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.
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.
"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.
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."
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).
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