Sanlitun Murder: 'It Was an Anti-Foreigner Attack'

By Steve George, August 19, 2015

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Yesterday saw the funeral of Gu Wenqing, the 28-year-old Shandong woman fatally stabbed in a brutal and apparently xenophobic attack while she walked with her French husband in Beijing’s Sanlitun district on August 13.

Gu’s grieving widower, 33-year-old Romain M, attended the ceremony accompanied by his mother, brother and close friends, before returning to Chaoyang Hospital, to receive further treatment for injuries sustained in the incident.

Shocking images of the bloody attack, which occurred just hours after the deadly blasts in the neighboring city of Tianjin, went viral throughout Beijing after being circulated on popular messaging app WeChat.

The speed at which the images spread online, gave rise to a number of inaccurate and misleading initial reports claiming that the couple were attacked by a jealous ex-lover of Gu’s.

Romain's close friend, Gregory D – who was the among the very first people to arrive at the Frenchman's side after the attack – was at pains to make clear this was not the case.

“Romain and Gu had never ever met this man before,” explained Gregory. “It was an anti-foreigner attack. He approached them and began yelling at them that he hated Americans. Romain – who speaks perfect Chinese – tried to calm him down, and tell him that he wasn’t American. He was French.

“They noticed the sword at this point, but assumed it was some kind of joke. The attacker didn't seem to believe Romain, so Gu repeated that her husband was French, not American. Then they turned to walk away, thinking – hoping – it was all over. And that’s when he [the attacker] struck.”

The assailant, since identified by the police as a 25-year-old from Jilin Province, surnamed Gao, stabbed Gu from behind in her lower back with a samurai-style sword, before turning on Romain, stabbing him twice, face on, in his pelvis and stomach area. Gao was later arrested by local police after surrendering to authorities at the scene of the incident.

Tragically, the attack came just 40 minutes after the couple had formalized their marriage at the French Embassy, where Romain works.

“Romain and Gu were married a while ago in China, but in Romain’s eyes, Thursday was their real wedding – as that’s when it became official under French law.” said Gregory. “Can you imagine? Less than an hour after getting married, you are a widower, your wife brutally murdered in your arms? It’s unbelievable, heartbreaking.”

The couple, who had been together for three years, first met in Sanlitun where Romain would enjoy nights out with the local football team he captains.

“They were stopping off in Sanlitun to buy some stuff, and celebrate their wedding. They had just locked up their electric bike, when the attacker approached them outside of Uniqlo,” explained Gregory.

Sanlitun Murder

Friends of the couple confirmed that the pair were due to leave China in September to begin a new life together in France.

“[Gu] was really excited; they were planning on starting a family together. It was supposed to be the happiest time of their lives,” explained a close friend of Gu’s, who wished to remain anonymous. “They were so in love. It sounds like a cliché, but they were the perfect couple. Everyone is devastated. I can’t describe the feeling.”

Other than the attacker’s brief exchange with the couple, motives for the murder remain unclear. Police are yet to release any further details but witnesses to the attack claim that Gao was wandering around in front of Uniqlo – the site of the attack – for at least an hour before the incident.

 “He was just hanging around, with the sword. It sounds strange now, but I didn’t take too much notice. It’s not that uncommon to see people with weapons in China, practicing martial arts,” explained a 27-year-old local woman who would only give her English name, Rachel.

“If it was an anti-foreign attack, there would definitely have been other foreigners in the area during that time, which makes me think that he may have been waiting for a mixed-race couple,” she added.

According to Gregory, Romain remains in a state of shock, and has yet to fully come to terms with the occurrence. “It is very difficult for him to process the randomness of it. Romain has lived in Beijing for ten years, he has made a life for himself here – this is his home. Physically he is OK, he will survive. But mentally, it will take a long time and a lot of specialist help for him to fully recover.”

Romain's friends and family members, including his childhood friend Sylvain O – who flew in from France after hearing news of the attack – have praised his resilience, as well as the help he has received from both the French and Chinese authorities.

“It is impossible to imagine what he is going through right now,” said Gregory. “But we are all very thankful for the support from the authorities – they have done everything they can to treat Romain. When he was first admitted to hospital there was some confusion among staff as to who would cover the costs of his treatment. But fortunately, the French and Chinese authorities acted quickly to waive it through, and operate regardless. The Chaoyang Hospital staff have been very kind to visiting relatives and friends too.”

According to those present at the scene, Gu died shortly after arriving at Chaoyang Hospital. Romain, who initially was thought to have avoided any serious internal injuries, was later rushed into intensive care, after tests revealed major internal bleeding. His condition is now considered stable. He was given the all clear to leave hospital and return home on Tuesday night.

// Please note, some surnames have been removed from the story in response to requests from those affected.

// For more on this story follow Steve George 

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