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  • Jul 30, 2014
  • Updated: 6:28am
NewsChina

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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lokuohsiung
I think another word which was misinterpreted was "cannot", as in "...cannot think different in a nation where you cannot breathe free". In the context of Biden's speech, people in China do not lack the ability to challenge orthodoxy; they are simply not permitted to do so. Look at the Tiananmen Massacre. It may have been politically incorrect and rather hard to swallow but I think Joe Biden certainly had a point.
whymak
Using the word "massacre" for the death toll of a few hundred when rioters were murdering soldiers and paralyzing government shows you had been brainwashed by the media. A case of unwilling-to-think or cannot-think?
Biden doesn't have a point. By using scientific cluster counting techniques for catastrophes, the US killed from 200,000 to 800,000 Iraqis and displaced 4 million from their homes. We are not even counting hundreds of thousands killed in the continuing de facto civil war caused by the US invasion and occupation. With your monkey-see-monkey-do usage of "massacre" and approval of Biden's loose lips, there is a much stronger counterpoint. You don't have a point by saying "he (Biden) has a point" when the US had committed mass genocide. Because as the vice-president of US, he should be aware of these facts.
A little logic will improve your arguments.
Beaker
A few conclusions I can draw from this mini-cadre-lite. If he ever got into a position of authority, he would limit free speech to only things he likes to hear regardless of the truth. Cadre-lite probably came from cadre parents who raised him to expect things handed to him, likely how he got into Wharton without benefit of much intelligence. Look at the logic he used in his argument, "Come on, my ancestors were challenging orthodoxy even before his ancestors got to America.” How does what his ancestors did at least 237 years ago have anything to do with present day China? What does his ancestors have to show for supposedly challenging orthodoxy? A dogmatic little prat who needs to be forced to live in a village for years to understand the plight of the China he has only taken from? Does anyone believe that his family money came from legitimate means? How many friends and relatives did they fly-in to see him graduate? Someone should human flesh search this little prat to get some dirt on his family. Then, on Weibo demand that his family apologize for stealing all the Chinese people's state money. Send him to labor camp.
keeyong
I believe this is not what he said. It is the wrong platform to say it. Free speech comes with responsibilities and common sense too.
yellow_lynx_cat
I am not sure why free speech has to come with responsibilities and common sense. Free speech is free speech and I don't think the Chinese who reacted to this has any responsibilities and common sense except acting like a bunch of cry babies.
tinborhui
It is amazing that after 4 years of study at Penn this student does not yet know that the word "nation" is in colloquial English used interchangeably with the word "state." He indicates that he would not have been offended if Biden had said "state." Understood properly that is exactly what Biden said. The student obviously interpreted the word "nation" as "minzu" in Chinese but that was not what was intended in this case. Recall "United Nations" is likewise translated as "guo" in Chinese. Perhaps this student did not spend sufficient time practicing English at college?
hankt
The Chinese students were attending school in the US and listening in order so that they might be educated to think differently.
If you want to continue to think the same as your anscestors, which were certainly not living up to Zhang's argument of challenging orthodoxy, keep your citizens at university in China.
Biden's remarks, as direct and politically incorrect as they may have been, touched a chord in the same way as "truth hurts."
yty07
As a Chinese I think we should be humble enough to contain all the criticism towards our country, and make the judgment by our own whether to accept or discard them. What Biden said most likely focusing on the attention of the ordinary US native graduates. And nowadays most of them may be worrying about competitions from China. Biden was just trying to comfort them with the facts that China have many problems by their owns so they should be more confident of themselves and their country. I found nothing wrong about his speech based on the description of this article. It is better than the Chinese leaders who always say "you are our friends. China always welcome you" etc. in speeches during the tours of other countries, but the reality is that, they just focus on their own interests while dealing with these countries. Look at our prime minister Li's recent tour to India and Pakistan. All empty words.
shc.gzb
Chinese cannot think different?
Wow! I can assure you, Chinese are the one who think different way too much compare to any others on this planet. They can rip any legal system apart and find ways to benefit themselves. Most Chinese are like lawyers who can find ways to get their way.
Biden, seeing China raising SO FAST after opened up just 30 years ago and another 5 years will be on par with US GDP from nothingness didn't teach you that Chinese think very different to achieve where they currently are compare to others?
tkruemmer
I challenge the idea that China will be on par with any developed nation any time soon, certainly not in 5 years.
The comparison is basically not there, the U.S. being a free economy of private enterprise, largely consumption driven, while China state planned, core industries state-owned economy which depends exports and on state investment, financed by state-owned banks to keep going.
The share of private consumption in China's GDP today is lower than in the China of the 1950s, 60 years ago.
Same as Japan, China is hiding its enormous dependence on exports by ignoring the entire export-related domestic supply chain. According to Tsinghua University, if one accounts for the export supply chain properly, exports could easily be up to 60% of GDP.
Or, in other words, if USA and the EU have a slight chill, China catches pneumonia.
And that is what you are going to see this summer in China, economic pneumonia.
Add a zero to your "5 years will be on par", even that will be a challenge for China.

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