbid one can barely get the image out of one's mind, of the police showing up at the cafe (The Pain, as some Brookline-ites call it) with Zhu Haiyang holding the head of Yang Xin in his hand with 7 people in the vicinity having barely noticed because it all went down so quietly. The reports say that Zhu had become distraught over losing money in the stock market, with the world economy flailing--so much so that on a Chinese blog (this I read from the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong) he wrote that he wanted to kill someone or kill himself.
I realize the pressure the Chinese foreign students have, in being China's future hope. On top of this, a country whose media is censored, only to report positive things about China, to keep its citizens naive and from worry, and therefore unprepared. And then, to be the only child, the only son, who the parents go into debt for, to go abroad, to go get a PhD., to return to the motherland with new knowledge, where failure is not an option. Six percent of the workers in China have higher education degrees, and now with the loss of jobs, not only in the U.S., but China too, the educated elite are unable to cash in on guaranteed employment.
And Yang Xin, only arrived to the U.S. this past January 8. It is natural to gravitate towards your own, especially in a foreign country. Zhu Haiyang was Yang Xin's student mentor. He was getting a PhD. in agricultural economics; she was getting a degree in accounting. He is from Ningpo, she is from Beijing. It seems he showed her around, really took her under his arm. A very appealing girl with a bob haircut, she was reported to be meek, and he in great control. These privileged only children have everything done for them at home. If Zhu Haiyang was already feeling powerless from the economic front, what better way to feel more valuable than to show a new compatriot the ropes.
And in the week of China's happiest time, the Chinese New Year.
With limited information, the speculation for such an act is constantly disturbing. Not only a kitchen knife, but an assortment of knives he had in his bag at the cafe. Was he prepared for rejection? A knife is a crime of passion, usually, or of convenience? It's not like it's hard to get a gun permit, but Zhu Haiyang was super money-conscious, not even paying for heat in his apartment, rather gathering piles of wood in the living room to keep the fire going (agricultural economics?). In a universally testosterized world, loss of money is castration. A pretty woman on a man's arm may restore the humiliation, comfort through the pain, stroke the only son's inflated/deflating ego...unless the pretty woman adds to it. Was it she that insisted on a public meeting place, so that the awkwardness would be easier to repel, so that strangers might be allies, or at least witnesses for a new girl alone in a new world with a svengali force desperate for connection?
There was no argument, no raised voices. How silent the Asian peoples tend to be. They are so subtextual. There is no announcement. There is just action. Love is not frilly words. Or if it is and not received, then the cast off must act, powerfully act. It's not like Zhu Haiyang might have other female prospects. When you're in a homogenous majority as humongous as the Chinese, it's difficult to picture the U.S. as majority white; and in the culture scheme, the Asian male does not have the most desirable PR, except for maybe kung fu and computer wizardry. On the romantic front, western tastes don't play up Asian masculinity, perhaps different aesthetical preference may account for this. Even so a pragmatic Chinese male may be immune or even perhaps confused by the kind cruelty of the south's duplicitous charm. Or the disaffected male whose worth is tied into the economy has no time, mood and patience for seduction. Imagine being the king of your world and then thwarted from your throne, not even from American women, but from one of your own. Facebook showed him dutifully stand next to Washington DC and New York monuments. What did Zhu Haiyang not get prepared for about the U.S?
And so, the unacceptable glomming of 'Asian American' helps capitalism's marketing and forewarning labels. But we have no idea how minds work underneath. We have no means of integrating that which is not acting in the American way. Especially now, as the collective esteem is at a wobbly low. How we 'include' Asian perspective into the American culture might deserve more sophisticated attention, not just because democracy defines this inclusion, but because these perspectives are vital to how we understand the world in the 21st century. The grey area of contradiction does not sit happy with a consumer who wants to feel empowered with definite knowledge and the high-hand of confidence in the American Way, but by gosh, Obama has triggered the transition. Power has a way of being stubborn, and Superpower, super stubborn. It's not a battle of entitlement anymore--it's how are we gonna survive the complexities of our time and evolve anachronistic attitudes into a deep democracy that puts ego aside and really pluribuses the unum.
Strangely, both China and the U.S. are similarly isolated in its culture and geography, and so have a warped sense of superiority. And both have the violent streak of capital punishment in its accepted way of life.
How much longer can we generalize about almond-eyed people, even if the Korean and the Chinese and the Cambodian and the Japanese and the Thai and the Indian and the Hmong and the Vietnamese and the Filipino and the SriLankan and the Pakistan and the Burmese and the Nepalese and the Indonesian, and the Singaporean and the, and the, are as different from each other as the U.S.? How much longer the performance and hope of normalcy, smile nicely at them and not wonder beyond their food and bear their whining historical injustices (which the U.S. usually arbitrarily provokes)? Can we really continue so much complexity under the one label of Asian American, blank hyphen American? How much more will we be suddenly shocked by such brutal, morbid acts--it came out of nowhere, they all kept to themselves, they were so nice, they were kind of acting strange, even if we saw it coming, what could we do?
That may be key. What we could do. When I was having cultural schizophrenia in college, so alienated by what was expected from the Chinese side and the freedom and pursuit of self-knowledge the west encouraged, I went to see a counselor at UCLA, my undergrad hubbub. Granted this was in the 80's, last century, when multi-culti culturalism was invented. Just needed someone to say Asian values and Western values tend to be contradictory, that immigrant parents who have been displaced from their own countries have a phenomenally huge need for child's success, to try and understand their side, the other side, maybe find a way to communicate, something to stop the bifurcation. The nice man said 'just study harder.' Thanks. Yeah. Thanks.
And the performance of normalcy continues, until, for some, the last gasket pops...
One of my critical writing students told me that the Chinese bloggers have been saying that it was Yang Xin's fault. The girl's fault. Her fault that she got beheaded. Her fault that she made him so angry. Which is consistent with one kind of Chinese male (or universal patriarchal) mentality who thinks that Nicole Simpson got what she deserved, shamelessly parading around naked in front of windows with a younger man.