• Fri
  • Dec 19, 2014
  • Updated: 8:21pm

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

To mention China in such a prominent and insulting way in his speech in a setting that really had nothing to do with China, Biden showed that China really has got to him.
Poor bugger, he just had to let out the stream and have a couple of cheap shots at China. A seasoned politician such as BIden could behave in such a juvenile manner when it comes to China, it is indeed very telling.
PS. I like the Americans I have personally met, but I also understand why there are so many people who hate Americans.
PRC Chinese are always contradicting themselves. VP Biden was just telling the brutal truth. He was addressing thousand of graduates from all over the world not only the mainlanders aka ****s. It is an indisputable fact that American are innovators and their innovations impact globally. It is American who create Apple. It is American who create google,facebook, twitter, instagram. It is American Taiwanese and American who create yahoo and google. Without American, Foxconn couldn't possibly exist and employed hundreds of thousands of PRC workers. PRC burgeoning economy is not REAL and it will burst in the not so distant future.
You are always good for a laugh; "my comments always based on facts." What a freaking joke. "Most Americans are lazy...." And you base this on what fact? So you have met all 300 milllion Americans personally and have determined based on their productivity that they are not working hard enough? Actually, in terms of productivity the US economy and US workers produce more product per worker than most any other nation. Check Bloomberg on that. If nothing else, your name is correct in a zoological terms. You surely are a jenny.
Rioters were murdering soldiers? Where was this?
The poster was referring to Tiananmen Square where students were on hunger strike. The violence was started by police using batons in April and then in May a jeep ran over and killed four people. To that point it was a few hundred thousand kids that must have been a bit weak due to being on a hunger strike. The government didn't want to make changes demanded by the (nearly) educated poplulation and resorted to violence to disband them.
The ultimate outcome, however, was a reversal of Deng's position of who was to replace him and stated that he had made the wrong decision previously.
Someone has been brainwashed mate and I think it was part of the process you underwent when you signed your communist party affirmation.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.



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