A tree is planted for Qian Liu

Thursday, Qian Liu’s classmates gathered in Founders courtyard as her grieving parents planted a Qian's parents, left, Jianhui Liu and Yaru Zheng, plant an English oak with York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri, second from right, and Qian's uncle Yawen Zhengtree in their slain daughter’s honour – outside the classroom where Qian had spent much of the past seven months learning English.

Right: Qian’s parents, left, Jianhui Liu and Yaru Zheng, plant an English oak with York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri, second from right, and Qian’s uncle Yawen Zheng 

Grey skies lent a solemnity to the private outdoor dedication, at which her father Jianhui Liu and her mother Yaru Zheng also unveiled a plaque at the base of the English oak. The plaque, embedded in a rock, had these simple words: In Memory, Liu Qian, 1987-2011.

Student placing flowers by rockBy her parents’ side were her aunt and uncle, Yawen and Yajuan Zheng, the only relatives able to come from China for her funeral.

“A tree inspires energy, faith, devotion, and courage and represents life as well as the passage of time,” said York President & Vice-Chancellor  Mamdouh Shoukri, before the tree planting ceremony. “The tree will forever commemorate Qian Liu, especially as it grows into something majestic.”

“Qian Liu came to Canada full of optimism,” said Calum MacKechnie, director of the York University English Language Institute (YUELI), where the 23-year-old from Beijing had been studying since September. “She was a wonderfully warm, friendly, hard-working and clearly artistic individual. She did extremely well in her studies here and achieved outstanding results,” notably in her reading proficiency tests.

While we cannot reverse the events of the past two weeks, said MacKechnie, we can plant a tree, something permanent and beautiful, to honour her memory. In addition, the Qian Liu people standing in a moment of silence Scholarship “will serve as a reminder that she was a much loved member of our community. Qian Liu will not be forgotten.”

After the tree planting, MacKechnie and students presented the parents with a condolence album, guest books from the funeral, and a poster covered in signatures and comments from well-wishers.

Jianhui Liu had the last word. The tree is a symbol of Qian, he said, and a way to commemorate her presence at York. “She liked trees, so she would have liked this.” The scholarship will help other students and her family remember her hard-working study at York, he said. “I hope this ceremony will help us and you as we go into the future together.”

As they filed inside, Qian’s friends and those who gathered for the occasion did not move, but stood silent, before this straight and sturdy young oak.

A rabbit showed up for the ceremony
Right: Qian Liu was born, and died, in the Chinese year of the rabbit. Minutes before the tree-planting ceremony, this rabbit appeared and sat still at the top of the stairs overlooking the site in Founders College courtyard. Qian’s mother saw it. Photo by Edward Fenner

By Martha Tancock, YFile contributing writer