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  • Dec 28, 2014
  • Updated: 4:05am

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

First, I am not taking sides and my comments are always based on the facts. Yes, I am Taiwanese original.
Mr. Biden is mental masturbation, I bet he does not know how most Americans are lazy, they demanded their wages are much higher than their proportion of the actual capacity. Discredit China will not make the U.S. looks good.

Yes, Chinese society is not perfect. A size of China, it just can not be changed over night as an uneven distribution of the level of an education. The human right or the democracy is closely associated with properly governmental function, such as soundly constitution and legal systems impose in interests of community as well as the level of the education. Reading through America's history, I realize that many of US's innovations and technologies were either copied or the imported German engineers from Germany during World War II. It made the United States became Today's the United States. Eventually, China will catch up with America and Western countries, with or without the help of the United States or Western countries.
I just wrote an article, "台灣是人間天堂, 還是人間的地獄???", on Taiwan's immature democratic system of violence, wanton, frenzied, poorly educated lawlessness posting in US World Journal Blog or Taiwan UDN, JenniePCChiang Blog in both English and Chinese versions.
Jennie PC Chiang/江佩珍 05/24/13
China has a lot to learn from US, they make corruption legal calling it lobbying so they can call other country for corruption for the same thing they do which is ok in the US which is legal. The US take over other country sovereignty by introducing FATCA which steps all over every countries privacy laws, yet when ask to reciprocate they say they can't because of their privacy laws. The pass laws that can arrest anyone in any country that breaks a US law even though it is legal in that country. It is ok for US to lock up their own citizen and even send them to other country to be torture but scream human right violations if other country do the same to their own citizen. US has one of the highest ratio of its congressmen under investigation for fraud, corruption, embezzlement but the worst they get is sanction which is basically being a slap on the hand in front of its colleague. It is also ok for the US to sentence a citizen to death for being suspected of hanging out with the wrong people with out a day in court. And just to be sure to kill him they send a drone to wipe out every one around him. Congress gets all work up because IRS is suspect of potential singling out a political party, yet at the same time the Congress pass laws to make millions of oversea US citizen miserable because their votes don't count. Yes, in an election the votes of oversea citizen is not counted unless the election is closer then 0.1%.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Cannot was used to mean "aren't permitted to" not "are incapable of".
fantastic post
I wonder if the sheep that sign the little thieves petition realize what they are doing ( do not want to call them princes since that has a positive connotation)
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?
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.



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