A Chinese student has become a target of Chinese communist regime after she celebrated “the fresh air of free speech” in America during her graduation address, forcing her to apologize later.
Five years ago, Shuping Yang, a psychology and theatre graduate from Yunnan province in China came to study at the University of Maryland because of government repression in China and a clampdown on freedom of expression and academic thought, The Guardian reported.
On May 21, Yang graduated from the university and used her graduation address to contrast freedoms in the US and China, and celebrating the freedom to speak out.
“I have learned [that] the right to freely express oneself is sacred in America … I could even rate my professors online,” she said. “My voice matters. Your voice matters. Our voices matter.”
During her eight-minutes address, the student said she had been inspired to see her classmates participate in political protests and seeing a play about the 1992 LA riots where racism, sexism and politics were openly discussed.
“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,” she said.
“Freedom is oxygen. Freedom is passion. Freedom is love. As the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once said: ‘Freedom is a choice’.”
Yang’s comments sparked a backlash in China after the remarks reached state-controlled media outlets. A video of her speech went viral after it was shared by a Communist party newspaper.
“She has demonized China with the nonsense she has talked,” one person wrote, joining many others who thought she denigrated China. “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,” seconded another person.
One Internet user even suggested finding dirt on her family. “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?” some asked.
The controversy was fueled after other party-controlled newspapers piled on, slamming the student. The Global Times, a state-controlled nationalist paper, quoted an anonymous student who said that publicly criticizing China’s free speech laws was “immature and mean” and accused Yang of spreading “radical opinions”.
The People’s Daily, another newspaper run by the Communist Party, accused the student of “bolstering negative Chinese stereotypes”.
Another quoted student, who didn’t give their real name, said: “What you gave is not free speech, but rumour mongering and favour currying … Your freedom cannot stand, either factually or morally.”
Yang apologized on social media, saying: “I’m sincerely sorry for the speech and hope to be forgiven.”
The University of Maryland, meanwhile, stood by her speech, claiming the institution was founded on “the freedom of expression” and “the right of every individual to share their thoughts and views”.
“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”.