By Huizhong Wu
Image credit: Penn State.
A group of Chinese students are upset with American vice president Joe Biden, a man known for his verbal blunders, over remarks at the University of Pennsylvania’s commencement ceremony on May 13.
The students have since drafted a petition and sent it to Penn president Amy Gutmann’s office on May 22, asking for their letter to be delivered to the vice president.
“We have collected over 300 signatures in the past few days even without mass publicity,” Zhang Tianpu, who just graduated from Penn and wrote a viral post on Renren about the issue, told us in an email. “The number is still growing as we talk.”
Zhang said the University has yet to respond to his petition.
Penn said in a statement on Wednesday, “The University of Pennsylvania does not review or approve the remarks delivered by speakers at its annual Commencement ceremony. Vice President Biden’s comments are entirely his own and should not be construed to reflect the views or policies of the University of Pennsylvania.”
Zhang’s post on Renren, which went up on May 14, has now received over 44,000 views and 700 comments.
His outrage is over passages in Biden’s speech to college seniors, which Zhang has transcribed. Biden reportedly said of China, “You cannot think different in a nation where you cannot breathe free. You cannot think different in a nation where you aren’t able to challenge orthodoxy, because change only comes from challenging orthodoxy.”
In particular, Zhang was upset with the usage of the word nation as opposed to the word state. According to a translation of Zhang’s post by the Economist, Zhang said, “in English “nation” indicates ‘race, ethnicity’, which is different from ‘country, state’. “Country, state” perhaps places more emphasis on the notion of the entirety of the country, even to the point of referring to the idea of government.”
However, in English, nation is not usually used in its strict definition — which suggests a group of people — it can also mean country or state.
Aside from the language, Zhang was upset at the type of remarks given during what should have been a joyful event.
“I ask you to image it, the year you’re wearing a graduation gown and cap – you wake up early and go with your family and friends to where the commencement ceremony is taking place,” Zhang wrote in the post. “You’ve been looking forward to celebrating this happy occasion with everyone, but suddenly there’s someone, who can speak on behalf of the country where you’ve been living, telling you: people like you are meant to be slaves from birth. No matter if what he said was right or not, how would you feel?”
Zhang said that he does not necessarily disagree with the Vice President’s overall message, only its delivery.
“I can see that he was trying to send the message that America is still a strong country, but the way he does it — by derogating another country whose students are represented in the audience — is totally inappropriate.”
For a fuller translation of Zhang’s post, see Tea Leaf Nation’s coverage.
Watch Biden’s commencement address in full: