A Chinese student was forced to apologize after her comments praising the United States’ “fresh air of free speech” in a commencement speech prompted criticism from online users in her home country.
Shuping Yang, a graduate of the University of Maryland from Kunming city in southwest China, compared the air in China to the “sweet, oddly luxurious” air in America, and even went a step further to praise the U.S. for its democracy that allows “free speech,” the Daily Mail reported.
“I grew up in a city in China where I had to wear a face mask every time I went outside, otherwise I might get sick. However, the moment I inhaled and exhaled outside the airport, I felt free,” the theater and psychology double-major said, recounting her experience arriving in the U.S.
“I would soon feel another kind of fresh air for which I will be forever grateful. The fresh air of free speech. Democracy and free speech should not be taken for granted. Democracy and freedom are the fresh air that is worth fighting for,” Yang added.
The speech quickly went viral on Chinese social media — but many online users strongly disagreed with Yang’s portrayal of China and thought her speech “belittled” the country.
“Is it appropriate to despise her home country while speaking as a school representative?” one user of the Chinese social media site 163.com wrote.
“You better not come back to China. China won’t be able to nurture a talent like you,” another user wrote.
“Is she trying to flatter the US by saying our country is flawed?” another user questioned.
The People’s Daily, a Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece, also accused Yang of “bolstering negative Chinese stereotypes,” according to the Washington Post.
The University of Maryland defended Yang’s right to speak from her perspective.
“To be an informed global citizen, it is critical to hear different viewpoints,” the university wrote in a statement Monday.
The university also linked to Yang’s apology on the Chinese social media site Weibo.
“I love my country and home town and I’m proud of its prosperity,” Yang wrote in the apology, which has been shared more than 66,000 times.
“I hope to make contributions to it using what I have learned overseas. The speech was just to share my experiences overseas, and I had no intentions of belittling my country and home town. … I am deeply sorry and hope for forgiveness.”
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