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Judge Compares Beating Of Chinese Teen To 'Lord Of The Flies'

Photo by carl ballou via Shutterstock
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The beating of a Chinese teenager at the hands of her peers had led to concern over 'parachute kids,' or foreign students who are sent to America for an education while their parents remain in their home countries. Yiran "Camellia" Liu, 18, was brutally beaten and humiliated during a fight at an ice cream parlor in Rowland Heights on March 30 that began over an unpaid bill at a restaurant. Liu said that three other teenage girls first forced her to her hands and knees and made her wipe up ice cream and cigarette butts with her hands, the L.A. Times reports. Soon, other students joined the bizarre mob mentality, forcing Liu to come with them to a park. Here, they removed her clothes, kicked and hit her, used a cigarette to burn her nipples, and chopped off her hair and demanded she eat it. Someone took photos of the assault with their phone. Liu said that at one point, 19-year-old Yunyao "Helen" Zhai encouraged the mob to slow down the abuse so that it could go on for longer.

Zhai, 18-year-old Yuhan "Coco" Yang, and 18-year-old Xinlei "John" Zhang have all been charged as adults in the beating, pleading not guilty to kidnapping, assault and torture. Zhang's lawyer argued that he was only a bystander to the assault, while lawyers for Zhai and Yang are hoping to come to a plea deal that would lighten the charges. How successful that will be is up in the air: both Zhai and Zhang have been charged with attacking another teenager at a strip mall in Diamond Bar, only three days before the alleged attack on Liu.

Liu as well as the defendants were all "parachute kids," meaning that they had been sent to California by their parents to get an American education, while the parents stayed in China. Most parachute kids attend local high schools on an F-1 student visa while staying in 'homestays', where an American adult assumes legal guardianship of the student and is paid for their services.

Judge Thomas C. Falls, who presided over the preliminary hearing for the three teens, likened the attack to Lord of the Flies. The parachute kids are removed from their parents and previous life, being thrust into a completely new one in anther country, far away from their parents. Falls said that these teens often have "no supervision, no one to turn to for assistance. So these things can get out of control."

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While some homestays are tightly regulated with the surrogate parents being subject to background checks, not all of them are, especially as the industry booms. There were about 1,700 such students in 2009, but over 80,000 in 2014. Joaquin Lim, former mayor of Walnut, now works with a company that matches Chinese students to area schools, in which his substitute parents are screened and must sign contracts with the students' parents hammering out details of the arrangement. However, he said that there are "a lot of scams and scandals" when it comes to homestays, and thinks that regulations should be put in place.

The three students have been in jail since their arrest, with their bails set at $3 million. Another teen, who was charged as a juvenile, has been sentenced to seven to nine months in a juvenile camp. Two others juveniles admitted participating in the attacks, and authorities believe some teens who were involved may have left the U.S. The father of one of the juvenile defendants was arrested two weeks after the two assaults on suspicion of attempting to bribe one of the victims into not pressing charges, something that occasionally does happen in bullying cases in China, according to Chinese media commentators reporting on the story.

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