Yang Shuping, a Chinese University of Maryland student, received backlash online after she celebrated clean air and freedom of speech in the United States during a commencement speech Sunday.
Her eight-minute address has since gone viral in China, receiving hundreds of thousands of critical comments online from people accusing Shuping of insulting and exaggerating problems in her homeland, forcing her to apologize, The Washington Post reported.
During her years at this university, Shuping said she had learned the right to free expression, but nothing had prepared her for the “culture shock” she experienced while watching this university’s production of a play about the 1992 riots in Los Angeles.
“The student actors were openly talking about racism, sexism and politics,” Shuping said in her speech. “I was shocked. I never thought such topics could be discussed openly … I have always had a burning desire to tell these kinds of stories, but I was convinced that only authorities owned the narrative — only authorities could define the truth.”
Shuping also compared the air conditions of her hometown in Kunming, China, to her life in the United States for the last five years.
“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,” said Shuping, who graduated after majoring in theatre and psychology, with a minor in German.
She said moving to America gave her a new outlook.
“No more fog on my glasses; no more difficult breathing; no more suppression,” Shuping said. “Every breath was a delight.”
Several Chinese international students studying at this university spoke out against the speech in a YouTube video.
“I understand that a lot of people say that China is still improving,” said Xinliang Jiang, a junior communication major. “We need to open up and embrace all the suggestions from the outside world. … But I would be so pissed off if anyone disgraced my country with deceptions. Although we know the United States is a very free speaking country, 80 percent of what Shuping Yang said today are deceptions.”
Some on social media suggested that she shouldn’t be welcomed back into her home country, NPR reported on Tuesday.
On Monday evening, The Post reported that the Kunming city government posted on social media that its air was “more than likely to be ‘sweet and fresh,'” a reference from Shuping, who said in her speech that she was surprised to breathe in the “utterly luxurious” air, upon arriving to the United States.
Shuping responded to the backlash Monday with a public apology on Weibo, a social media platform in China, expressing her love and pride for China, clarifying that she only wished to share her overseas studying experience with others, and belittling her home country was never her intention.
This university supported Shuping in a Monday statement, referring to her as a top student who had been selected by a committee to deliver her speech.
“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,” the statement read. “Listening to and respectfully engaging with those whom we disagree are essential skills, both within university walls and beyond.”
University President Wallace Loh, who was born in China, closed Shuping’s speech by relating her story to his own.
“Like you and your parents, I also am an American by choice,” said Loh, “and you have expressed some of the deepest feelings I have for this country, what this is, and will always be a shining city on the hill.”