Controversy continues to rage online over a speech given on Sunday at the University of Maryland’s commencement ceremony by a Chinese student who said that she came to Maryland for the “fresh air” and stayed for the “fresh air of free speech.”
The speech given by graduating senior Shuping Yang has sparked outrage across Chinese social media with tens of thousands of web users bashing her for “belittling” her homeland, accusing her of telling outright lies.
As part of the backlash, Chinese students and alumni of the University of Maryland shared a video online today, fighting back against Yang’s depiction of China. The video begins with Xinliang Jiang, a junior communications major at Maryland from Chongqing, who says that her hometown “is actually a very beautiful place located in the southwest of China. I love the food, the people, the air there.” She continues:
I also deeply love my country, the heritage, culture, tradition. I love everything about it.
I understand that a lot of people say that China is still improving. We need to open up and embrace all the suggestions from the outside world. I totally agree with that. But I would be so pissed off if anyone disgraced my country with deceptions.
Although we know that the United States is a very free speaking country. 80% of what Shuping Yang said today were deceptions and lies, so we decided to speak up because we do not think that she can represent all of us international Chinese students.
So actually the place she came from named Kunming is actually a very, very beautiful place in China. It is one of the best places we can go travel during holidays.
After saying that she is “proud of China,” Jiang gives way to other current and former Chinese students at Maryland who introduce their hometowns and stress their disagreement with Shuping Yang’s views, focusing more on China’s not totally toxic air, rather than Yang’s claims of the country’s oppressive intellectual and political environment.
“I’m from Suzhou. My hometown is nice and free. We don’t need face masks there,” says one student. “I’m from Xiamen. My hometown has blue and clear skies. We don’t need face masks there,” another student echoes.
“I admit that there are some air quality problems in China right now, but you won’t die without a mask,” one Chinese student says, explaining that she is studying environmental science at the University of Maryland to fix these problems, rather than “to escape.”
Another Maryland alumnus voices his disagreement with Shuping Yang before inviting viewers to travel to see all the beautiful places that China has to offer. “Please use your critical thinking, to see from your eyes, to discover the truth. That’s what the critical thinking, teaching us,” he says.
“Yes, China has its flaws, but not enough for me or any Chinese to hate it to the bones,” says another Maryland alumna from China who has decided to stay in the US after graduation. “My parents are still there. They love it. They have a house. The houses come with gardens. It’s not like the stereotype that you have to be in an apartment breathing bad air. No, it’s not true. Very, very wrong.” The woman concludes her statement by saying that she might not be able to continue to support her alma mater if Maryland doesn’t handle the incident properly.
The video concludes with a paragraph of text: “We need apology from the school and Shuping Yang. We also hope more Chinese students be proud of their heritage and hometown. SPEAK UP! Because we @PROUD OF CHINA!
Yesterday, facing a firestorm of criticism from her compatriots, Yang issued her apology on Weibo.
“I love my country and hometown and I’m proud of its prosperity,” she wrote on a Weibo post that has been closed to comments. “The speech was just to share my experiences overseas and I had no intentions of belittling my country and hometown… I am deeply sorry and hope for forgiveness.”
Meanwhile, the University of Maryland has not apologized for Yang’s speech, instead celebrating her “right to share her views and her unique perspectives”:
The University of Maryland, like all public universities, is a marketplace of ideas. It is a place founded on academic freedom, the freedom of expression, and the right of every individual to share their thoughts and views in a welcoming and nurturing academic environment.
As a top student, Shuping Yang was selected by committee to deliver remarks during our university’s commencement exercises on Sunday, May 21. She expressed her appreciation for the opportunity to study in the United States at the University of Maryland and shared her views on aspects of that experience.
The University believes that to be an informed global citizen it is critical to hear different viewpoints, to embrace diversity, and demonstrate tolerance when faced with views with which we may disagree. Listening to and respectfully engaging with those whom we disagree are essential skills, both within university walls and beyond.
The University proudly supports Shuping’s right to share her views and her unique perspectives and we commend her on lending her voice on this joyous occasion.
Chinese netizens have not been happy with the university’s response, warning Maryland that soon no Chinese students will want to go to school there.
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