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In-depth: Uncovering truth behind murder of Chinese student in US

Shao Tong’s body was found in the trunk of a 1997 Toyota Camry on September 26, 2014 in Iowa State of the US. Li Xiangnan, who is believed to be Shao’s boyfriend, is suspected to be the killer and the American police have issued an arrest warrant for him. But Li is still at large.

Over the past five months, the US China Press have been following this case and talked to some of Shao’s friends and relatives, which helped in unveiling some of the key details behind the murder.

The photo of Shao Tong before she went to the US Photo: YouTube

The family of Shao has kept total silence since they were told on September 18 last year that their only daughter was lost.

On January 11, 2015, a forensic report from Iowa State showed that Shao died of suffocation, in what is believed to be a murder.

While seeking help from the Chinese police, the parents opened a Sina Weibo account, China’s equivalent of Twitter, calling for the netizens to delete all information and rumors about Shao.

On March 24, 2015, the China Press was contacted by one of Shao’s cousins and told that the Chinese police had begun to deal with the case.

Foray into an unknown world

Shao was born in a well-to-do Chinese family in 1994. While her mother is a housewife, her father is a civil servant working in the export and import food inspection department.

She was beautiful, played piano, and her dream was to become a biologist.

Her high school, Dalian Yuming, has earned fame for “producing” top scorers in the college entrance examination, known as gaokao, and is also one of the training grounds for the Olympic Competition. Those who win a special award in the competition are granted direct admission to university without having to take the entrance exam. 

While Shao’s boyfriend at the school performed well in the competition and was sent to the best university in one of the southern Chinese cities, Shao failed the competition and had to make a choice for her future. She told her mother that she wanted to study in the US.

In July 2011, Shao came to Beijing alone to study English for the foreign language examination. There, she met Li Xiangnan, who came from Wenzhou, a city in southern China.

In September 2012, Shao joined the Iowa State University to study chemical engineering. Though not her favorite subject, she still got a GPA of 3.75.

She studied hard, taught Chinese language to American students, and danced vigorously at the dancing parties. She liked the magic cubic and could complete all the six sides within one minute, surpassing those who taught her.

However, some changes in her personality began to be noticed by her friends and relatives.

“One minute she was talkative, but suddenly became quiet the next minute”, one of her friends recalled.

Shao’s cousin also noticed some changes in her behavior when she came home during one summer holiday. “She was not as cheerful as before. She became somehow more introvert.”

Shao’s friends talked about her relationships with different boys before her death. Hu, a boy who claimed to be Shao’s ex-boyfriend when Shao was in China, posted an article on his Renren account (China’s equivalent of Facebook) to mourn her death. There were some comments from US-based users showing Hu was betrayed by Shao. Hu’s post was deleted half a month later.

Yu Dong (pseudonym), who was once in relationship with Shao in the US, said that he treated Shao as his girlfriend, but later he found that she had been in touch with other guys through messages at the same time.

“I am sure that it is Li Xiangnan who killed Shao”, Yu said while recalling the relationship with Shao, “I understand him, but I won’t hurt anybody, even if I were in his position.”

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Rhythm Media Group is a multi-media company, operating a US-based Chinese daily newspaper, The China Press, and the paper's website - (which has mobile-app version), as well as a Beijing-based English website The group boasts 15 branch offices across the US, and a number of cultural centers focusing on culture-related business in the North America, Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

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