Friday, January 23, 2009

Another Virginia Tech Tragedy, Murder by Decapitation

My mouth dropped when I saw the story at CNN about the Virginia Tech decapitation, a grisly murder. Despite this latest tragedy being the act of one man against one woman, I immediately remembered the 2007 massacre that took 32 lives, 33 including the murderer.

Perhaps last night's decapitation is the result of a lover's quarrel or the murderer's inability to accept unrequited affection. The police don't know the killer's motive yet.
(CNN) -- A female graduate student at Virginia Tech was killed Wednesday night when a man she knew attacked her with a knife and decapitated her, a school spokesman said.

Virginia Tech spokesman Mark Owczarski said Thursday that Xin Yang's killing was the first on the campus since April 16, 2007, when a shooter killed 32 people before turning a gun on himself.

Yang, 22, from Beijing, China, was killed at the Au Bon Pain restaurant in the Graduate Life Center at around 7 p.m., school spokesman Larry Hincker said in a written statement.

Campus police took Haiyang Zhu, 25, into custody at the scene. The Ningbo, China, native has been charged with first-degree murder and is being held without bail at a local jail, Hincker said. (from CNN, link is at end of post)
I won't lie. It was not simply that it's another horrific tragedy at Virginia Tech that caused me to recall the 2007 massacre, but also that again the killer is an Asian student. I'm human and humans connect information according to similarities, but we must be careful when we connect dots by ethnicity, as I discussed shortly after the 2007 case in "The Colors of Killers."

Next I remembered hearing the story of a teenage boy in Japan who decapitated his mother in May 2007. My thoughts followed with, "What's up with Asians and decapitation?" This is how people create negative stereotypes; they notice a type of behavior a few times with a certain group and erroneously jump to a bad conclusion about the group.

As an African-American, I reject developing negative stereotypes of other ethnic groups, especially following tragedy. That's been done to my people so much, and stereotyping has done so much damage that I won't do that to others.

Nevertheless, there's probably something written somewhere about decapitation in Asian culture because researchers study almost anything that crosses the human mind, and because swords were a popular weapon in ancient Asia. Actually, swords are still popular in some Asian countries such as Japan, but for display purposes only in most cases.

Both of my children are fascinated by Asian culture, and so when I misspeak and mix up Asian practices, one of them will jump in to lecture me that Asians are not a monolithic group like I'm an idiot. I'll hide this post from my kids for my peace of mind.

One thing we can guess and probably be correct. The man who decapitated this woman at VT, the mass murderer of 2007, and the teen boy who chopped off his mother's head have something in common that has nothing to do with their ethnic group but the human condition, and that's psychological disturbance. In addition, if I recall correctly, Cho Seung-Hui, the killer in the April 2007 mass murder, killed a woman first on a different part of campus, a woman he knew, causing some bloggers to discuss connections to misogyny and domestic violence.

So, the three murders mentioned in this post also have that in common, violence against women. But once Cho Seung-Hui, a South Korean, shot the woman, he went across campus and shot male and female alike.

After the Virginia Tech massacre, a few "experts" debated whether Asian men raised in Asian countries have trouble assimilating to Western culture and so suffer a specific unidentified stress disorder. When I heard that, I knew there had to be Asian people listening and pissed off. Nothing sucks like having your ethnic group stuck under a microscope and psychologically dissected by "experts" from a different ethnic group. They get either that pitiful sighing in their voices that signals they feel sorry for your people, or they ramp up with righteous indignation as though your group significantly deviates from the norm in the worst way, are freaks.

My prayers are with both the victim's family and the perpetrator's family. Hearing their daughter was murdered and murdered in such a grisly manner probably won't seem real at first to Xin Yang's parents and loved ones. And learning a son confessed to such a gruesome act could send a parent jumping off a cliff. This type of pain last to the grave.

Read the full story at CNN


Jenelle said...

Your comments on the horrific killing at Virginia Tech are thought provoking. The story is so disturbing, and as an Asian American, I am concerned this will generate some wrong assumptions about Asian culture. Will it cause a lot of people to fear and hate Asians? I hope people will see this for what it surely seems to be, a case of mental illness, not an Asian doing Asian things. I was born in this grandparents on one side came here when they were young, and the other side of my family is from Hawaii. Our family doesn't have much to do with swords except for the sort interest you say your kids have. The whole thing is totally bizarre. I share your need to think about why this happened, without condemning a whole ethnic group.

Vérité Parlant said...

Thank you for your comments, Jenelle. Some people are simpletons. I've already seen at least one forum discussion that looks nasty. Sadder, the people think they're being funny.

Intelligent people will do a little reflection and not post opinions born of ignorance opinions about ethnic groups. We're all growing, we hope. :-)

It is bizarre, as you say. The motive doesn't matter in the big scheme because mental illness has to be the root.

Ariadne said...

As for the decapitation thing specifically, it changes drastically from culture to culture. During the Boxer uprising in China Westerners and Japanese used decapitation against Chinese insurgents because it was the most humiliating and degrading form of decapitation possible. If you are a strict adherent of Confucianism you are morally obligated to not even cut your hair as it is a part of the body your parents so graciously gave you. Thus to have one's head removed is the ultimate dehumanization. In contrast, the Japanese pscyho-cultural take on decapitation is centered around ownership of the severed head. The most common form of excecution for some time was decapitation, usually of base criminals, but it was also a part of the ritual of seppuku and performed by either an appointed excecutioner, or a trusted friend of the person about to die. Heads were used as proof of death to relatives, as well as trophies of war. I think though, these specific incidents you noted have a great deal more to do with psychological or social illness than culture.

Vérité Parlant said...

Ariadne, thanks for all that information. I agree, it's not an ethnic culture issue but a mental illness issue.