Badiucao: Yang Shuping’s Face Mask

CDT cartoonist Badiucao offers his commentary on the controversy over remarks made at the University of Maryland graduation ceremony by Chinese student Yang Shuping. Yang, who spoke admirably of the fresh air and freedom of speech she had encountered since studying in the U.S., has become the target of vitriolic online attacks from Chinese internet users who claim she insulted her country. Badiucao depicts Yang, with a red mask being placed over her mouth by Chinese President Xi Jinping:

Yang Shuping, by Badiucao for CDT:


In her speech, Yang commented that she was pleasantly surprised upon arriving in the U.S. to find that she had no need for the five face masks she wore to protect herself from pollution in her hometown of Kunming. Chinese netizens responded by denying that Kunming is polluted. From Julia Hollingsworth at the South China Morning Post:

She also discovered, she said, that the freedoms enshrined in the Declaration of Independence were not the abstractions she had once imagined.

“Democracy and freedom are the fresh air that is worth fighting for,” she said.

But critics on social media skewered the address. Some took to Facebook and Weibo to challenge Ms. Yang’s comment about pollution masks:

One Facebook user, Sincerlia Yang, commented: “This is the real KunMing TODAY! Shuping Yang do you need five masks?”

[…] “Our motherland needs a lot of improvements, but it’s still the motherland,” the Weibo user Guaishoukankan wrote in a typical comment. “There are different types of social issues and discrimination in the U.S., too.” [Source]

Mike Ives at The New York Times reports on Yang’s response to the online backlash:

On Monday, Ms. Yang said she hoped the speech would not result in any personal attacks against her.

“I apologize if my speech was at any points misleading,” she wrote on Weibo. “I sincerely hope I can be understood and forgiven by the public.”

“The speech was just sharing a part of my experience studying in the United States,” she added. “There was no intention to belittle my country and my hometown.”

The episode appeared to show how, as more Chinese study overseas, comments that they make about China or its one-party government can spread online and prompt taunts, even threats, from other students or social media users back home. [Source]

The Chinese Students and Scholars Association, a government-affiliated group which monitors and advises Chinese students studying abroad, called on students to film themselves countering Yang’s arguments with the words “I have different views from Shuping Yang. I am proud of China.” Several students at University of Maryland made such a video, which is posted on YouTube:

An earlier article in The New York Times looks at the role played by the CSSA in American universities, where the group encourages Chinese students to protest campus events or issues that may run counter to the Chinese government’s official line. Recently at University of California, San Diego, Chinese students protested the invitation to the Dalai Lama to speak at the school’s graduation. The school defended the invitation, much as the University of Maryland issued a statement saying it “proudly supports Shuping’s right to share her views and her unique perspectives.”

When asked about the controversy over Yang’s comments, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang simply claimed that all Chinese must be “responsible” in making public comments:

“I believe China will encourage and welcome the students as long as they love their motherland from the heart and are willing to make a contribution,” Lu told a regular press briefing on Wednesday, without directly criticising what Yang said in her speech. “Any capable Chinese citizen should make responsible comments on any issue, not only about China but everything”. [Source]

Read more internet comments on the controversy via CDT Chinese.

Meanwhile, in Melbourne, Australia, a lecturer was suspended from Monash University after including a question in a quiz that offended many Chinese students. The question asked, “There is a common saying in China that Chinese officials only speak the truth when …” The correct answer was: “they are drunk or careless.” After a Chinese student complained about the question online, the Chinese consulate-general intervened to urge the university to investigate, according to a report in The Australian.

Cover2You can support Badiucao by buying ”Watching Big Brother: Political Cartoons by Badiucao,” available in EPUB and PDF formats. The book covers the early years of Xi’s presidency, from December 2013 to January 2016. No contribution is required, but all donations will go to Badiucao to support his artwork. CDT is also selling merchandise featuring Badiucao’s work in our Zazzle store, with all profits again going to the artist. See also interviews with the artist by CDT, PRI’s The World and Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s RN. Many of his earlier cartoons are available via CDT.