Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Race Is On

Writing in the influential Huffington Post, Jim Fallows reports the following:

"It was Tuesday night China time when the authorities in Blacksburg, Virginia, identified the gunman as a young Korean. For the previous 12 hours, the worst traits in the Chinese media had been brought out by an even-worse lapse by part of the U.S. media. One -- and as far as I can tell, only one -- journalist in the U.S. identified the killer publicly and quickly as a student from China who had recently been given his visa in Shanghai. During the long night after the shooting U.S. time, which was daytime Tuesday in China, that report was picked up -- surprise! -- by Fox news and a few smaller U.S. outlets, and, via web news sites, it quickly made its way to China.

What the Chinese media did next was bad in a predictable way. Many web links to outside news of the shooting were blocked to limit subsequent details from reaching China. As reported in this blog from Beijing, parts of CCTV and the other official news outlets downplayed all announcements about the shooting until they could be sure what the "correct" Chinese angle would turn out to be. Meanwhile some other Chinese press web sites reported the news -- and the suspicion, emanating from America, that the killer was Chinese. I have friends in the U.S. consulate here, and I could imagine them tearing through the visa records yesterday, trying to figure out who the student might posibly have been, and which consular officer had stamped Approved! on his papers." [story continues...]

My first thought on hearing the original story that the shooter was Chinese was concern that it would arouse American racist feeling against Chinese people in the US. But given China's usual over-sensitivity to perceived slights against the country, I should have foreseen that the case would also perturb many in China itself.

As it turned out, the killer was not a recently arrived Chinese student after all, but a South Korean born US citizen with a history of mental disturbance, which did not, of course, prevent him exercising his "right" to acquire what turned out to be weapons of mass destruction for many of his unfortunate schoolmates.

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