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Shattuck-St. Mary's linked to student in gang-rape outraging Chinese public

Meng Ge, PLA Major General Li Shuangjiang and son Li Tianyi
SCMP Pictures
PLA Major General Li Shuangjiang, center, with his wife Meng Ge, left, and son Li Tianyi sing on stage in this undated handout photo.

A young man at the center of a raging Chinese gang-rape scandal was expelled from the elite Minnesota prep school Shattuck-St. Mary’s, according to reports from Xinhua, that country’s state-run news agency.

Last week Li Tianyi, the 17-year-old son of a famous performer and general in the People’s Liberation Army, was arrested in Beijing on allegations he and four others gang-raped a woman. Also known as Li Guanfeng, the young man spent a year in a Chinese correctional facility after a 2011 incident in which he threatened a couple following a car accident.

The latest in a series of incidents involving the children of wealthy and privileged Chinese families that have electrified and outraged the Chinese public, news of Li’s arrest has provoked a tsunami of anger on Chinese social media that shows no signs of abating.

A search for Li Tianyi on Sina Weibo, China’s most popular social media platform, returns more than 9 million results as of 2 a.m. Friday, Beijing time, with many using the incident as a proxy to express anger at the perceived misbehavior of China’s wealthy and connected youth.

News of the Shattuck-St. Mary’s connection first appeared on Chinese social networks mid-afternoon on Wednesday, with some commentators circulating messages on Sina Weibo that said that they had attended the Faribault, Minn., boarding school with Li. Other comments cite the high cost of tuition at Shattuck-St. Mary’s ($35,000 a school year is the figure currently circulating on the service, and in Chinese media).

Shattuck-St. Mary’s administrators have yet to return MinnPost’s calls seeking comment.

Media reports

The most detailed of the state media accounts purported to quote Shattuck-St. Mary’s alumni relations and outreach coordinator, Father Henry Doyle, describing Li as isolated and unable to control his behavior. Reached by phone this morning, Doyle said he could not talk about the accounts and that he had not spoken to Chinese news media.

Xinhua reported that Li enrolled in the school in 2009 and was expelled after two years, supposedly for continual fighting. Social media posters quoted in other stories said that “second-generation star” Li used his father’s stature to threaten other students and that he substituted “washing powder” for classmates’ protein powder.

Many of the irate commenters railed about the ability of China’s most powerful families to send their children abroad for prestigious educations and to use their clout to protect them when their spoiled behavior gets them into trouble back home.

Last fall, Shattuck-St. Mary’s was the subject of local headlines detailing allegations that several faculty members sexually abused students as recently as 2003.

Seeking international students

Faced with fewer potential students at home in the wake of the economic downturn, the school, like many other prep schools throughout the country, has invested heavily in recruiting international students. Chinese students, in particular, are highly sought because of the high premium that Chinese parents place on obtaining U.S. educations, and their willingness to pay full cash tuition for the privilege.

For cash-strapped schools and universities, the temptation to admit students who don’t meet normal admission standards is very real. Last year, for example, an audit revealed that Dickinson State University in North Dakota awarded over 400 degrees to tuition-paying foreign students, most of whom were Chinese, since 2003.

“International Shattuck-St. Mary’s School campuses offer an opportunity for our school to leverage our skills in educating international students, while at the same time developing very appealing revenue streams,” school President Nick Stoneman told Independent School magazine last fall.

The magazine reported: “Formerly the head of school, Stoneman took on the newly created position of president this past July. The position was created to focus on developing international school opportunities.”

The school has made a concerted effort to forge relations with Chinese partners, according to its publication The Arch.

This article was reported and written by Beth Hawkins in Minneapolis and Adam Minter in Shanghai.

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Comments (3)

From Amy Wolf, Shattuck-St. Mary's Communications Dir.

It is regrettable that MinnPost felt the need to rush this story on line without giving the school a meaningful opportunity to respond (as an aside, we are on break this week and next and many of us are traveling). A little extra time might have avoided a few errors and made for a better story.

The young male at the focus of this story, Li Tianyi, was indeed a student at Shattuck-St. Mary's for a part of 8th grade in 2009-2010; he did not complete that academic year nor did he return to our school. Any details of his time with us or the circumstances surrounding his departure from the school are, not surprisingly, confidential; we do not share such information about any student. Since his departure in 2010, Mr. Li has had no affiliation with our school.
Our school is home to 440 students from more than 30 states and more than 30 countries, many of whom are pursuing the arts, athletics, and academics through ten unique Centers of Excellence. Contrary to the suggestions of your article, our diversity is not a function of economics, but instead a source of our strength. Within Shattuck-St. Mary’s student body there are world-class musicians, athletes and top-ranking students drawn from all corners of the world who learn from one another and from the traditions of an institution that, during its 155-year history, has nurtured generations of young people in preparation for college and for life, a tradition that is well-represented by a network of more than 5,000 alumni around the world.

Ms. Wolf's comment that "we

Ms. Wolf's comment that "we do not share information about any student" would be much easier to accept if not for the fact that China's Xinhua news service cites and quotes Shattuck's Father Henry Doyle on Li's character and behavior. Significantly, those comments have been backed up my former classmates of Li's using Chinese social media. As noted in our article, Father Doyle denied speaking to Xinhua.

So what else is new?

I only ask the question...hasn't Shattuck - legitimate or old folktale - always carried that distinct reputation for being an alternative to incarceration in a state institution for crimes by the sons of the wealthy; discriminate downsizing of sentencing; getting a slap on the wrist and a trip to Shattuck by economically endowed parents...in contrast to less endowed kids serving time in state institutions. Happened across the plains; national alternative too for an elite 'delinquent'?

So now can one suggest this institution has developed an international clientele...so what else is new?