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  • Aug 21, 2014
  • Updated: 2:06am
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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Beaker
Yeah Rocklily, the Aussies hate you too. They just want your money. Read up on how your sovereign fund CITIC was taken to the cleaners over the iron ore mine they wanted to build on Aussie land hoping to use Chinese labor rules. So, Obama was talking to like-minded people building upon common ground. But, because China acts like a bully in Asia Pacific, Obama didn't have to do very much but watch as China encircled itself. There has never been such a thorough encirclement of China done by external forces as has been done by China's boorish behavior toward its neighbors.
Hey, why do you use Gmail which is run by the enemy of the state? You like the 128 bit encryption and their servers outside of Mainland China? I would figure someone with your views would be using @163.cn or @126.cn. Seriously, when you address Obama as "you", did you, Rocklily88, forget that you're posing on SCMP and not writing to the Whitehouse?
caractacus
If your country had the guts it would tell the truth.
ckphoon
Pot calling kettle black!
rocklily88@gmail.com
Indeed my country should tell the truth, it was one of the countries that followed USA into Iraq in search of WMDs and found none, made a mess and had a lot of people killed, then left with tail between legs. To this date none of these invading countries has the guts to admit that they made a mistake and that because of their 'liberation' the Iraqis continue to suffer.
tkruemmer
China never had the guts to admit any mistakes, IMHO. And in case someone points out a mistake China made, there are the censors at hand, hand-in-hand with 五毛党 and more physical measures of oppression.
The pot calling the kettle black.
thung01
I'm no admirer of Biden's, but to be fair, basically all that he said about China was "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". Of all people, the Chinese should be the first to acknowledge this. Maybe people were so offended because they knew deep down inside that this is true. If Biden had said something totally false (like "women are second-class citizens in China where they are not even allowed to go to college"), people would just have laughed.
rocklily88@gmail.com
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.
caractacus
Have you ever stopped to look in the mirror and wonder how many other Asian peoples hate the Chinese?
You really cannot bear to hear the truth about yourselves.
johndoe
Biden is correct overall. Free speech hurts, indeed.
caractacus
Zhang says "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." Clearly, he does not think much of America, its food or people and probably hasn't bothered getting to know anyone except other Chinese. He obviously thinks he and the other Chinese are the only ones who count. America has news for them: they are not special.
It is doubtful if many Chinese students suffer any real hardship except some of those born in America of families with modest or low incomes, where merit and hard work, not connections, count for something. How many from the PRC are the spoiled brats of corrupt cadres? 80% of them are estimated to have cheated to gain entry to overseas universities with false education certificates and references.
How are foreigners treated in China? Not nearly as well as Chinese are treated in America. If they want to be respected they need to take a good hard look in the mirror, recognise the historical arrogance, conceit and endemic corruption of their own culture and try to change, but that is almost impossible for a mindset which cannot bear to face unpleasant truths about itself. If they don't like America they don't have to study there, they are free to leave.

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