Expat Disrespect of US President Warmly Received in Peking University Valedictorian Speech

[Correction: June 11, 6.50pm] An earlier version of this article misstated Cody Abbey's name as Cody Irwin. Also, a portion of the video where Abbey said that it was "not possible" for a visitor in the US to make friends with people of all backgrounds has instead been edited to say "very unlikely." The author regrets the error.

An American overseas student received thunderous applause for criticizing his own country's president in a valedictorian speech given at Peking University.

The crowd on hand cheered its loudest when graduating Yenching Academy international student Cody Abbey likened US President Donald Trump to Qinshihuang, the first emperor of China:

One reason that the new president of my country likes China lies in his admiration for the Great Wall of China. Not just for its cultural legacy, but because he fancies himself to be like Qin Shihuang (the first emperor of China) and construct a barrier that will completely isolate the American people from outsiders. [Crowd cheers wildly]

Qinshihuang occupies a controversial role in Chinese history. There are accounts of him burning down libraries and massacring scholars, leading some to call him a tyrant.

Trump had brought up the Great Wall in defending his proposal to build a wall along the US-Mexico border. "You know the Great Wall of China, built a long time ago, is 13,000 miles," Trump told former Fox News pundit Bill O'Reilly. "I mean, you're talking about big stuff. We're talking about peanuts, by comparison, to that."

Abbey's disrespect of his own country's leader in front of a Chinese crowd came at the end of a speech that was free of any politicizing. Dazzling the audience with his fluent Mandarin and classical Chinese references, Abbey bookended his speech with Confucius' famous quote "A gentleman seeks harmony, but not uniformity" to explain that communication is vital to transcend cultural differences. 

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"The reason why there are countless conflicts that are occurring throughout the world is that there isn't enough dialog between people," said Abbey.

And that was not the only instance of "panda pandering" in his speech. During the address, Abbey told the first of many anecdotes, beginning with one about "learning." It featured Abbey recalling how he was indoctrinated into various arcane Chinese medical practices by a student who insisted on justifying them (one of which Abbey demonstrates to the delight of the audience, the "beggar's pose," shown above), but doesn't elaborate on what he gave in return.

In his second anecdote about "understanding" (edited, not shown in the video), Abbey said he eventually complied with the overly strict regulations of the school's extra-curricular clubs even though he didn't understand at first.

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In his last anecdote regarding "friendship" (also edited, not shown in the video), Abbey said he was able to make friends with people from all walks of life at the university including the poor, whereas the same thing is "not possible" "very unlikely" in the USA because its people and their opinions are irrevocably split into two immutable political parties.

Abbey said true dialog is only possible in China, a country in which official political parties are limited to just one.

Criticism of its leaders is not common in China, where speech on the Internet is closely monitored and regulated.

Abbey's ability to cater to his Chinese audience did not go unnoticed. Chinese netizens praised Abbey with some calling him "handsome." One person said, "He truly understands the essence of Chinese culture."

Others appreciated Abbey for making fun of his own president. Another person wrote, "When he first mentioned Trump, I thought he was a supporter. But when he ridiculed him. I laughed my ass off."

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Others thought that Abbey, who was commonly referred to as a "laowai" by the Chinese media, may have gone too far in catering to his audience. "Don't know if Americans who see his speech will think he's given up his principles in favor of other cultures," said one person.

Others still see him as part of the propaganda machine. "In its development, Great China has inoculated talents from all over the world; I am a retarded fan of China!" said another person.

Back in May, a valedictorian speech given by overseas Chinese student Yang Shuping at the University of Maryland in which she criticized China for its heavy pollution caused an uproar with nationalists back home.

Watch Abbey's video here (spoken completely in Mandarin).

More stories from this author here.

Twitter: @Sinopath 

Images: Miaopai


Although 6th Tone has recently asserted that "foreigners in China should learn to check their privilege," the lesson is already learned by those who have learned the "recipe" for success in China. The gold standard for expats in China is for them to humble themselves before a local audience, whether it be for a valedictorian speech or online v-blogging.

This guy is obviously pretty smart, and he knows a lot about Chinese culture, enough to know that if you don't pander and cater to their whims... then you haven't learned enough about China as an foreigner.

So the question is... Is the guy just pandering or does he actually believe what he says?

Doubt wisely; in strange way / To stand inquiring right is not to stray; / To sleep, or run wrong, is. (Donne, Satire III)

After listening to Cody's speech, this article reads like it is trying to frame him as a China sycophant (And what is with the term "pandering panda"?). The poor paraphrasing really takes away from an honest comparison with Yangshuping's speech at Maryland. Since your intent is to increase the number of eyeballs, next time just leave a page full of keywords. Pushing such a superficial narrative sucks the air out of constructive public discourse.

Maybe he should rip up his US passport and become Chinese. Lets see how he likes those apples.

Of course it's just pandering, do you really think he believes any of the tripe he is saying. He's just smarty by trying to get ahead

He is not even dishonorable. He's a snowflake, a punk, and I hope he gets paid in full for his disloyalty to his country.

Finding Mr. Irwin's words and attitude deplorable and appreciating the country where we have chosen to live and work are not mutually exclusive.

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