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  • Aug 23, 2014
  • Updated: 7:09am
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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rsallen
Cannot was used to mean "aren't permitted to" not "are incapable of".
hankt
Opened up just 30 years ago and as a country is considered by many to be one of the oldest countries in the world.
You have mistaken recent progress as relative speed.
The missing pieces now are personal and civil growth: learn to obey the traffic laws (indeed sit a test rather than purchase an invalid license) and other societal norms and the country may indeed take off.
Not only will personal and civil growth assist China as a whole, with these traits others around the world will begin to help rather than harrangue.
Macro75
Biden is known for making stupid comments, and this instance is no exception. However, if such comments were made by a Chinese national, especially in China, many would praise him. If they come from a non-Chinese speaker, then this is a matter of face, and it can't be tollerated. I am sure that many who sign the petition demanding an apology from Biden have said far worse about their homeland, as any true patriot would.
corygoldblatt
I just finished reading all the comments and I noticed that not one person mentioned that while Biden's speech was not politically correct, he was observing his right to freedom of speech :-)
marie_yuen@hotmail.com
My fellow American expatriates, does anyone remember that small-town grade-school insult of the mid-twentieth century that kids used to finish each other with, during recess? "So, YOUR mama wears combat boots!"
Speaking as an ABC (American-Born-Chinese), this feels like Biden just took aim at my great-grandmother. So, how would YOU feel if he did that to yours???
chaz_hen
You're kind of a pathetic representative for ABCs. Think about what you just wrote and you get one free pass at a do over.
whymak
One reader says White House trash. Why doesn't he come right out and say white trash? I will go one step further. Aside from wounded pride, the sentiments expressed here are a fine exhibit of both white and yellow trash. How can one tell? A lifelong experience from someone telling it like it is without cynicism and none of the blatant racist hatred of a few readers in these pages.
Cynic@sowhat
I'm not sure why my comment disappeared. Biden has overdone it. His speech reflects his worries over the spirits of the graduates so much so that he has to allay fears of rising China through criticism. The part where he laid out innovations and scientific advancements were encouraging and ignited hopes to say the least. But, it wasn't enough...or so it seems. Biden asked the graduates not to listen to the cynics because they were wrong. Now would this speech fall into the same category?
daily
Simply put.......... "Another piece of White House trash"............
freedom hong kong
There might be merit in the speech but simply inappropriate words for the VP of USA on such an ocassion

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