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Like countless Chinese migrants before her, 27-year-old An An Liu arrived here with a suitcase - and some big dreams. For her, the "Nuzeelin" in the glossy travel brochures was an unspoilt paradise where dreams just might come true.

But consumed by loneliness and kept virtually a prisoner in her own home, her passport hidden by her husband, An An's short time in New Zealand would end in misery - killed and dumped in the boot of the family sedan outside their Auckland home.

For those who knew An An and her 54-year-old husband Nai Yin Xue, her death came as little surprise. Many, such as long-time family friend David Ma, had seen warning signs.

Xue, the self-professed kung fu expert, had an explosive temper, Ma remembers, and would regularly let fly at An An.

Xue arrived in New Zealand in the mid-1990s from Fushan in China's Liaoning province, eager to prove himself, first as a martial arts expert and then as a businessman.

He was fairly ordinary at both.

On one occasion he invited people to come along and pit their martial arts skills against his. A large Pacific Islander took up the challenge - and beat Xue easily.

"He was an extremely arrogant and rude individual," Ma said. "He made out he was a martial arts expert, but there were always questions over that.

"He was not well liked. Annie [An An] would bear the brunt of much of his disappointment with life."

Ma still remembers the demure "wee girl" he met back in Changsha many years ago. "She was a lovely girl. It's such a shame this has happened."

Located in the river valley on the Xiang River, Changsha is the capital of the Hunan Province - a booming middle-class city that has profited from China's double-digit economic growth.

But for An An, born to modestly wealthy parents, nothing could stop the lure of seeking her fortune overseas. New Zealand with its easy-going climate of tolerance seemed like the promised land.

It had everything, and with a little hard work it could be hers - or so she thought.

An An arrived in New Zealand in 2002 as a 22-year-old language student, but grasping English was more difficult than she imagined.

Making friends was even harder.

While Auckland's fast-growing Chinese population now stands at 8 per cent - equivalent to the city's Maori population - many new arrivals like An An find themselves alone and isolated. The Chinese community keep to themselves and language difficulties prevent many from forming friendships and relationships with New Zealanders.

For An An the pressure was starting to mount.

She failed to earn the required marks to further her English language studies at university - and before long her money had run out.

She contemplated returning home, but was worried about "losing face" among friends and family.

A chance meeting with Xue in early 2003 provided a sense of salvation.

He found her work and a place to live and despite the 27-year age gap, romance soon blossomed.

Crucially, her relationship with Xue allowed her to gain New Zealand residency.

But it was a union always destined to fail. At 50, Xue was a year older than An An's mother and was far from a model father. Four years earlier he had abandoned eldest daughter Grace, then 19, later claiming it was she who had actually run away from him.

"To Annie, Xue seemed successful and very athletic," Ma said. "He was a martial arts expert and quite an accomplished writer. It was these things that made up for the difference in their ages. It was important she marry a capable man.

"She liked him. Was she in love with him? I'm not sure she was initially, but in time she did."

Just months after meeting the couple exchanged vows at an Auckland registry office. Annie was three months pregnant at the time.

THE COUPLE bought a home in Penrose in December 2003 and friends say for a time they appeared happy and content.

When their daughter Qian Xun Xue arrived, Xue was said to be "disappointed" she was not a boy but "adored her all the same".

Around that time he established the New Zealand Energy Kung Fu Association, an organisation he believed would give him the social status in Auckland he so craved.

"He was a very adoring father. I have no doubt he truly, truly loved her," Ma said.

But the bills were piling up.

Three years earlier Xue had spent three months in Los Angeles teaching tai chi to students who'd answered his advertisement in a Chinese language newspaper. He was found to have lied about his qualifications, boasting he was the best in the world at wu-style tai chi.

In Auckland he also claimed to be a "grandmaster", but there was little interest in his brand of tai chi and before long he was forced to sell the Penrose house to offset debts.

Losing the family home proved a major embarrassment.

With nowhere else to turn, Xue and An An were forced to share a flat in Dominion Rd with several of Xue's students.

"He had been talking himself up around the place so this was certainly a blow to his pride," Ma said.

At this time Ma recalls Xue becoming increasingly violent.

One night Xue turned up to cover a Chinese piano recital for the newspaper and kicked an usher who asked him not to take flash photographs of the pianist.

Financially, things were improving. An An was working and before long they were able to save enough to move out of Dominion Rd and into a rented property in New Lynn.

But by now the marriage was in real difficulty.

Things came to a head in September 2006 in another heated argument over the couple's finances.

It ended in Xue attacking An An with a knife and punching her several times in the head. Qian Xun, aged just 2, was also hit with a mobile phone after it ricocheted off a wall.

Child Youth and Family became involved and a protection order was issued against Xue, while An An and Qian Xun were moved to the Shakti Asian Women's Refuge.

Shila Nair from the refuge remembers An An well.

Privacy concerns prevent her from talking about the case in detail, but she confirmed An An and her daughter spent a month in their care after arriving one night blackened and bruised. Like many Chinese women in her situation, she had nowhere else to go, Nair said.

While at the shelter An An obtained protection and parenting orders against Xue in the hope she could finally erase him from her life.

In November she returned with her daughter to Changsha and, fearing Xue would try to find her, she asked the airline not to reveal where she had fled to.

Two days later he rang the airline demanding her flight details.

Ma said: "I remember asking Xue where his wife had gone and he explained she'd gone back to China for a time. We didn't think much of it. No one in his circle was suspicious."

Why An An returned to New Zealand in February this year is unclear, as are the reasons why she resumed contact with Xue.

Ma thinks part of the reason was the fact he had acquired the Chinese Times for little or no money.

"To Annie that [social standing] was very important," Ma said. "She was also a good writer and he took her on as a reporter."

The couple were still living apart, but took their daughter to dance classes once a week.

Joanna Chen, from the New Zealand Golden Season Dance Academy in Royal Oak, remembers the couple well. "They seemed very normal. They mostly came together and he would wait in the car while Annie was inside with Qian," he recalled.

But while An An was in regular contact with Xue she was pining for friendship in her "hard, uncontrollable and lonely life".

She found it with a Wellington artist, moving to the capital to begin a short-lived liaison with the married man. "He is a married man, even has a 2-year-old daughter. This dooms he and I to a fleeting affair," she wrote in an entry in her blog of August 29.

Xue, however, was not ready to give up his wife.

When the affair with the artist ended An An returned to Auckland, explaining the decision to her mother in China by saying that her daughter did not like the capital's windy wet weather. An An also promised her mother that she had not taken up with Xue again. But she had.

Ma remembers how Xue convinced her to take him back, promising to curb his fiery temper and become "a good husband and father".

For An An, though, her husband's words were empty.

"Life is like a [bad] dream," she wrote in her late August blog.

"My life is unstable and I hope I can just have the freedom to come and go any time I want until I can find a place where I can emotionally have a rest.

"But I simply can't find it. I am tired and lonely. Life is meaningless without love. Life is suffering."

For her, the suffering was to come to a grisly end.

"I was aware Xue had repeatedly threatened Annie, but never did I think it would come to this," said Ma. "It is so sad, so very sad."