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  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 12:55pm

Chinese students demand Biden apologise for 'insensitive' comments

'It was a humiliating experience. And how can a graduation speech be this political?' said a UPenn student, taking issue with Biden's comment that China cannot 'think different'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 May, 2013, 11:53am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 May, 2013, 2:53pm

Chinese students and parents are demanding an apology from US Vice-President Joe Biden for "insensitive" comments, weeks after he referred to China as the nation that cannot “think different” or “breathe free” during a commencement speech at the University of Pennsylvania.

“I believe Biden should apologise over his inappropriate comments made at my commencement in the face of at least hundreds of Chinese people,” Zhang Tianpu, a graduating Wharton senior and Chinese citizen, told the South China Morning Post on Wednesday.

“It was a humiliating experience,” he said. “And how can a graduation speech be this political?”

Zhang and his peers have already drafted a letter to Biden demanding an official apology. The letter has 343 signatures as of Wednesday and will be sent to the university’s president before reaching Biden's desk.

Requests for comment from Biden's office have not been returned.

Biden’s comments, which were called "inappropriate", hugely disappointed the Chinese in his audience. They were delivered in the middle of his May 13 speech, reported by the Guardian as  “by far the funniest of the recent commencement addresses”.

But not everyone appreciated his jokes. Touching on the concern that “the Chinese are going to eat our lunch”, Biden assured his audience that they had nothing to fear.

“Their problems are immense, and they lack much of what we have,” he said, citing America’s universities, its “open and fair legal” system,  vibrant venture capital markets and innovative minds.

The key to all these, Biden argued, was the ability to “think different”, in a reference to Steve Jobs' slogan for Apple.

“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.”

To which Zhang argued: “Come on, my ancestors were challenging orthodoxy even before his ancestors got to America.”

Biden mentioned China a second time towards the end when he spoke of his 10-day visit to the Middle Kingdom. Of then president-to-be Xi Jinping, he said: 

“He’s a strong, bright man, but he has the look of a man who is about to take on a job he’s not at all sure is going to end well. I mean that seriously."

In a post that went viral on China’s social media, Zhang interpreted Biden’s message in the following words:

“So because China is ---- up, we are well-positioned. We are well-positioned to lead the world into the 21st century, ” he wrote. ”This is what I think he was saying.”

In an e-mail sent to The Post, Zhang dismissed criticism that he was overreacting.

“After four years of sweat and toil, after four years of spending Chinese New Year without your family, and after four years of eating tasteless food, you have finally earned this day when you can proudly graduate. But you know that all is worth it because you want to learn from an advanced developed country, something you can use to contribute to your hometown. So you decide to call up all of your friends and family to fly across the Pacific Ocean to celebrate with you on this special day. Then, on your graduation day, you get up super early, happily dress up in your academic regalia, and have your friends and relatives seated in the field, cameras ready, recorders turned on, all excited.”

“And then all of sudden, the graduation speaker, who is supposed to be there to congratulate you on your achievement, says to you: you and your nation suck. Regardless of whether that statement is true, how would you feel?”

Zhang had first ranted on China’s popular social media website Renren. His post has since drawn thousands of comments, from supporters and critics.

“Biden isn’t obligated to please China,” commented a reader. “And the right reaction is to catch up with America, instead of whining about it.”

“Don’t attribute to political agenda what can easily be explained by stupidity,” another wrote.


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This article is now closed to comments

Biden is correct overall. Free speech hurts, indeed.
Mr. Biden, as an individual, is entitled to say what he thinks, putting aside how much truth is there to what he said. But Mr. Biden's behaviour, in his capacity as the Vice President of US, is shockingly naive and crude.
So Biden has to apologize for speaking the truth?
No matter it is the truth or not, to plainly and publicly speak ill of a country, especially in the face of an audience among which there are hundreds of people from that very country, shall not be considered a decent, a 'civilized' deed even by the judgement of a 10-year-old Chinese boy.
If you don't even know the basic etiquette to respect others, what's the point to "think different” or “breathe free”?
Of course, the Chinese student contingent is crowing; probably most of them are princes and princesses of the corrupt Party elite. Nothing Biden is quoted as saying is couched in offensive terms and it's all plain fact.
I really hate it when Americans try to take a jab at China whenever they get a chance..........of course without realizing that most of their "American" products are produced in China where lower labour was the key to how so many "American" corporates were able to make so much money.......The Chinese culture is not perfect but we should be proud of what they have achieved as the Americans sure as helll aren't perfect either...........so shut the f up Biden!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Biden strikes a point home, perhaps its not easy to digest, but then again most truths are not easy to digest. Its currently a nation which has focused on 'making a few better off', and will never be a place where 'the many are better off', as those few are more interested in storing up gains in bolt-holes than investing in the country. Its a shame, really, but I don't see anything good happening to anyone whe dares petition on any of Biden's points.
Sorry kid, your country does suck.
Zhang argued: “Come on, my ancestors were challenging orthodoxy even before his ancestors got to America"
I think he's made Mr Biden's point: Mr Zhang's ancestors didn't live in a one party state, but now his family does.
My question is how UPenn admitted such a stupid person into their school? And clearly they didn't make him a bit smarter after four years. First what Biden said is right. Second, why do you as a citizen feel offended when somebody criticize your government, which is not elected by you to start with.
Chinese need not send their children to universities abroad, especially, if they don't want to hear what the rest of the world thinks about them.
China wants to be loved by everyone so badly, but what does China do to deserve love?
China opened the door, but what would have happened to the nation if no-one from the rest of the world would have walked through the door?
In my humble opinion, China still suffers from the imperial thinking, that it is the world and that everyone owes tribute to China. China is just one part of the world. And that fact requires China and Chinese to fit in. It does not require sacrifice of national price, it does not mean to submit to mission-obsessed Americans.



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