20 January 2019
Yang Shuping faced an intense backlash in China over her comments during a graduation speech at the University of Maryland over the weekend. Photo: YouTube
Yang Shuping faced an intense backlash in China over her comments during a graduation speech at the University of Maryland over the weekend. Photo: YouTube

Chinese student apologizes for ‘freedom’ speech at US university

A Chinese student has apologized for a speech she gave in the United States, saying her remarks about the “great freedom” she experienced in America should not be construed as belittling China.

In a Weibo post late Monday, Yang Shuping, a young woman from China who just graduated from an American university, wrote: “I love my country and hometown and I’m proud of its prosperity.”

“The speech was just to share my experiences overseas and I had no intentions of belittling my country and hometown. I am deeply sorry as I have learned my lesson. I hope for forgiveness,” Yang wrote.

The apology came after the young woman faced a volley of criticism back home for her remarks during a graduation ceremony at the University of Maryland over the weekend.

In her commencement speech, Yang, who hails from Kunming in China’s Yunnan province, spoke eloquently about the fresh air and freedoms she enjoyed while studying in the US.   

Taking the podium, Yang told the audience that the first breath she took in the US was so “fresh and sweet” that she removed her face mask right after she stepped off the plane five years ago.

I felt freedom right at that moment, she said, adding that she found the clean air such a blessing.

Yang came to America with five face masks in her luggage, she said, suggesting that she had expected high levels of pollution similar to the situation back home in China.

But the reality turned out different, as the air was clean and she could put the face masks away.

Yang then talked about her life at the university, saying “there I also felt another kind of fresh air, which is from the freedom of speech that encouraged me to express my opinions without any reservations” and “I also got to question and evaluate my professors”.

“People in the US can talk about racism, sexual discrimination and politics openly, which shocked me to a great extent because I had never known those topics can be brought up in such an open way as they are always defined by the authorities,” she said in her speech on Saturday.

The speech won warm applause from the audience and was praised by the school’s president Wallace Loh, who was born in China.

However, some Chinese students who attended the ceremony took offense at Yang’s remarks, saying she insulted China with the apparent unfavorable comparisons of her country with the US.

They demanded an apology, saying the remarks had hurt the sentiments of the Chinese.

The criticism on Yang found its way to online forums, prompting mainland Chinese to join the debate and slam the young woman.

After a video clip of Yang’s speech was posted on the official blog of Global Times, a sister publication of the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official mouthpiece, there was a barrage of critical reactions. 

Commentators accused Yang of lying or exaggerating about the problems in the mainland, with one person even denouncing her as “shame of China”.

Almost all of the 100,000 messages left for the clip were critical about Yang, accusing her of fawning over the US by smearing her home country.

Noticing the intense backlash, Yang was taken aback and tried to assuage the feelings of her fellow citizens.

She took to Weibo and wrote a note explaining that her remarks at the American university were not aimed at belittling China.

The young woman insisted that she has great love for her country and is proud of being a Chinese.

She said she is “deeply sorry” if her remarks have caused offense to her fellow citizens.

Yang majored in psychology and theater with a minor in German following her time at the University of Maryland. 


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