Friday, 26 May 2017

Yang's Life Lesson

Yang Shuping talks about learning new things, like fresh air, freedom of speech

Mainland Chinese student Yang Shuping gave a graduation speech on Sunday at the University of Maryland praising the United States, which instead of receiving praise from her fellow countrymen, was scathingly scorned at.

During her speech, she recalled how she felt when she arrived in the US.

"When I took my first breath of American air, I put my mask away," she said. "The air was so sweet and fresh, and oddly luxurious. Democracy and freedom are the fresh air that is worth fighting for."

She is a psychology and theatre graduate from Yunnan province and came to study at the university five years ago.

Yang quickly learned to appreciate the air quality in the US
From her experience of living in the US she appreciated being able to speak freely.

"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."

Yang also talked about watching her fellow students vote in elections, take part in political protests, and even watch a play about the 1992 LA riots that talked about the issues of racism, sexism and politics.

"I was shocked, I never thought such topics could be discussed openly... I have always had the 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'."

One might think it was wonderful that a Chinese student not only received a good education, but also learned some values and culture that helped her to further understand the differences between the US and China.

The University of Maryland sticks by what Yang said
However, people back home were not impressed, criticizing her speech, saying she was kowtowing to the US, or that she already came from Yunnan, a relatively clean province in terms of air quality. The backlash resulted in tarring Yang as a traitor, that she did not love her country.

A group of Chinese students at the university were offended by Yang's speech and set up a social media campaign showing their support for their country.

The students behind the #ProudofChina effort said they hoped to correct "wrong stereotypes" of the country and show their "courage to speak up".

But patriots, particularly The Global Times claimed the university should never have given Yang the opportunity to speak at such event, and for sticking by her.

Even the foreign ministry weighed in.

I believe China will encourage and welcome the students as long as they love their motherland from the heart and are willing to make a contribution," ministry spokesman Lu Kang said, without directly criticizing what Yang said in her speech.

"Any comparable Chinese citizen should make responsible comments on any issue, not only about China but everything."

Yang is in her early 20s and has learned so much in the past five years that she couldn't wait to tell others what she had observed. But she mistakenly thought everyone else was on the same page as her.

Meanwhile her critics were so overly sensitive about her observations, but for the most part they are true. It just reveals yet again how the Chinese are so insecure about their country and its faults, but don't have the courage to face them because their government insists that everything is fine.

Eventually Yang had to back down, apologizing on Monday.

"The speech is just to share my overseas experience and comes with no intention to negate or belittle my country," she said on Weibo.

China needs more people like Yang to help develop the country from within; ostracizing her is not the way. And from now on, no Chinese student will dare speak out again, for fear of the wrath of the online patriotic police. It's all too easy to destroy someone when there is strength in numbers.

But Yang is the strong one who has the courage to speak for herself and her own thoughts.

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