Last weekend, Chinese student Yang Shuping had the honor of speaking before her classmates during the graduation ceremony at the University of Maryland. Speaking into the microphone, she took a moment to praise the ground she was standing on: “The moment I inhaled and exhaled outside the airport, I felt free. I have learned the right to freely express oneself is sacred in America. I could challenge a statement made by instructors. I could even rate my professors online.”
A video of her speech has been viewed more than 50 million times online – a realm that’s among the most censored in the world back home, where it didn’t get so many “likes.” China’s state-run newspaper The People’s Daily called her speech “biased” and quoted one source saying, “What you (Yang) gave is not free speech, but rumor-mongering and currying favor.”
The government-backed Chinese Student and Scholar Association accused her of not loving China. That same organization criticized the University of California at San Diego for inviting the Dalai Lama to speak at commencement. The spiritual leader is a controversial figure in China and viewed as a dangerous separatist by the government, meanwhile, Tibetans accuse the Chinese of violently suppressing their culture.
But the Chinese Communist Party’s ban of anything critical of the Party is no secret. It has also banned from college textbooks, not limited to but including, praise of constitutional democracy.
But is the Chinese government moving the hand of censorship over to the land of the free? Is it actively involved in a large-scale purging of American ideology – an often-contested term in an ever-divided nation – from the minds of its students earning degrees in the U.S.A.?
Acclaimed journalist and author John Pomfret writes an editorial piece in the Washington Post, where he addresses this question. He alludes to the 1940s when the non-communist government evaluated students for political allegiance, before sending them off, and authorizing Chinese officials in the States to monitor them. When the program was exposed, one official said they were merely teaching them “table manners.”