Gun violence shatters American dream for Chinese students
Published: Nov 14, 2021 10:59 PM
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

When former US president Donald Trump said "places like Afghanistan are safer than some of our inner cities," he was not exaggerating, but telling the truth. On November 9, a 24-year-old Chinese student surnamed Zheng was shot in the chest and died during an armed robbery near the University of Chicago. Zheng is the second Chinese student to be gunned down in the city this year. 

Also this month, there were two other tragedies involving overseas Chinese. A Chinese scholar visiting the US, surnamed Zhou, was robbed at gunpoint in Los Angeles' Chinatown. Fortunately, Zhou knocked down the robber who later escaped the scene. But another victim was not so lucky. A 1-year-old boy was struck by a stray bullet and died on a highway in Oakland. 

The US used to call itself "the land of dreams" and "a place of dreamers." But the increasing number of tragedies is turning the country into a land of nightmares. "There is no doubt that the shootings and other tragic dramas will pose an impact on Chinese and potential overseas students who once dreamt about going to the US," Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations of the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times. Given its current cultural, political and social atmosphere, especially its safety issues, the US is no longer a paradise for overseas students, Li added. 

After hearing the heartbreaking news, quite a few Chinese netizens said that before people go to study in the US, they should take their security into account, rather than just focusing on the fame, the tuition and the diploma. It may be an accident for the majority, but a catastrophic blow to the family of the victims. 

Reports showed Zheng was a straight-A student. People around him say he was diligent and gentle, a model among fellow students and the pride of his family. Yet at the age of 24, with a promising future, he ended up one of the countless victims in US gun violence, in a country which clamors about human rights the loudest. 

Overseas Chinese are not the only victims. According to reports, a total of 2,344 people were shot in the first eight months of this year in Chicago, an average of 10 shootings a day. In 2020, more than 41,000 lives were claimed by gun violence in the US. Even Americans find it intolerable. "No other country on the planet witnesses the number of gun deaths that we do here in the US, and it's not even close," said US Senator Melissa Agard.  

Worse, no solution is in sight. US politicians often jump up and down on promoting bills to fix other countries. But they can properly fix few problems in their own homeland. "They always have debates about gun violence every now and then, especially after large mass killings, but no one takes action. People seem to be used to the predicament and no longer treat it as a disease in US society, as if this is exactly what the US is supposed to be," said Lü Xiang, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.

On a cover of Time magazine, published in August 2019, people see the names of a sea of towns and cities affected by gun violence that year. The headline "Enough" was striking among the densely listed 253 locations. In October 2017, there was a mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival in which more than 50 were killed and more than 500 were wounded. Many US media outlets called it "slaughter." The title of Time magazine on October 16 was "America's Nightmare."

Apparently, the alarm bells rung by US media are not enough. The American nightmare is still going on. As a result, the number of foreign students is shrinking. "Foreign enrollment plummeted by 20 percent last year," the National Public Radio reported in August. Granted, the pandemic is one of the major reasons, but public security must be another one. 

If the US is still the almighty superpower which can leave its competitors far behind, the incidents of gun violence may pose no big threat to US charm. 

But the level of education and high-tech of more and more Western countries are catching up with that of the US, while at the same time they have a more secure public environment. Those countries have become better choices, said Li. In Asian countries, including China, South Korea and Japan, where the domestic environment is stable while national development is striding forward, "the American dream" is fading to their students, who are more open-minded about where to pursue further studies with various options. And more are staying in their homeland for better opportunities, according to Lü. 

In 2017, Trump said Chicago was "like a war zone." In 2020, he said the city was "worse than Afghanistan… worse than any war zone that we're in by a lot." Yes, both Afghanistan and inner US cities like Chicago were in a "state of war." But Afghanistan is a country which faces threats from terrorists and foreign intervention. The US is the one and only superpower in the world. How ironic. Worse, what the US confronts is not only gun violence, but also a culture war, societal war and a war among different ethnic groups, according to Li.

"The 'wars' in the US are more complicated and will be more long-lasting than the war in Afghanistan," Li said. 

The author is a reporter with Global Times. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn