US: After 'fresh air' speech row, Chinese students tell world they are #ProudOfChina
Yang was from Kunming, a city in China famous for its pleasant all-year-round spring climate. Source: Shutterstock

Chinese students at the University of Maryland are taking to their campus grounds and the Internet to declare their love for their homeland, after a viral video of fellow schoolmate’s graduation speech sparked online vitriol for allegedly criticising China’s air quality and free speech.

According to South China Morning Post (SCMP), the students held up “Proud of China” placards and shared a video of the university’s students and graduates’ views on the controversial speech.

“Although we know United States is a very free-speaking country, 80 percent of what Shuping Yang said today were deceptions and lies,” a student named Jiang Xinliang said in the video.

“So we decided to speak out because we do not think she can represent all international Chinese students,” Chongqing native Jiang Xinliang said in the video.

Earlier this week, Yang gave a commencement speech where she praised the fresh air in US and its championing of free speech. While what Yang said was well-received by the audience, Chinese netizens attacked Yang for disgracing and lying about her home country.

The students behind #ProudOfChina are espousing the same views as these netizens. Hence their campaign to correct “wrong stereotypes” of the country and show their “courage to speak up” via hand-drawn T-shirts and YouTube videos.

During the economics department’s graduation ceremony on Monday, one Chinese student paraded a T-shirt saying “Proud of China”, according to the People’s Daily.

Later, a group wore similar T-shirts to a gathering on campus grounds, shouting “We are from the University of Maryland! We are proud of China!”

Pushed by the official China Students and Scholars Association, eight Chinese students and graduates also shared their criticism of Yang and praise for their hometowns on YouTube.

“I admit there are some air quality problems in China right now, but you won’t die without a mask. I came here to solve the problem because I am studying environmental science right now. But not to escape!,” one student from Chengdu said in the video.

SCMP notes a study by Nanjing University published last year found smog is the reason for nearly one-third of deaths in China.

Yang’s speech revealed two streams of polarising views – while one camp condemns Yang for her lack of patriotism, the other believes she has the right to state her opinions.

One Facebook user wrote: “Nothing in her speech said anything about not being proud of her homeland. The city with the freshest air in China will not be fresher than America. That’s the reality. Time to deal with it instead of being so damn sensitive.”

“This just shows that the air in China really is ‘toxic’ – you say just one thing outside of what you are supposed to say and people will just burn you at the stake,” another Facebook user wrote.

The university has defended Yang, calling for tolerance of diverse views. Whereas Yang has since denied the accusations hurled against her and apologised, saying she has learnt her lesson for the future.

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