Chinese student Yang Shuping has received backlash from Chinese nationalists for a speech she made at the University of Maryland celebrating the “fresh air of free speech” in the United States. Yang Shuping is from the city of Kunming in Southwest China.
A recent graduate from the University of Maryland, she came to the U.S. five years ago without speaking English and now has a double-major in psychology and theater, with a minor in German. Her speech begins with “People always ask me, why did you come to the University of Maryland? I always answer — fresh air.”
It seems this was more a metaphor for politics of free speech as she compares this “fresh air of free speech” to the air pollution and suppression experienced in China. When the video reached over 56 million views on Weibo (a Chinese micro blogging site), abuse and cursing toward Shuping intensified, causing her to shut down her social media sites.
The online abusers made harsh comments in an uproar, with some of the tamer comments saying she:
“exaggerated the air conditions in her hometown of Kunming”, “she is licking the feet of the USA”, “has no morals” and is “no longer welcome in China.”
In an attempt to diffuse the situation, Shuping issued an online apology saying she had no intention to insult her country:
“I’m sincerely sorry for the speech and hope to be forgiven.”
There has been a crackdown against freedom of speech since Xi Jinping came to power in communist China. And as we have just witnessed with the strong negative reactions to Shuping’s speech, although she is in America, Chinese nationalists are doing their best to silence and discredit her for speaking her mind.
The speech lasts for eight minutes, and Shuping describes the evolution of her political views, referring to a performance of an Anna Deavere Smith play about the 1992 LA riots, and her inspiration in seeing American classmates take part in political protests and voting.
“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.”
As Shuping begins to wrap up her spring commencement speech, she quotes French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre:
“Freedom is oxygen. Freedom is passion. Freedom is love. As the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once said: ‘Freedom is a choice.'”
The University of Maryland released a statement on their website to say the establishment “proudly supports Shuping’s right to share her views and her unique perspectives.”
For a comedic take on the situation, watch the report on China Uncensored: