Facing blowback online from Chinese government officials and Chinese social-media users — including the post of the home address of some of her relatives — a University of Maryland graduate has apologized for remarks she made during her recent commencement address, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.
In her speech, Yang Shuping, an immigrant from China, used the concept of “fresh air” as a metaphor for open political and social debate.
“I grew up in a city in China where I had to wear a face mask every time I went outside, otherwise I might get sick. However, the moment I inhaled and exhaled outside the airport, I felt free,” Ms. Yang said, The Post reported.
“I would soon feel another kind of fresh air for which I will be forever grateful. The fresh air of free speech. Democracy and free speech should not be taken for granted. Democracy and freedom are the fresh air that is worth fighting for,” Ms. Yang added.
Those remarks, however, soon went viral on Chinese social media outlets, The Post reported Tuesday, and, in a disturbing twist, “the home address of Yang’s family had been shared widely in the commentary sections of local media websites, on Chinese social media posts and even in replies to her social media posts.”
“China’s normally hyperactive censors apparently found no need to suppress that information,” The Post observed.
Ms. Yang has since apologized on China’s Twitter-like platform Weibo. “I love my country and home town and I’m proud of its prosperity,” she wrote, according to The Post’s translation.
“I hope to make contributions to it using what I have learned overseas. The speech was just to share my experiences overseas, and I had no intentions of belittling my country and home town. … I am deeply sorry and hope for forgiveness.”
Immediately after Ms. Yang’s speech Sunday, university President Wallace Loh, who was born in China, hailed her remarks, The Diamondback newspaper reported.
“Like you and your parents, I also am an American by choice,” Mr. Loh said, according to the student newspaper, “and you have expressed some of the deepest feelings I have for this country, what this is, and will always be a shining city on the hill.”
In a statement released on its website Monday, the university expressed its defense of Ms. Yang’s comments.
“The University of Maryland, like all public universities, is a marketplace of ideas,” the statement began. “It is a place founded on academic freedom, the freedom of expression, and the right of every individual to share their thoughts and views in a welcoming and nurturing academic environment.
“The University believes that to be an informed global citizen it is critical to hear different viewpoints, to embrace diversity, and demonstrate tolerance when faced with views with which we may disagree,” the statement went on to add. “Listening to and respectfully engaging with those whom we disagree are essential skills, both within university walls and beyond.”
“The University proudly supports Shuping’s right to share her views and her unique perspectives and we commend her on lending her voice on this joyous occasion.”
You can read the University of Maryland’s full statement here.