Maryland, USA — A Chinese student in the US has praised United States of America for it’s fresh air, freedom of speech, freedom and democracy in her graduation speech, proudly in front of thousands of students and faculty members, from University of Maryland, USA.
Yang Shuping studied at the University of Maryland and delivered her speech on Sunday celebrating the freedom of speech and democracy she enjoyed in the United States. Shuping, a psychology and theatre graduate from Yunnan province, came to study at the University of Maryland five years ago, as a dramatic clampdown on civil society and academia began back home under Xi Jinping.
“People often ask me why did you come to the University of Maryland? I always answer: fresh air. Five years ago, as I stepped off the plane from China and left the terminal at Dulles airport, I was ready to put on one of my five face masks, but when I took my first breath of American air, I put my mask away.
The air was so sweet and fresh and utterly luxurious. I was surprised by this. 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.”
“No more fog on my glasses, no more difficult breathing, no more suppression. Every breath was a delight as I stand here today I cannot help but recall that feeling of freedom. At the University of Maryland. I would soon feel another kind of fresh air for which I will be forever grateful. The fresh air of free speech.
With that Yang received her second round of applause before going into the revelation she had after watching a student-run play about the Rodney King riots. Yang said that she had always had a “burning desire” to tell these kind of political stories, but never thought “such topics could be discussed openly,” explaining that she was convinced that “only authorities own the narrative. Only authorities own the truth.”
However, she said that the play opened her eyes. “I realized that here I have the opportunity to speak freely. My voice matters,” she said to more applause from the audience, before ending her speech:
“Democracy and free speech should not be taken for granted. Democracy and freedom are the fresh air that is worth fighting for. [Takes a breath for dramatic effect] Freedom is oxygen. Freedom is passion. Freedom is love. And as a French philosopher John Paul Sartre once said, ‘freedom is a choice.’ Our future is dependent on the choices we make, today and tomorrow. We are all playwrights of the next chapters of our lives. Together we write the human history. My friends, enjoy the fresh air and never ever let it go.
With that confetti streamed from the rafters and University of Maryland President Wallace Loh stepped back to the podium, holding back tears. Loh, who was born in Shanghai, but emigrated to Peru at a young age before going to college in the US, told Yang:
You have gotten a wonderful University of Maryland education. It was very inspiring and like you and your parents, I am also an American by choice and you have expressed some of the deepest feelings I feel for this country. What this is and what this will always be. I shining city on the hill, beckoning the most talented people of all backgrounds from all over the world to help us continue to form a more perfect union.”
Despite her comments meeting the reality, Yang Shuping has faced abuse from communist regime and its nationalists in China after she used her graduation address at a US university to celebrate “the fresh air of free speech”. In one-party China, where there has been an intensifying offensive against free speech since Xi took power, the comments proved extremely contentious.
After a video of her speech was posted online by a Communist party newspaper on Monday and went viral, the backlash began. Some attacked Yang, who is from Kunming, one of China’s least polluted cities, for depicting it as smog choked, even though her comments on China’s air quality appeared to be largely a political metaphor, not a reference to the environment.
In a social media post, Kunming’s government defended its “fresh and sweet” air and said the city was spring-like throughout the year.
Others accused Yang of denigrating China in online posts. “She has demonised China with the nonsense she has talked,” one person wrote.
Another said: “She has an incredible ability to lick feet. Don’t worry about coming back to China. Our motherland doesn’t need a bitch like this.”
A third called on internet users to dig up dirt on her family through a type of online campaign known in China as a “human flesh hunt”.
“Studying in the US costs a lot of money, so where is it coming from? She must come from a rich family. What on earth does her family do?” they asked.
State-run newspapers fanned the flames of the controversy. The party-controlled, nationalist Global Times quoted an anonymous student as saying that publicly talking about free speech was “immature and mean”. The student accused Yang of spreading “radical opinions”.
The People’s Daily, another Communist party-run newspaper, accused Yang of “bolstering negative Chinese stereotypes”.
A second student, who also declined to give their real name, was quoted as saying: “What you gave is not free speech, but rumour mongering and favour currying … Your freedom cannot stand, either factually or morally.”
In an apparent attempt to defuse the situation, Yang issued an online apology. “I’m sincerely sorry for the speech and hope to be forgiven,” she wrote, adding that she had not intended to “insult” her country.
The University of Maryland stood by Yang, describing her as a “top student”.
“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,” it said.
The Paris world media watch-dog “Reporters Without Borders” (RSF) also ranked China (include Tibet) 176 out of the 180 countries on its Press Freedom Index 2017. International media reports stated ‘there are more foreign journalists in North Korea than Tibet,’ making Tibet one of most difficult places in the world.