Chinese student Yang Shuping drew attacks from her home country after she delivered a commencement speech at the University of Maryland.
Here is a part of her speech:
“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.”
“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.”
“I have learned the right to freely express oneself is sacred in America. Each day at Maryland, I was encouraged to express my opinions on controversial issues. I could challenge a statement made by my instructor. I could even rate my professors online.”
“But no matter what we do, remember: democracy and freedom of speech should not be taken for granted. Democracy and freedom are the fresh air that is worth fighting for.”
The Chinese media and online community quickly jumped on this.
China’s state-run newspaper sent out reporters on Wednesday asking passersby about air quality and whether they wore pollution masks. They declared that most people don’t wear them.
China’s Foreign Ministry also chimed in, saying that any Chinese citizen should “make remarks responsibly.”
Yang apologized on Monday. She said on her Chinese social media account Weibo that her speech reflects her personal experience abroad and that she had no intention to negate or belittle her home country.