Chinese students and parents are demanding an apology from US Vice-President Joe Biden for "insensitive" comments, weeks after he referred to China as the nation that cannot “think different” or “breathe free” during a commencement speech at the University of Pennsylvania.
“I believe Biden should apologise over his inappropriate comments made at my commencement in the face of at least hundreds of Chinese people,” Zhang Tianpu, a graduating Wharton senior and Chinese citizen, told the South China Morning Post on Wednesday.
“It was a humiliating experience,” he said. “And how can a graduation speech be this political?”
Zhang and his peers have already drafted a letter to Biden demanding an official apology. The letter has 343 signatures as of Wednesday and will be sent to the university’s president before reaching Biden's desk. Requests for comment from Biden's office have not been returned.
Biden’s comments, which were called "inappropriate", hugely disappointed the Chinese in his audience. They were delivered in the middle of his May 13 speech, reported by the Guardian as “by far the funniest of the recent commencement addresses”.
But not everyone appreciated his jokes. Touching on the concern that “the Chinese are going to eat our lunch”, Biden assured his audience that they had nothing to fear.
“Their problems are immense, and they lack much of what we have,” he said, citing America’s universities, its “open and fair legal” system, vibrant venture capital markets and innovative minds.
The key to all these, Biden argued, was the ability to “think different”, in a reference to Steve Jobs' slogan for Apple.
“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.”
To which Zhang argued: “Come on, my ancestors were challenging orthodoxy even before his ancestors got to America.”