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  • Dec 29, 2014
  • Updated: 9:55am

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

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 :-)
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???
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.
you know why all that garbage is produced in china?
so the americans do NOT HAVE to pollute their own backyard
they just exported the pollution to you-enjoy
Sticks Evans
Zhang is a baby man. He should go home and work hard and stop whining. Many of his countrymen/women would dream of having that diploma. Who cares what Joe Biden says anyway. Just another blabbermouth politician.
What Biden said may be right, but that was neither the place nor the moment to say it, especially taking into account the many Chinese students in the audience.
Biden usually offends me strongly but not this time. But that probably wasn't the right venue to make such statements. He probably wanted to speak about the strengths of the United States. But Biden is such a fool he couldn't think of a way to do that without tearing down someone else.
From my own experience, having been to China many many times, being able to speak Mandarin, and being of Chinese descent though not a PRC citizen, I don't disagree with what Biden said. I have good friends in China who are PRC citizens that would not disagree with Biden's statements. But I do think his comments were unnecessary to the point I think he was trying to make.
Innovative thinking has always been a strength of the United States from its foundation. However, I believe the United States is losing that edge. The traditional American values of individualism and self reliance and personal liberty that leads to innovative thought have be frowned upon over the last few decades, particularly over the last few years.
Biden is insensitive in his speech, but Zhang would find it ironic that his petition against a country leader would never gain ground in China. In China, his professors would instruct him to stop his act or face disciplinary action, and his comments online would be deleted within hours.
China (and the Chinese) cannot "think different"? I do not see the US and Americans capable of this feat. Biden is very orthodox, very.



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