Snapshot of a tragedy

Karen Kissane with Sze Kai Chen and Daniella Miletic

It started with a child left in a train station. Then came a missing father and the discovery of the mother’s body in a car boot. Karen Kissane, Sze Kai Chen and Daniella Miletic follow the trail.
IT WAS never going to be easy to be married to a god; the gods are often capricious with the lives of mere mortals. But Anan Liu apparently saw it as the way into her promised land. She could not have known that it would lead to an ugly death, and to the abandonment of her small child to the kindness of strangers.
The man she married, Nai Yin Xue – the man who discarded his three-year-old daughter at a Melbourne train station a week ago, the man whose young wife’s body was this week found in the boot of his car in Auckland – wrote a book in 1998 in which he described himself as a gift to his mother from the gods.
The Pearl of Wu-style Tai Chi: the life of Xue Nai Yin is a biography written in the style of a Chinese folk tale. Xue, now the target of an international police hunt, wrote of a magical conception.
He claimed that his childless, ageing mother had gone to the temple to pray for a son. As she placed joss sticks in an urn, thunder roared, lightning struck and the heavens opened.
That night, a bearded old man in richly decorated clothes appeared in a dream to his mother. He said, “You will soon have a son. You are to take good care of him and bring him up well. He is going to be a great and successful man.” He then blew over her.
She fell pregnant and told her husband, “My pregnancy is a secret gift from the gods.” They named the child Naixi, meaning “the stamp of royalty”, after a fortune teller also told her the boy was destined to be a great man. Xue’s name was changed to Nai Yin when he started school; in New Zealand, to which he emigrated in 1996, he called himself Michael.
There’s nothing like a good start in life to give a man a fine opinion of himself. And by all accounts this week, the man at the centre of this extraordinary family tragedy rarely doubted the rightness of putting himself first.
A week ago today, Xue walked into Melbourne’s Southern Cross railway station with his three-year-old daughter, Qian Xun. In security-camera images that have since become world famous, he let go of her hand and walked out of her life.
The child was rescued by security guards. The hunt for her missing parents became a homicide investigation after Qian Xun’s mother, Anan Liu, was found dead.
Liu and Xue are believed to have met when she became a boarder in his house in Auckland. He had gone to New Zealand, according to his biography, because he had no choice but to leave China if he was to fulfil his destiny of spreading his martial arts – a combination of kung fu and tai chi – around the world.
In 2006, he claimed to a documentary maker that he was revered by 40,000 adherents, most of them in America. He was featured on the cover of an American tai chi magazine.
In his biography, written in his native language of Mandarin, Xue said that by 1982 he was already the master of eight martial arts societies and two kung fu schools. He published a Chinese-language newspaper in Auckland but is believed to have been in financial trouble by the time he fled New Zealand 10 days ago.
Qian Xun, nicknamed “Pumpkin” because of the Pumpkin Patch clothes she was found in at the train station, was not the only daughter Xue had discarded. He had another daughter from an earlier marriage.
Grace Xue, now 27, this week came forward and said she was abandoned by him at the age of 19 in Auckland, a foreign city where she had no money and could not speak the language.
She had not known she had a half-sister. She said she was distressed to see Qian Xun abandoned but was not surprised when she learned who had left her behind. “I think he loved himself way more than he ever loved anybody else.”
Anan Liu was a slender, pretty young woman and an only child of parents who are prosperous by Chinese standards. She was born in 1980 in Changsha, in the province of Hunan, and went to New Zealand about five years ago to learn English, an education that was paid for by her family. According to an internet report by someone who claims to have been her friend, Liu was desperate to stay in New Zealand but failed the English language test. She was said to have married Xue, now 54 and a man twice her age, to win residency.
But one family friend said he did not believe it was a marriage of convenience. Yue Gang Wang is a businessman who lived in Auckland for 10 years before returning to Beijing in 2005. He met the family when Qian Xun was two or three months old.
“I don’t think Anan married Nai Yin to enhance her social status,” he says. “If you read some of the articles she wrote about him (published in local Chinese newspapers in NZ), you can tell that she idolised him. She must have loved him.”
But Wang says the Lius frowned upon the marriage. Speaking from Beijing through an interpreter, he says, “They have never met him. Anan and Qian Xun returned to Changsha once to visit the grandparents, but Nai Yin never went with them.” Wang believes the family thought Xue was too old for Liu, and that he was not financially secure enough to provide for her.
He remembers Liu once saying that she and her husband might try for a second child. “You know, as a well-known wushu expert, Nai Yin would have wanted a son to carry on the family name.
