Controversy over Chinese student’s pro-free speech commencement address covered by The Washington Post

May 30, 2017

In an article titled “A Chinese student praised the ‘fresh air of free speech’ at a U.S. college. Then came the backlash,” The Washington Post told the story of University of Maryland student Yang Shuping, whose commencement address featuring a full-throated defense of free speech sparked outrage from many Chinese critics.

According to The Washington Post, Shuping’s speech focused on the vastly different free speech protections of the United States and China:

“People often ask me: Why did you come to the University of Maryland?” she said in her speech. “I always answer: Fresh air.”

“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,” she said, referring to her arrival in the United States.

“I would soon feel another kind of fresh air for which I will be forever grateful. The fresh air of free speech. Democracy and free speech should not be taken for granted. Democracy and freedom are the fresh air that is worth fighting for.”

Her speech, viewed over 50 million times according to The Washington Post, elicited an outpouring of negative commentary from hundreds of thousands of Chinese internet users. Many stated, without irony, that she should not have been allowed to express such views at an American university. Other responses featured threats, reminders of Chinese rules against unpatriotic speech, and even a defense of Chinese air quality by her hometown government’s social media page.

Some comments were more positive — one commentator pointed out that Shuping simply spoke the truth about the different cultures of the two countries she experienced.

The intense criticism prompted the University of Maryland to issue a statement supporting Shuping’s right to express herself. Shuping, however, issued an apology.

Read the full story at The Washington Post.

Read more about the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education at The Washington Post.

Schools:  University of Maryland – College Park