Weibo’s Effect on Australia’s Image after Train Attack on Two Chinese Students

On Monday, two Chinese international students were assaulted and robbed on a train in Sydney by six teenagers aged 14 to 18 years old. Five were arrested including two girls.

Following the incident China’s consulate in Sydney warned local Chinese from unnecessary commuting at night on public transport.

The Sydney Morning Herald, an Australian newspaper reported that what appears to be a racial attack has triggered anger amongst more than 3,000 students who are considering staging a rally against such race based assaults.

Xuan, one of the Chinese who was assaulted is studying for his Master’s degree at the University of Technology Sydney. He suffered from a fractured nose and burns from a cigarette.

Xuan later micro-blogged over Weibo saying “I really wish all of this is just a nightmare. However, the smell of blood in my mouth and body pains reminds me that this city is so dangerous.

A gang of hooligans attacked us. Our noses are fractured and our bodies are covered in blood. My friend’s cheekbone was crushed. They attacked us with glass and burnt us with lit cigarettes. My face is burnt and totally disfigured! Worst of all, I really hated their racist comments. They were calling us Asian dogs and pussies while they were beating us. When my friend tried to wipe blood from his nose, a teenage girl stuffed my friend’s mouth with her tampon removed from her pants.”

On Wednesday, however, the Chinese micro blogger deleted all the blogs related to the assault’s details to ensure his privacy and eliminate rumors in the comments attached to the posts.

In true technologically advanced fashion, former Australian Prime Minister and fomer Foreign Affairs Minister, Kevin Rudd Weibo’d in Chinese “Apart from the two Chinese students, other people were also robbed. The attack was not directed at Chinese citizens,” said Rudd, who also expressed his hatred toward racism on his Mandarin micro blog.

Coming from Australia, I could directly see the growing number of mainland Chinese students in universities. Many are prepared to pay inflated ‘international’ tuition fees in order to secure a foreign education which is arguably more valuable in China. In many ways, Australia and other Western countries like America, UK and Canada use this demand to their advantage and essentially sell education. Now living in China, I see how determined Chinese students are to study abroad. They pay a lot of money to learn English and prepare for the SAT exams.

Given that Weibo allows information to be transferred instantly and widely, the perception of Chinese students about Australia will definitely be influenced about this incident. Unfortunately for Australia that works so hard to maintain a clean, safe image of multicultural tolerance, these limited events will make Chinese think twice about studying there. For the most part, Australia and Sydney is a very safe place. However, after living in Beijing I can see that Sydney is more dangerous and at a higher risk of racial attacks than China. To be honest, I feel safer walking around streets in Beijing late at night than in some parts of Sydney.

Overall I don’t believe it will greatly impact the trend for Chinese to want to study in China. But any country should be aware that social media is advanced in China and news whether true or false spreads quicker than nearly anywhere else. No longer does it take regular occurrences of bad things to happen like a series of racial attacks to get people talking. One incident on Weibo is enough to get everyone talking. For Australia and its universities that see international students as a cash cow, be aware, Weibo is your friend and enemy.