” ‘What if it is a girl?’ ” I asked Anan. She laughed and said, ‘Then I will stop.’ ”
It was a marriage in which he talked and she listened, according to Tony Wright, a tutor at the NZ university Unitec. He followed Xue for a week as he supervised a student making a documentary about Xue’s “missing” older daughter, Grace.
Recalls Wright, “He was quite self-important. The walls of his house were covered in massive posters of himself doing his martial arts poses, looking very proud. There weren’t posters of him and his family on the walls.”
Xue, whose English was poor, through a translator ordered Wright not to speak to Anan Liu: “Basically, it was, ‘This is my documentary. Don’t talk to my wife. Talk to me at all times.’
“He certainly was in charge. I got the sense that this was his house, it wasn’t their house, and that this is my wife and this is my baby. He did not talk about his wife and how much he loved her; it was all about how much he loved his martial arts career.”
Wright watched unconvinced as Xue wept on film about the supposed loss of his older daughter and about how his new baby gave him a second chance to be a good father: “I said at the time I didn’t believe his tears. He was completely putting it on. He enjoyed having a camera on him.”
They filmed in Xue’s garage, which was full of martial arts weaponry, Wright recalls: “Some of it was ceremonial and cheaply made, but others were the real thing: swords, big axes, long spears with a cutty thing on the end.”
If Xue saw himself as a personification of the Chinese principle of yang – of masculine energy that is forceful and action-oriented – Liu was more yin, a quiet, romantic dreamer. Says Wang, “Anan was a good person, maybe a little innocent and naive, but she had no bad points.”
On her Mandarin blog, she used flowery imagery to write of love and loss and longing.
Her last sorrowful entry was on Monday, September 10, not long before her death. “Living in this world, a lot of the time we live in difficulty and loneliness,” she wrote. “If the conclusion of happiness must always be pain, I would rather I’d never been happy.”
In an earlier entry, on July 12, she had been even more forlorn. She wrote in blank verse:
Can’t find someone to love
And can’t find someone to love me
What meaning is there to go on living?
To live is to continue suffering
It is now clear that there was “a history of domestic violence”, to use the formal parlance for the bashing of loved ones. In one attack, little Qian Xun was injured too. On September 20 last year, the couple reportedly fought over money. Xue threw a mobile phone at Liu, who was holding Qian Xun, then aged two. The phone bounced off Liu and hit Qian Xun in the head, leaving a small cut and swelling. Xue then punched his wife two or three times, striking her above her right eye and on her nose.
While the child was in her mother’s arms, Xue allegedly held a 30-centimetre knife to his wife’s stomach and said, “I treat you good and you don’t treat me very well. I love you but you don’t love me. I am going to kill you!”
Liu begged Xue for her life and gave him money to placate him before fleeing. At one point she stayed in the Shakti refuge for Asian women in Auckland.
This is an international story and one that has caught alight in cyberspace. According to one uncorroborated entry by a Chinese woman on a New Zealand website, Liu arrived at the refuge bruised and cried through swollen, blackened eyes. The entry claimed Liu said her husband demanded sex daily and had seized her passport to stop her leaving him; he had threatened that if she tried to leave, he would kill Liu and her family.
According to this report, the fight that ended in violence was not over money but over the fact that Liu had been hunting for her passport and instead found a gun. “Xue happened to see this. He beat Annie and threatened her with a knife.”
During the separation, Liu had a relationship with a married man whom she deeply loved, according to her blog, but whose “love nest” she had to flee the week before his wife returned to him. “Fool around, but don’t fall in love,” she wrote of it later. “The deeper the love, the more painful is the hurt . . . Forget it, forget about it, let it go with the wind.”
Liu was looking for love and was not always entirely honest in her search for it. She advertised herself on an internet dating site as someone who was divorced and childless. In the end, she went back to Xue. Upon returning with her daughter from Wellington last month, Liu had two demands for her husband: the first was that he rent office space so that he was not always at their Mount Roskill home, and the second was a car. She believed having her own car would give her independence and freedom.
Xue agreed.
But the marriage still suffered, according to family friends. “(He) was still not happy in life, she also not happy in life,” one said. He had spoken to several people about wanting to kill his wife.
One of the last people to see Xue was Raymond Tang, 52, who owns Love a Duck BBQ Cafe and has known Xue since he first came to Auckland from China.
Mr Tang remembers Nai Yin Xue as a friendly looking man but a bit of a fabulist: “When he say something, he was always promoting more than the truth.”
Mr Xue was a regular customer at the cafe. He mostly came in on Wednesday. Last Wednesday, he came to the restaurant with a child.
“That day he did not appear to be any different. He appeared to be caring for a small little girl and asked her what she would like to eat. She said seafood, so he ordered her seafood noodles and fish congee (porridge) for himself. He wanted to use the phone to make a call for a friend to come join him for lunch. She told him she had already eaten, so he and the little girl ate.”
