I’m going to write another post -last one, I promise- in English, like the previous one, because it’s in some way related.
(Lectores en español, no se preocupen, a partir del próximo post volveré a usar la lengua cervantina y dejaré la shakespeariana en paz).
In the previous post I wrote about something that several English media said it had offended Chinese but, in my humble opinion, it didn’t (a football player doing a “Chinese eyes” gesture).
Today, on the contrary, I will talk about something that, this time for sure, did offend many Chinese -or at least made them angry- and in this case the Chinese anger didn’t please some English media. ‘What? Do you want us angry or not?’ some Chinese may say…
I am referring to a now very famous speech made by a Chinese graduate, Yang Shuping, in a recent ceremony in the University of Maryland (USA):
Yang, who comes from Southern China city of Kunming, started her speech by saying that when she arrived to the US she finally had the chance to enjoy fresh air, because in her hometown she had to wear masks every day due to severe pollution.
The start of the speech has made Chinese very angry because Kunming is one of the cleanliest cities in China (even has the nickname of “Spring City” for its nice weather and blue skies) and they think she exaggerated just to please Americans. Even in the most polluted cities in China, like Beijing, not every day is a smoggy day, so saying that you have to wear masks every day, as she said, it’s a bit too much.
I agree with those critics, and I would add that United States is not exactly a country that deserves to set an example for taking care of the environment. A nation that has almost the same amount of CO2 emissions than China but having four times less population is not an example at all. They had smog problems as well in the past: Pittsburgh was notoriously famous for that in the 50s.
Later in the speech, Yang related the fresh air of Maryland with the freshness of free speech and democracy that she’s been able to enjoy in the United States. I believe that in that part of her speech she hasn’t been that criticized in China, because she is right, US is a country with much, much more freedom of speech than China. And I agree with her. China is a calamity in freedom of press and expression, and this post is not going to argue that part, for sure.
Let’s go back to the beginning: the young student overstated the bad quality of the air in her hometown, kind of adapting herself to the views of Americans that have not been in China and think that this is a living hell. And that’s something that happens often with China, and I have told many times in this website (but in Spanish language most of the time). China has very bad problems, why to exaggerate their details or fabricate new ones then? That gives excuses to conservative Chinese to attack foreign media… In this case, Yang is only a young student, she shouldn’t be blamed that much -and in a few days controversy around her will be forgotten, luckily- but she becomes a symbol on what happens sometimes about outside visions of China.
She exaggerated…. and BBC also exaggerated when it compared the Chinese complaining about it with “Red Guards”. Isn’t a little too much? They caught her in a little lie, that doesn’t make them a lynching mob.
Moreover, Taiwanese animation studio TomoNews (formerly known as NMA) made one video about the controversy that also portraits Chinese harshly (with diapers, shooting weapons, running over people with tanks). It’s again too much, in my point of view, but hey, it’s comedy, and I respect comedy.
I tried to defend a little the Chinese complaints in a sometimes risky environment, the comments section of the web Shanghaiist (very good articles but not so good commentators: their rants probably would hurt the feelings of Chinese much more than Lavezzi’s picture). I was called “ignorant”, “stupid” and “pathetic apologist”. A few months ago they said I come from a “poor Southern European country” and predicted I would leave China after one or two years here…
Now I am offended too.