In April 2013, a pair of brothers set off two homemade pressure-cooker bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. More than 260 people were injured, some grievously, and three spectators died. One of those who died was a 23-year-old Boston University graduate student from China named Lingzi Lu.
That week I was in Michigan, where I’d spent much of the past year following a group of freshmen
navigating the adjustment from China to college. I was pulled into the marathon coverage — a classmate accused of hiding evidence for one of bombers had entered the U.S. on an expired visa. For months afterward, international students were subject to additional screening, sometimes waiting for hours as customs officials gave their paperwork extra scrutiny.
But that wasn’t the only way Lingzi Lu’s death reverberated. I could see it in the students I was spending time with at Michigan State. They paused as bulletins about the manhunt played on the TVs in the international center, scanned the headlines on Chinese and American social media, shared rumors in group chats. The arbitrariness of Lu’s killing made them contemplate their own vulnerability.
And it terrified their parents, who questioned letting their children go so far away.
“Her parents are of the same age as my parents; they cannot have another child. She is the only child of her family,” one student told me after detailing her own mother’s many calls and texts. “That must be really hard for her parents, for her to die suddenly.”
Another student asked me to do a Skype call with his parents and explain, in my terrible Chinese, that he was OK, that East Lansing was a safe place. Of course, I would have said the same of Boston.
I thought back to the marathon bombing last week after the death of another Chinese student. Yiran Fan was a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, memorialized
by friends and professors as brilliant and kind. Like Lu, he was caught up in arbitrary violence, killed as he sat in his car, the first of seven victims of a shooting spree.
Coming within days of the assault on the Capitol, Republican challenges to the presidential election, and President Trump’s second impeachment, Fan’s killing got little attention in the U.S. Not so in China.