Comments that Vice President Joe Biden made about China during last week’s commencement address has drawn ire from “disappointed” international students.
“Imagine you study abroad — say in England — and then you’ve worked very hard for four years, spent so much sweat, toil to get that degree and you wake up in the morning in your academic regalia,” recent Wharton graduate and former Chinese international student Tianpu Zhang said, “and suddenly there’s this old guy standing on the podium saying, ‘You guys suck.’”
Zhang wrote a post on Renren — the Chinese version of Facebook — condemning what he saw as an “inappropriate” use of the commencement address. The post went viral, picking up considerable media attention.
“I love to hear people tell me — now to use the vernacular — ‘China’s going to eat our lunch,’” Biden said in his speech. Echoing Steve Jobs’ advice to “think different,” he went on to say, “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.”
Later in the speech, Biden said his February 2012 visit with then future Chinese president Xi Jinping left him feeling that Xi “has the look of a man who’s about to take on a job he’s not at all sure is going to end well.”
Many critics have said that regardless of the truth of Biden’s statements, Penn’s commencement address was not a proper forum for political jabs.
“The general agreement is that the content is somewhat inappropriate and shouldn’t have been delivered to the faces of thousands of Chinese students,” Zhang said. “I think the University bears responsibility for all of its students and should have been more considerate — because Biden might not know there are a thousand Chinese students and their families there listening to his speech.”
According to the Office of Institutional Research and Analysis, there were 1,339 Chinese international students enrolled in fall 2012 — which represents about 5 percent of the total undergraduate and graduate student population.
Several students, including Zhang, have begun circulating a petition calling on Biden to apologize. The petition had about 350 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon, according to Engineering senior Yingting Xiao, one of the petition’s organizers.
She said the organizers had two goals. “One is the ultimate goal to make Biden apologize, but we know that’s very hard to reach because our voice is pretty small and he has so many other [things] to care about,” she said. “The second goal is to make the school pay more attention to international students.” They also sent a letter to the offices of Penn President Amy Gutmann and Vice Provost for Global Initiatives Ezekiel Emanuel asking them to forward the petition to Biden’s office.
For its part, the University said in a statement that it “does not review or approve the remarks delivered by speakers at its annual commencement ceremony. Vice President Biden’s comments are entirely his own and should not be construed to reflect the views or policies of the University.”
Additionally, Gutmann hosted an alumni event in Hong Kong for Asian alumni on Tuesday.
But some weren’t satisfied with the response. “The University can play a bigger role in supporting our petition,” said recent Engineering and Wharton graduate Jason Gui, who was carrying a Chinese flag during the commencement ceremony.
“I wanted to run up to the stage with the flag,” he said. “Franklin Field is not a political arena.”Comments powered by Disqus
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