Ximin Wang: the invisible passenger on Flight MH370

By   /   March 11, 2014  /   27 Comments

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When we lose somebody to tragedy here in our own country, it is awful enough. But when death comes for one of ours in a tragedy overseas, we feel a different shade of raw.


When we lose somebody to tragedy here in our own country, it is awful enough. But when death comes for one of ours in a tragedy overseas, we feel a different shade of raw.

They weren’t here. We couldn’t protect them. We didn’t have them in Aotearoan arms.

Our distance from the plagues and rushing concrete of the world, our fresh air, our fluting birds, our glittering oceans, our miles of salt and sand and our night sky streaming with stars we can actually see, our places of peace and quiet – these things didn’t save them from a dark, huge, sudden catastrophe in the air.

MH370 has caught the world’s attention.

The headlines were already upsetting. We’re a small country. Ximin Wang’s family have been thrust into horrifying grief they didn’t deserve or expect. Their lives, we can only imagine, are now full of fresh despair and horror.

If they glance at a paper, they will see that a kiwi died on that plane. But apparently, it wasn’t their one. 

It is true that the papers already had material on Paul Weeks, because he spoke to the media in 2012 about moving to Perth. But they didn’t find out anything about Ximin Wang. His traumatised family – understandably – didn’t want to talk to the media.

Neither of our country’s two newspapers bothered to find out his profession, whether he is a father, whether he has a partner, or anything else. Just his name was enough for them.

We get 17 lines about Paul Weeks in one article before a hastily-added Also on board was Ximin Wang, 50. He lived in Auckland, the Herald on Sunday reported. Nephew Ned Wang told the paper his family were too distraught to comment. 

Some of the New Zealand articles about the flight don’t even mention Ximin’s name at all.

He is mentioned second in every single article he is actually mentioned in. (At first I wondered if there a rule that our dead must be listed alphabetically in any article, hence Paul > Ximin? But even if that were so, Wang comes before Weeks).

But it isn’t only the lack of humanising information in the articles themselves that has really made me wild. It is the lack of mention in headlines. Looking at the mainstream media – specifically Stuff and the NZ Herald – you’d think there was only one kiwi who went down with that plane.

Missing plane: ‘Miss you already’ – Lost Kiwi’s last text

‘I can’t give up hope’, says wife of missing passenger

Family in the dark as search for missing plane continues

Wife of man on missing jet praying for a miracle

Chch man missing on Malaysia Airlines flight

The international media is a little better:

Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370: Two New Zealanders Feared Dead in Lost Aircraft (International Business Times)

And one or two Herald articles are more inclusive: 

Two Kiwis feared dead on missing Malaysia Airlines aircraft

But the text, the terrible text: it mentions nothing of Ximin Wang but his name.

Let’s be clear that these are our country’s two biggest newspapers here. They have ways and means of finding out professions, hobbies, life details. But it seems if you’re not a Pakeha, they’re not interested.

We are missing two beloved New Zealanders: Paul Weeks, 38, the father of two sons; a 3-year old and a 10-month old, who’d just left for a new job in a construction and mining company…

…and Ximin Wang, 50.

Nothing else.

They have glossed over him like he’s nothing. Like he’s nobody. He is repeatedly, callously referred to as “the other kiwi.”

Is he not as equal a New Zealander as the Pakeha man? Does his life not matter so much? Why is he the other? (He actually lived here, unlike Paul Weeks.)

We see this kind of racism all the time, but we don’t notice it. Those in that privileged space of media don’t seem to see that they have a voice that yells above everybody else’s. They don’t see that in pointing out everybody’s race but theirs they are promoting their own privileged place above us all.

Oh, she’s part Maori? He’s part Samoan? They’re part Niuean? She’s part Korean? Well, what’s the other part?

Normal, of course. Pakeha.

When was the last time you saw a newspaper article pointing out someone’s race as Pakeha? How many times have you seen articles that proclaim the pedigree of someone as something else, though – Maori, Namibian, Lebanese, Cook Islands? Chinese? Oh, that’s right: every time they’re not Pakeha.

Ximin wasn’t very Pakeha-sounding, and I suspect this is why he does not interest the mainstream media.

His nephew is named Ned, and doesn’t want to talk. He lived in Morningside. And with all the newspapers’ journalistic talent amassed, this is all we know of Ximin.

So, he lived in Morningside, did he? Probably he went to St Lukes quite often, then. He maybe bought trousers at Hallensteins or the Warehouse. Perhaps he shopped at the Countdown in there. He almost certainly would have bought some treats from one of the many bakeries and cafes there.

Morningside for life. It’s a funny area. Sort of industrial, but very lived-in; there is an almost equal mix of apartments, bungalows and townhouses. There are some mature trees, including a few huge pohutukawa, but mostly you see coprosma, willow, silver birch and assorted shrubs in the streets. There is a lot of footpath, many large retailers and their resulting traffic, and from many spots you can see across to the Waitakere Ranges.

I went the long way and drove to Morningside today on my way home. I wanted to travel through the area Ximin Wang must have travelled through so many times.

It was a light evening, with people stretching in their cars and bobbing their heads to music. Cars waited at the intersections with red brakes and open windows. A quiet breeze feathered the tops of trees, and clouds got ashen and thicker above the jagged tips of the Waitakere Ranges, heated by the edges of an orange sunset. St Lukes had its usual billboards and carparks, and dehydrated coprosma trees were, as always, sagging in the back streets.

It was a beautiful day here in Auckland – clear and fine, like it was when flight MH370 disappeared into the void a few days ago.

