By Xiaofeng Shi
When Chinese student Xuan took to Weibo to tell of a horrid mob attack that left him with a broken nose and cigarette burns, little did he know his ordeal would be met with an overwhelmingly sympathetic response from the social network, including its newcomer, the former Australian premier Kevin Rudd.
The incident, alleged to be racial targeting, prompted intense media coverage back home in China, which proceeded to hog the headlines in Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong and Down Under.
According to reports, the Nanjing native was commuting by train with a friend from the same city when they were attacked by a gang of six teenagers at about 12.30am on April 23.
Xuan claimed in a Weibo post that the youths, aged 14 to 19, hurled racist slurs at them during the physical torture they subjected the duo to. The gang called them “Asian dogs and pussies” when they cut them with glass and burnt them with cigarettes. The torture regime was so brutal that their noses ended up fractured and their bodies covered in blood. A female teenager in the gang was alleged to have pulled out a plug from her nether regions and shoved it down Xuan’s companion’s mouth before his attempt to wipe off the blood.
The thugs were also encouraged to rob their victims by a fellow passenger who allegedly said “they are Asian and they have got money”. Police were understood to be called to arrest the perpetrators at Rockdale station where they got off the train. Xuan’s first hand experience of gang violence in Sydney led to his comment that “this city is so dangerous”.
The Weibo entry was shared more than 10,000 times within a day of posting and made it into the list of top trending topics on the social media platform. Thousands of concerned Chinese students studying in Australia expressed their outrage on the Internet, where they called for awareness of increasing violence targeting them.
Widespread outrage was also directed at the Chinese government which was accused of being “spineless” in protecting its citizens on foreign soil, despite the efforts of consular officials to intervene after the media frenzy.
A Chinese expat Down Under opted to turn to Kevin Rudd on Weibo, who promptly raised the issue with prominent Aussie foreign affairs and police authorities, and Australia’s and China’s top diplomats to each other.
The Mandarin-speaking MP, affectionately known as “Old Lu” (Lu being Rudd’s self-styled Chinese surname) to the Chinese public, said he would seek help from the police and from the education department.
Rudd pledged the Australian government’s commitment to the safety and welfare of international students, in addition to his sympathetic Weibo posting on the assault victims. He disputed the alleged racial motivation behind by saying other ethnic groups have their share of robbery victims.
Chinese nationals were advised by the Chinese embassy in Canberra of safety concerns for travelling in Australia barely two days before the incident.
A 21-year-old student from Brazil was tasered to death by police officers in central Sydney last month. The media storm surrounding the incident held back Brazilian parents’ decision to send their children to Australia.
India issued a travel warning in January 2010 to its citizens in Australia after they were allegedly targeted for hate crimes. Student visa applications from the subcontinent plunged by half in second half of 2009 amid growing safety concerns.
In 2008, two teenagers who were out on Melbourne streets for “curry bashing” and a new mobile phone, kicked a university researcher of Chinese origin, Dr Zhongjun Cao, to death. The two were sentenced to “two years” in a youth detention centre.