Student bullied off social media for criticizing China in a commencement speech

‘The UMD Chinese Students and Scholars Association has called for people to stop attacking her’

A Chinese student has been harassed and hounded off social media for making a commencement speech that criticized China.

Shuping Yang graduated from the University of Maryland and delivered a speech praising the democratic values of the US in comparison to China.

Her talk was met with violent responses from other Chinese students, accusing her of “licking the boots of white people” and “bringing shame” on her homeland.

Shuping was chosen by UMD to speak at a graduation ceremony, and draw a comparison between the “sweet and fresh” air in the US with “the fresh air of free speech.”

“Democracy and free speech should not be taken for granted,” she said. “Democracy and freedom are the fresh air that is worth fighting for.”

Chinese students hit back with vitriol.

The main contention with her speech seems to be that while air pollution in China is an issue, the statements she used to make her case are not factually accurate.

A recent New York Times article has prompted discussion about the behavior of Chinese student groups on American campuses. The article alleges groups such as the Chinese Students and Scholars Association pressure students who do not take a pro-China stance.

After The Tab noticed criticism of Shuping Yang’s speech, we reached out to Mary Wu, the Secretary General of the University of Maryland Chinese Students and Scholars Association. She said she took issue with the detail of Shuping’s speech.

Wu told us Shuping’s speech, particularly her tone, was “not appropriate given the occasion.” The University of Maryland currently has between 3000 and 4000 international students from China, she said, and many did not appreciate hearing unwarranted and unbalanced criticisms of China during what should have been a once-in-a-lifetime moment of celebration.

“UMD has not given a clear answer about the extent of its involvement in the crafting of this speech, or any intentions in choosing a script like this,” Wu said.

She emphasized in an interview that Kunming, Shuping’s hometown, is one of the most environmentally clean cities in China. The air quality in Kunming, she told us (adding that the city is one of the most popular tourist destinations in China) is comparable to much of the United States.

“We agree that there are environmental problems in China as in everywhere else, but Shuping’s statements constitute an exaggeration and are not objective truths,” Wu said.

The University of Maryland released an official statement supporting Shuping’s remarks on Monday. Part of it reads:

“The University believes that to be an informed global citizen it is critical to hear different viewpoints, to embrace diversity, and demonstrate tolerance when faced with views with which we may disagree. Listening to and respectfully engaging with those whom we disagree are essential skills, both within university walls and beyond.

“The University proudly supports Shuping’s right to share her views and her unique perspectives and we commend her on lending her voice on this joyous occasion.”

Wu said she and many of her peers found this statement unsatisfying. She added as a result of these events, CSSA and other groups have started a social media campaign called “I am proud of China,” where students can discuss their positive experiences in their home country.

“We respect Shuping’s speech, but we don’t agree with it and we will civilly present the other side of the story,” she said.

Other social media posts, however, took a more aggressive tone.

“We don’t need any trash in China,” said Marcus Ren, who attended high school in America. “Shuping Yang you’re full of lies and you have made our Chinese students ashamed.”

Mengxuan Wu, a former student at the University of Maryland, said: “What you said in your commencement speech about China, especially Kunming, is not true. Free speech should be based on lies and false accusations. I am not going to do deny the fact that air pollution in China is a pretty serious problem and we and the government are working on it… Please don’t disgrace our country. Shame on you.”

“Such a shameful speech with so many lies,” said Yung Na, a student at Wake Forest. “The air quality in her hometown is even better than the place of University of Maryland. Is she trying to entertain US people by trashing her motherland?”

Commenters hounded her on Weibo as well:

Translated, this post reads:

“What if you turned off the comments? You think you are so smart huh? The air in America is sweet? Why don’t you just say that even feces in America are sweet too? Are your parents back at home aware of your talks about your motherland? Don’t you feel a tinge of shame? I’m so fucking proud of being Chinese. I lived and studied in Beijing. There may be smog there, but I fucking love with a passion the very land you mocked! You don’t think Kunming is deserving of its name – the city of everlasting spring? Such an ugly person should do more studying and go out less, you’re a fool and an eyesore when you do. You must be a phony torch-bearer of socialism. Oh, wait! You’re! Not! Worth it! I am so ashamed of you! (I intentionally wrote this in Chinese).”

A few Chinese citizens even came forward and identified themselves as high school classmates of Shuping, claimed she has always longed to immigrate and stay permanently in the United States.

With the emergence of these posts, however, Mary Wu strongly encouraged those online to halt their personal attacks on Shuping.

“I want to tell everyone to stop wasting time attacking this girl. She just made a mistake. We should be asking for a response from the university and presenting our perspectives respectfully,” she said.

She added that part of the hate stems from the misconception in China that Shuping’s sentiments are representative of all members in UMD. Wu believes this incident is not reflective of the attitudes of UMD as a whole, as there are many students and faculty who harbor very positive feelings towards China. She also does not personally think that Shuping’s remarks constitutes “shaming the Chinese race.”

Wu added that if not handled well, UMD’s recruitment of Chinese international students could be impacted next year. UMD has a good reputation in China, she said, which could change with this incident. International students, ineligible for financial aid, generally pay over $31,000 in tuition and $15,000 in room and board per year.

Though Wu does not know Shuping personally, she stated she among others have tried to reach out to her repeatedly over the past few days. Wu said she would like to help her during what must be a difficult time.

“This is beyond what she can handle, and part of what we are trying to do is to help her,” Wu told us. But Shuping has not responded to any texts and seems to have deleted her social media accounts.

She has not responded to a request for comment from The Tab.

With additional reporting by Jessica Li.