The following day, Xue and his child boarded a plane to Melbourne. On the following Saturday, he took the girl to Southern Cross Station, let go of her hand on a platform, and left her. He is believed now to be in America. He had boarded a flight to Los Angeles.
On Wednesday, the body of Anan Liu, 27, was found curled up in the boot of her husband’s car outside the white weatherboard family home. She had been there for at least a week. The crowds of reporters milling in her street, the neighbours sitting on their steps watching the police spectacle, had all been looking at her tomb. Some had even leant against it.
The shambolic delay, which led papers to coin phrases such as “Kiwistone cops”, was defended by police, who said they had to wait for a warrant because the car was on the road rather than on the property.
For Liu’s mother, Liu Xiaoping, the loss of her only child has been devastating. Liu’s maternal grandparents, who are in their 80s, “definitely will not be able to take the news, so the family has decided to keep the truth from them”, said Wang.
He said he last spoke to a member of the Liu family on the telephone from Beijing on Wednesday. “Every time the phone rings she gets distraught and she’s terrified of the media knocking on her door.”
The family has also been upset by some of the more insensitive comments posted on news forums since the body was found.
Many of the remarks are sympathetic. Wrote one woman: “I am myself the mother of a three-year-old girl. When I saw the picture of a small little girl standing alone in the big hall, my heart aches . . . How can the person be so ruthless!”
But others are judgemental of Liu: “She married a man but she was fooling around with other guys. She said she was divorced without kids. She was talking bullshit, lying to everyone on the internet and trying to cheat the next man. Shame on her!”
Wang said the mourning family asked the media and the public “for respect of the dead, and to restrain themselves”. He said, “They don’t understand (the comments). They think it shows no respect for Anan. They wonder why people can be so cruel and cold-blooded.”
Forensic psychologist Ian Joblin, asked to explain the thinking of men who use violence against their families, said, “Often these guys are very self-centred. We often find that the men feel the females are in the way, or challenging or threatening their ego, and in order to eliminate that threat, they kill them.”
As for the dumping of children: “Again, they are in the way. ‘She’s not part of my plan. She’s not part of what I want to do.’ ”
Three-year-old Qian Xun is with a Melbourne family who will care for her until she returns to New Zealand. She enjoys Vegemite on toast for her breakfast and is mostly calm but sometimes becomes distressed when she asks for her mother. She responded animatedly when she caught sight of her mother’s photograph on television. Authorities will not say whether she has been told of her mother’s death.
Qian Xun’s grandmother is making arrangements to fly to New Zealand from China and will seek custody of her. No funeral arrangements are yet in place for Anan Liu. Qian Xun’s older half-sister, Grace, 27, whom she has never met, is also interested in making the child part of her family in New Zealand. The tabloids will be waiting to see whether to dust off their “tug-of-love” headlines.
For many of her compatriots, meanwhile, Anan Liu’s death has meant some soul-searching. Posted one in broken English this week: “No one can blame her any more. She was so helpless when she was in a foreign country. I just want to tell a lesson to anyone who wants to go overseas from China: Foreign country is not a heaven. Don’t get marry for just a visa. Stay in your home country and maybe you can find your true dream and real love.”Karen Kissane is law and justice editor. Sze Kai Chen is an Age journalist. Daniella Miletic is an Age reporter.
Anan Liu’s Blog entry for August 29
He is a married man, even has a two-year-old daughter. This dooms
he and I to a fleeting affair.
He’s lonely, I’m lonely, dry rice meets fire (connotes a sexual
encounter), therefore what should happen already happened.
Like a family living happily together for almost two months.
I found myself deeply in love with this a little bad and very cute guy.
Fool around, but don’t fall in love.
This is a truism.
The deeper the love, the most painful is the hurt.
The week before his wife returned, I drove away and fled our little
love nest, fled the city that belongs to him.
I’m a deserter of love, but if I can’t have everything, I’d rather do
without, that’s my principle.
The heart, cut like a knife. A wounded heart. Tears, on the face.
There’s a kind of love called letting go, giving up eternity
because of love.
My dear, so as not to hurt other innocent people, I’ve put my
heart out to be hurt the deepest.
You’ll never know, how much I’m reluctant to let you go.
You’ll never understand, how hard it is to love someone, how
hard it is to forget you.
There’ll never be anyone who loves you as deeply as I do,
this you’ll never understand.
Forget it, forget about it, let all go with the wind.
If years later, we meet in a crowd, I’ll walk to you, smilingly
look into your eyes, softly ask, “How are you?”
In a city without him, everything slowly returns to peace.”

First published in The Age.