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Fearful Chinese parents rethink sending children abroad after scholar’s kidnapping in US

The distressing case of Zhang Yingying has raised second thoughts about sending children so far from home to study

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 July, 2017, 4:36pm
UPDATED : Friday, 07 July, 2017, 9:22pm

The suspected kidnapping of Chinese student Zhang Yingying in the United States has prompted some mainland parents to reconsider sending their children overseas to be educated.

The 26-year-old University of Illinois student – who has been missing since June 9 – is feared dead after Brendt Christensen, 27, was arrested and charged with Zhang’s kidnapping on Friday.

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On the mainland, the case has drawn huge public interest, and some parents say they are having second thoughts about sending their children abroad.

He Minghua, a Hangzhou businessman who was planning to send his daughter to the US next year to study for a bachelor’s degree, said he was now hesitant.

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“I wasn’t so sensitive to this sort of story in the past. But since I started reading more news about overseas Chinese students, I realised safety is really a big problem, especially for girls,” he said. “Here, we’re used to having midnight snacks and going home alone in the early morning, but things are different out there.”

Fanny Xu, whose son attends Northwestern University, which is also in Illinois, said she was heartbroken to read about Zhang, but there was nothing she could do to ensure her son’s safety.

“He often studies in the library until after midnight, so I remind him to go home with friends … But once you let your child go ... he has to protect himself,” Xu said in Shanghai.

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She added that a friend whose daughter is in the US for a short-term study programme was intensely worried after hearing about Zhang’s disappearance and said he would not let her go to the US a second time.

Grandparents are also worried, with one grandfather writing on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, that his family was arguing over whether they should tell his granddaughter, who is studying in the US, to return. “As grandparents we want her back, but my son and daughter-in-law disagree … I called my granddaughter and she told me to relax … She’s too far away, so we can’t lend a hand if she gets into trouble,” he wrote.

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Louie Zhang, whose daughter went to high school in the US for three years and will attend the University of Rochester in New York in September, was more sanguine. “Every time I hear about something like this I am worried. But Julia has been there for three years and her boarding school was quite strict ... so I’m less worried about safety than others,” she said, adding most Chinese students knew how to stay safe. “Julia knows the dos and don’ts better than me, though I sometimes ­remind her to be careful.”

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US investigators believe Zhang was abducted based on surveillance video showing her getting into a car in Urbana, 225km southwest of Chicago. Christensen, her alleged abductor, appeared in court briefly on Monday. Police hold little hope that Zhang is still alive, though her body has not been found.

More than 544,000 Chinese students went overseas to study last year, a record high, according to the Ministry of Education. Over 328,000 Chinese studied in the US in 2015/16, according to the Institute of International Education.