United States Vice President Joe Biden has faced a firestorm of criticism from Chinese international students after he referred to China as a nation that cannot “think different” or “breathe freely” during his commencement speech at the University of Pennsylvania.
But mainland Chinese Web users have hit back, reproaching the students abroad for their behavior and defending Biden's speech as worthy of reflection.
During Biden's speech on May 13, 2013, the vice president made reference to China:
You cannot think different in a nation where you cannot breathe free; you cannot think different in a nation where you aren't able to challenge orthodoxy, because change only comes from challenging orthodoxy.
Many Chinese international students considered the remark insensitive. A few days later, Zhang Tianpu, a Chinese student at the University of Pennsylvania, and his peers drafted a letter to Biden demanding an apology.
Video of Biden's speech is available on YouTube:
The news soon went viral on Chinese social media. More than 30,000 people participated in an online poll by Tencent news on the question – to the question “should Biden apologize or not”, 70 percent of online users answered that he shouldn't apologize.
When former Google China head Kaifu Lee shared the news together with the video of the speech on Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo on May 24, it attracted more than 6,560 comments within a few hours. Most of Web users thought what Biden said was true, and others even criticized the international students.
Li Lifu, an editor for a publication house in Tianjin, explained [zh] part of the reason why the students are angry:
Some of the parents of these students have benifited from the current system, they love this system, understand?
“Yilitang Leyouyou” compared [zh] the lives of college students in China and the lives of those abroad:
Biden was right, how do these overseas students know about the hard lives Chinese people have, they do not worry about buying a car or a house, they just enjoy their free life. We, the poor “second-generation” college students, have to work hard to make money to survive right after graduation, but also have to face a variety of unfair competition and tragedies.
Weibo user “Pretending to be in New York” wrote [zh] sarcastically:
If this Zhang student doesn't like the Chinese president's speech and writes letters in protest, can he still breathe freely after finishing the letter?
“Jinshi Qinghuan” echoed [zh] the sentiment:
You can protest against the US vice president, how much freedom you've got there! Come back and try to protest the head of a village.
“Zhu Mengxiang” quoted [zh] a Chinese idiom:
Faithful words are unpleasant to hear [to the ear].
“Kaopu de Qishi 2011” posed [zh] a rhetorical question about freedom of speech in China:
How many government officials dare to speak the truth? How many newspapers and television report the truth? In the end, who should apologize?
“Feng aili” [zh] thought that Biden's speech hit the mark:
China's situation is really worthy of our reflection.
The Weibo account for a school newspaper from China's top Tsinghua University published[zh]:
Biden says China is a country where one can't think freely, and Chinese students demand for an apology. Let's not make a judgement on whether Biden should apologize or not, we should reflect on why we are called a country where one can't breathe freely. We cannot always consider ourselves weak, looking at everything with sensitive and fragile patriotism. Apology cannot bring us free air, fragile patriotism can't empower our country, only through reflection can we make progress.