Chinese student forced to apologize for praising 'fresh air of free speech in the US

A University of Maryland student was viciously attacked on social media for praising freedom in the U.S. compared to her native China.


Shuping Yang, a graduate of the University of Maryland from Kunming city in southwest China, compared the air in China to the "sweet, oddly luxurious" air in America, and even went a step further to praise the U.S. for its democracy that allows "free speech," the Daily Mail reported.

"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," the theater and psychology double-major said, recounting her experience arriving in the U.S.

"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," Yang added.

Needless to say, her remarks went immediately viral in China and elicited a storm of opposition from both citizens and the government.

"Is it appropriate to despise her home country while speaking as a school representative?" one user of the Chinese social media site wrote.

"You better not come back to China. China won't be able to nurture a talent like you," another user wrote.

"Is she trying to flatter the US by saying our country is flawed?" another user questioned.

The People's Daily, a Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece, also accused Yang of "bolstering negative Chinese stereotypes," according to the Washington Post.

The University of Maryland defended Yang's right to speak from her perspective.

"To be an informed global citizen, it is critical to hear different viewpoints," the university wrote in a statement Monday.

The university also linked to Yang's apology on the Chinese social media site Weibo.

"I love my country and home town and I'm proud of its prosperity," Yang wrote in the apology, which has been shared more than 66,000 times.

We sometimes forget that despite its economic success, China is still a Communist country that stifles free speech and actively censors different viewpoints that don't toe the official line.  It has enlisted the help of American technology companies to help it police the internet – including social media sites – to regulate the thinking of its citizens.

Ms. Yang expresses sentiments common to immigrants from countries with oppressive governments.  Freedom in America is beyond imagining for most of them, and when confronted by the reality of American liberty, their joy is hard to contain.  We've seen this for decades when people from behind the Iron Curtain made their way to America.  After years of being immersed in propaganda about how bad America is, they end up being amazed at the freedom in our society.

Yang felt compelled to apologize because she is going home eventually and doesn't want complications for herself or her family.  She still might suffer consequences from the government because of her bold words.  But despite the outpouring of criticism from some of her fellow countrymen, I feel certain that others who read her words were given heart by her sentiments, and a germ of truth was planted in their minds.

The government can censor the internet as much as it wants.  But as the Soviets found out to their detriment, ideas like freedom cannot be totally erased from the human consciousness as long as brave people are willing to speak up on its behalf.

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