HONG KONG — When six of the eight victims of this week’s shootings at Atlanta-area spas were confirmed to be of Asian descent, the news reopened wrenching debates in the United States about anti-Asian violence, bigotry and misogyny.
In East Asia itself, the public conversations about the violence played out with far less intensity.
The South Korean consulate in Atlanta has said that four of the people who died in the attacks on three massage parlors on Tuesday were of Korean descent. The two others of Asian descent are believed to have been of Chinese descent.
In both countries, which have low rates of violent crime and strict bans on guns, the murders were shocking but not surprising, given the frequent reports of gun violence and racially motivated crimes in the United States.
In South Korea, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Thursday that the government was paying close attention to the situation in Georgia, “with high interest for the safety of South Koreans living abroad.”
South Korean broadcasters also ran segments from their correspondents in the United States describing how Koreans in the Atlanta area worried for their safety. And some early disclosures about the victims were reported by Korean media outlets.
On social media, some users in South Korea expressed concern for friends or relatives in the United States. Others tagged posts with the hashtag #stopAsianHate.
“I am deeply saddened by the events that took place in Atlanta, Georgia, two days ago,” Choi Si-won, a member of popular K-pop group Super Junior, wrote on Instagram. “I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I would like to use my platform and emphasize this is an issue that needs to be addressed NOW and that ignoring it won’t help us.”
Other South Korean users pushed back against the comments by a law enforcement official in Georgia, who said after the attacks — using the gunman’s own words — that the man’s actions were “not racially motivated” but caused by “sexual addiction.”
“The police are not explaining the result of the investigation, but playing a role as a spokesman for the suspect,” the columnist Oh Byung-sang wrote in the newspaper JoongAng Ilbo. The headline of the article was “Atlanta shooting = racial discrimination + misogyny.”
In China, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry on Thursday condemned the apparent rise in anti-Asian hate incidents and accused “some politicians in the last U.S. administration and some anti-China forces inside the U.S.” for fanning racism and hatred with anti-China rhetoric.
“The U.S. side should take concrete steps to address its own problems of racism and discrimination and ensure the safety and legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens in the U.S.,” said Zhao Lijian, the Foreign Ministry spokesman.
On Chinese social media platforms, some users said that the Georgia attacks were not surprising in light of longstanding discrimination against Asian-Americans in the United States.
“Asians around the world must unite, stand up, take care of other people’s business and speak up for each other,” wrote Mia Kong, a Chinese fashion blogger.
Still, the Georgia attacks did not generate a giant outpouring of chatter on local social media platforms in either country. In China, users on the Twitter-like platform Chinese Weibo were generally more interested in a viral video of an elderly woman of Asian descent in San Francisco who beat up a man who had tried to attack her.
Some people in South Korea, China and elsewhere in Asia may have been less likely to take the Georgia victims’ deaths seriously because of stigmas associated with massage parlors, said Madeline Y. Hsu, a professor of Asian-American history at the University of Texas at Austin.
“If these women had not been working in massage parlors, and if there were clearer identification of them, there might be more of an outcry, a sense that ‘we must speak out because this is clearly an assault on our people and our nation,’” Professor Hsu said.
The level of outrage in Asia for the plight of Asian-Americans — a shifting category of people that represents at least 20 nationalities — often hinges on a complex web of local factors.
Stories about gun violence and racially motivated hate crimes in America often go viral in China, for example, in part because that country’s state-controlled media likes to highlight dysfunctional aspects of American society. So do reports of the killings of Chinese students in the U.S., where many Chinese families still aspire to send their children to be educated.
But there is little public discussion in Asia about concepts that often dominate conversations about race in the United States, including cultural appropriation and unconscious bias.
Hu Zhaoying, a university student in the southern Chinese province of Hunan, said the general lack of empathy for the Atlanta victims in China was not surprising.
“Some people don’t know about such incidents; some people choose to ignore them after seeing them; and some people are unable to empathize,” she said.
Mike Ives reported from Hong Kong and Amy Qin from Taipei. Youmi Kim contributed reporting from Seoul, and Claire Fu contributed research from Beijing.