There was a 50 year old kiwi man on that plane. He was named Ximin Wang, and he was dearly loved, and he belonged here, and he lived in Morningside, and he has been lost to us.

To the family of the New Zealander Ximin Wang: I am so, so sorry.

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  1. Neil says:

    Well said, once again.
    Love your work.

  2. Tasi says:

    Right on! Exactly what I’ve been thinking.

  3. shelz says:

    Thank you for articulating what I have been feeling.

  4. Heather G says:

    Yeah I noticed that too. It happened with Michael Choy who the media called “pizza delivery man” for ages. Also Sakurako Uehara almost never gets mentioned by name on the radio. She is “the little Japanese girl” or “the 7 year old girl”. It’s not that hard a name to pronounce.

  5. Kareana Kee says:

    Thank you for putting this into words.

  6. TJ says:

    Interesting how systems of domination can even work through a relatively critical anti-racist piece like this! Why can’t nobody say the word? Even critiquing ‘pakeha privilege’ means you don’t have to say it? Even speaking to ‘casual racism’ means u don’t gotta mention that this is a matter of WHITE SUPREMACY, OF WHICH NZ IS A RAGING BREEDING GROUND. White privilege and white supremacy will take reporting of this flight even deeper into the quagmire of hatred. Guaranteed. Nice work to the author for a necessary piece xxx

    • ANDYS says:

      Well obviously we have lots of Germans living in NZ, seeking the lebensraum that was promised to them

  7. Ruth says:

    When I first saw the Herald on Sunday at my local dairy, it showed a photo of one of the missing passengers and his wife on their wedding day. I automatically assumed they were the missing couple on their honeymoon. I then started to read the first few lines of the article and realised, oh, that is not a photo of the two missing people, that is one photo of one of the missing people. The other persons name was published but his photo is not there. I nearly brought that paper and then I stopped because I recognised how misleading that photo was. I bought the Sunday Star Times instead. It had a photo of distraught relatives at the airport waiting for news of their loved ones. Still a shock photo but it was a bit more realistic.

  8. Arto says:

    White man’s burden don’t you know!

    • TJ says:

      Such a burden it is, not having to fight anywhere near as hard as anyone else to establish your full humanity..

  9. The Real Matthew says:

    First article I’ve been able to agree with on The Daily Blog

    Well done for pointing this out

  10. ANDYS says:

    So Chinese aren’t Pakeha too?
    I thought this was a bi-cultural society.
    Maori and Pakeha

  11. Merrial says:

    Yes, I’d also noticed. It may be the case that his family isn’t as willing to go public as the other man’s family; but even so, I’d have expected the major dailies to do some digging, and run a bit of a bio on him. It really is offensive that they seem to have just ignored him.

  12. the pigman says:

    I agree with the principle, and I think this is a good post. I certainly agree with the sentiment as a general observation of NZ media.

    There is another possibility though – that Mr. Wang’s family indicated they wanted privacy, that they did not want the life of their father/uncle/son thrust into the spotlight.

    It is fair to say the Weeks family, on the contrary, have not shied from media attention (over the years).

    Of course, the more likely possibility is that it was too much work/the “metrics” were all off given the attitudes you mention, and the skills for genuine journalistic inquiry were too thin (much easier to just reprint/repackage the existing Weeks journalism, right?).

  13. Cassie says:

    Yes very well made point Burn’t Out Teacher. So valid.

    ( Pssst ! @ Andys – We USED to be a bi-cultural society, but after the 1980s “restructuring” (globalisation) Agenda we lost our national identity from being Kiwis to…..rapid “multiculturalism” instead. But not politically correct to mention it now !)

    • ANDYS says:

      Actually, the Chinese were early settlers in NZ. Just visit the Chinese village at Arrowtown, for example.

      So this “bi-cultural” thing is actually quite insulting to a race of people who carved out quite a bit of modern NZ during the gold rush years

  14. Nelly says:

    So it’s racist that journos try to get information about the guy, then respect the family’s position that they’re too upset to comment? Maybe if they should have hassled the grieving relatives? Then you could write some self-righteous drivel about how intrusive the media is due to the demands of today’s 24-hour news cycle.

  15. Just the facts says:

    The reason is because there was no information provided to the media by the family.

    That is all.

    If you want to see some real racism, take your self hating White ass to any asian country of your choice, malyasia for instance, and be sure to bring a darker skinned friend with you. It will be a good lesson on what racism really is, and maybe you’ll decide stop writing nonsense like this.

    BTW, I highly doubt the family concerned cares about your little apology. But nice way to take advantage of someone else’s loss to push your anti white agenda anyway.

  16. Bob says:

    What rubbish. His family stated they wanted privacy. Add in the very obvious language barrier and you can understand the media focusing on the pakeha guy.

  17. actually, I don’t think it’s Pakeha vs the rest. I think it’s a case of Asian New Zealanders being sidelined in comparison with Pakeha and Maori New Zealanders (I’m not sure where Pasifika people fit into this pattern).
    About a decade ago, there were two children kidnapped in New Zealand. One was a Maori girl called Kahu Durie, and her kidnapping got heaps of coverage. The other was a Chinese boy (I can’t recall his name, because it was hardly ever mentioned). It seemed like the Chinese victim was ignored because his kidnapping was seen as ‘Asians doing Asian stuff’.

  18. How many (remote?) airports in the Maldives are good enough to land a 777? Seems like the perfect remote spot for landing a plane!

  19. Mr Presely says:

    Thank you for putting into words the extreme discomfort I have been feeling in the New Zealand coverage of flight MH370.

  20. Garry says:

    Like the article, I was wondering as well….

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