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Ping Fu.
Ping Fu.

Last month I wrote about Bend, Not Break, a memoir written by Ping Fu. Fu is the founder of Geomagic and now chief strategy officer at 3D Systems. In her book, Fu wrote about her life as a young girl in China and living under Mao’s Cultural Revolution. She described being forcibly removed from her family by the Red Guard at 8 years old and spending the next 10 years living with her younger sister in a government dormitory under brutal conditions before ultimately immigrating to the U.S. For me, it was a harrowing, but ultimately uplifting story about overcoming adversity.

But that’s not how some people reacted to the book.

Fu was attacked by those who claimed her book was filled with inaccuracies, or worse, outright lies. Amazon.com and Forbes’ websites were also inundated with overwhelmingly negative comments, many of which seemed to come from Chinese national and expatriates. My post received dozens of angry comments as well.

Fu responded to her critics in a point-by-point on the Huffington Post. Judging by the nearly 240 comments that post generated, many are still not satisfied with her explanation. I asked for a follow-up interview about the backlash her book created and to clarify some of the points her critics raised.

Fu believes she is the victim of cyber bullying that may have been spurred by an influential Chinese blogger, but it’s grown in size and scope.

“It’s clear there’s a pretty large organized attack,” she says.

The attacks remind her of the public humiliation she suffered as a young girl at the hands of the Red Guards.

“I feel like I’m reliving this again in the modern day on the internet,” she says.

Fu explains that her book is a memoir, not a history or journalistic account of Mao’s China. While she says there were indeed some editing errors and translation issues with the book, she believes the uproar is out of proportion and she stands by her book.

Critics questioned an incident in the book in which she describes someone being publicly quartered by four horses when she was a child. Under scrutiny from the aforementioned Chinese blogger, Fu says while the scene is seared in her memory, she concedes it may have not happened, and the event in her mind — which is reportedly based on a Chinese myth — may have been the result of the “emotional trauma” she suffered as a child.

“Did I imagine that? In my mind’s eye I saw that.”

But if that episode didn’t happen, might there be others?

No, she says.

“This is my memory. This is my experience and this is my life and I told it authentically.”

Another source of criticism and doubt came from a section of the book in which she described being forced the leave China because of her senior thesis about China’s one-child rule and the infanticide that resulted. In the book, she said information from her unpublished thesis made it into an editorial in a state newspaper and later foreign newspapers picked up the story, which in turn brought unwanted attention to China’s human rights abuses. This, she reasoned in the book, was why she was all but kicked out the country.

But after publishing her book she learned that a Ph.D. student from Stanford University named Stephen Mosher had written a book called Broken Earth that also called attention to rural infanticide in China. He conducted his research about the same time Fu conducted hers. That book generated a lot of heat for China (and for Mosher, who was expelled from Stanford before the book was published under purported Chinese pressure). Fu says her thesis came on the heels of the Mosher controversy and added to China’s sensitivity around the issue.

“That’s why I was asked to leave quietly,” she says. “All the dots connected. The timing was perfect.”

I was drawn to Fu’s book because of her role at Geomagic and now 3D Systems. Her experiences in China and coming to America made for a great read. Did Fu fabricate her memoir as her critics say? I’m not an expert in Chinese history and I’m not going to China to confirm the details of her story, but based on my interviews with Fu, I take her at her word.

She has admitted the book contains minor editing mistakes and that given the trauma surrounding the separation from her family, the horse quartering episode probably didn’t happen. But is the rest of the book a pack of lies? I believe her book is an accurate portrayal of her experiences. Nothing her critics have said undermines the core themes of the book: resilience, determination, and the power of kindness.

Stett Holbrook

Stett Holbrook is editor of the Bohemian, an alternative weekly in Santa Rosa, California. He is a former senior editor at Maker Media.

He is also the co-creator of Food Forward, a documentary TV series for PBS about the innovators and pioneers changing our food system.


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