The honor of speaking at a university commencement has been shattered for one Chinese graduate of the University of Maryland, after her speech drew widespread criticism for bolstering negative Chinese stereotypes.
The speaker, Yang Shuping, began her speech at the ceremony on May 21 (local time), explaining that it was "fresh air" that made her come to the university in the first place.
"Five years ago, as I stepped off the plane from China and left the terminal at Dallas 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 oddly luxurious," said Yang, adding that she felt surprised because she grew up in a Chinese city "where I had to wear a face mask every time I went outside; otherwise, I might get sick."
The graduate then continued, claiming that she would be "forever grateful" for the "fresh air of free speech," since she used to be convinced that only authority figures could define the truth.
The speech, though outwardly inspirational, soon triggered discontent among Chinese students around the U.S. Some complained that Yang had deliberately exaggerated the air conditions in her hometown of Kunming, which in fact has some of the best air quality of any Chinese city.
Many wrote on social media that they were ashamed of Yang for delivering such a biased speech, playing up the wrong stereotypes about China.
In response, an online activity has been launched to call on Chinese students in the U.S. to make videos to introduce themselves and their hometowns in a more objective way.
Students at the University of Maryland reportedly mulled to rally with T-shirts reading "Proud of China." They also expected the university, known for its truth-seeking and diversity, to answer to the calls.