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Chinese Student Criticized for Graduation Comments


Yang Shuping delivers a speech at her University of Maryland graduation ceremony.


A Chinese student has apologized after she received heavy criticism for a graduation speech she gave in the American state of Maryland.

Yang Shuping gave the speech at the University of Maryland on Monday. A video of her comments was posted on the Internet. The video has been played more than 50,000 times on the YouTube website.

In her prepared comments, Yang talked about breathing “the fresh air” of free speech after arriving in the United States to study.

She described arriving in the U.S. this way: “The air was so sweet and fresh and utterly luxurious.”

“The moment I inhaled and exhaled outside the airport, I felt free,” Yang said. She added, “I grew up in a city in China, where I had to wear face masks every time I want outside, otherwise I might get sick.”

Radio Free Asia reports that the video of her speech appears on China’s Sina Weibo social media website. By Tuesday afternoon, it said, the site’s users had played the video more than 56 million times. Many users accused the Chinese woman of unfairly criticizing the shortcomings of her home country.

Yang wrote an apology that appeared in the Chinese newspapers Global Times and the state-operated People’s Daily. In it, she said, “I love my country and hometown and am proud of its prosperity.”

She went on to write that “I also hope to make contributions to it with what I have learned overseas.”

Yi Sulaiman Gu is a Chinese student at the University of Georgia. He said Yang “was considered to be insulting China according to the received consensus of patriotic Chinese students overseas.”

He voiced support for her comments, saying “Yang Shuping’s comments were, in fact, a comment on the necessity of freedom of expression and citizen participation in politics.”

Xia Ming teaches political science at the College of Staten Island in New York. He said Chinese state media seek to project an image of a rising world power. So, when they are faced with criticism, they get angry, he added.

The University of Maryland called for understanding.

In a statement, the school said, “Listening to and respectfully engaging with those whom we disagree are essential skills, both within university walls and beyond.”

Chinese state-operated media published criticism of the video. The People’s Daily website showed a story about criticism of Yang’s speech as its most-viewed news story on Tuesday.

I’m Mario Ritter.

Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man reported this story for Radio Free Asia. Mario Ritter adapted their report for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

graduation – n. the act of receiving an award from a school for completing a study program

inhale – v. to breathe in

shortcomings – n. a weakness or a fault

consensus – n. a general agreement about an issue

participation – n. the act of taking part in something

engage – v. to be involved

essential – adj. very important

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