An American master’s degree student publicly lashed out against U.S. President Donald Trump in a valedictorian speech given at Peking University last week, receiving a large round of applause from the crowd in the auditorium, according to the South China Morning Post.
On July 7, Cody Abbey, whose Chinese name is Ai Wen 艾文, delivered the speech in fluent Mandarin at the degree ceremony for the class of 2017 of the Yenching Academy, an elite international program at Peking University. Abbey began the 12-minute speech (video in Chinese) by introducing a core concept of Confucianism: “A gentleman seeks harmony, not uniformity” (君子和而不同 jūn zǐ hé ér bú tóng). He then told three personal stories to explain his understanding of the saying. In one story, Abbey related his experience living with a Chinese student who gave him culture shock by doing the “beggar’s squat” for exercise, explaining that they became friends despite their differences.
Impressed by the harmonious relationship he has had with Chinese colleagues, Abbey said that he was concerned about the rise of populism and anti-globalization in recent years, especially under Trump’s administration. “The reason the new president of my country likes China is because he admires the Great Wall,” said Abbey. “He admires it not because the Great Wall is a part of China’s cultural heritage; rather, he admires it because just like Emperor Qin Shi Huang, he wants to build a barrier like this and cut off Americans from those outside our borders.”
After video of the speech circulated online, Abbey was praised by many Chinese internet users for “understanding the essence of Chinese culture” and “having the courage to slam his own leader.” However, some commenters were baffled at the double standard in attitudes toward Abbey’s speech and the controversial speech seen as critical of China delivered by Chinese student Yang Shuping 杨舒平 in May at the University of Maryland. On social media platform Weibo, one user wrote (in Chinese), “Why do many people think it is totally fine for a U.S. student in China to say negative but true things about his government, while they regard it as inappropriate for a Chinese overseas student to do the same thing?”
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