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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 is a senior editor at MAKE with abiding interest in food and drink, bicycles, woodworking, and environmentally sound human enterprises. He is the father of two young makers.

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

Contact Stett with tips and story ideas on:

*Food
*Sustainable/green design
*Science
*Young Makers
*Action sports


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Comments

  1. wang says:

    indeed early trauma leave a tangible imprint. as an adult, i have accepted things i believed my entire life were not as I had always remembered

  2. Jerry Kahn says:

    The online attack initiated by Fang Zhouzi and his followers is shameless, evil and totally uncalled-for.

    1. Silk Skirt says:

      So you are saying what PF admitted are actually not wrong at all? Why do you think PF admit it? Did you read Fang’s article? Would you please expose Fang’s wrong doing bit by bit, in detail?

  3. Watching you moron play says:

    Read this three times….http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/feb/13/ping-fu-controversy-china-cultural-revolution. You will know Jerry and etc are shameless. They are morons!

    1. lin liu says:

      Your source doesn’t support your conclusion. Try harder.

  4. Silk Skirt says:

    See for yourself. The following is what I found elsewhere:
    She may have been successful, but her real story wasn’t inspiring at all
    February 21, 2013
    By Ben Locke
    It has become increasingly clear that, from the author’s backtracking and forced admissions, most of the main events described in the book are fabricated stories. Together with additional investigations both by the Western journalists and by bloggers in China, an entirely different picture of the author’s life story has now emerged. The following is a synopsis of the real life story of Ping Fu, based on the information revealed so far.

    She had a fairly unremarkable childhood, born to a college professor father and a government clerk mother and grown up on the campus of Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, located in a major provincial capital of China. In China, the major determinant of one’s quality of life was the place you live. If you lived in a major city like Nanjing, your life would be much better than those living in smaller regional cities and 1-2 orders of magnitude better than those living in the countryside. According to her neighbors, her family wasn’t classified as the “black elements” and hence didn’t receive any harsher treatments than other families on the NUAA campus during the Cultural Revolution. Like most of the NUAA faculty, her father spent anywhere between a few months to 1.5 years in the countryside studying Mao’s books and doing farm work (the so called 5-7 Leadership Schools) at the height of the Cultural Revolution. However, in her father’s absence Ping and her sister were taken care of by her mother or her relatives. If she suffered any hardship at all, it would have been no worse than most city kids during the same period of time. She was in fact privileged enough to participate in the first ever college entrance exam since the Cultural Revolution in 1977 (failed to get in) and again in 1978, becoming the top 5% or so high school graduates lucky enough to earn a coveted spot in a college that year. That said, her performance at the exams was apparently not that great, as it was only good enough to get her into a third-tier regional college called Jiangsu Teacher’s College (there are several top-tier colleges in her hometown, including one called Nanjing Teacher’s College, which I’m sure she would have preferred to get into). This point will become relevant later.

    Unlike most other colleges, the government covered all the expenses associated with the education at a teacher’s college, including books and meals. In exchange for the 100% free education, graduates from a teacher’s college were expected to accept jobs as grade school teachers. At that time being a grade school teacher wasn’t considered a good job, and this was the reason why the government subsidized teacher’s colleges. Also at that time, jobs of college graduates were assigned by college administrators. Towards the end of her senior year, Ping learned that she would likely be assigned to a city in the northern part of Jiangsu province. If you are familiar with China, you would know that there is a big difference in living standards between the metropolitan Nanjing and the less developed Northern Jiangsu region. Of course had she performed better in the 1978 entrance exam and attended the Nanjing Teacher’s College instead, she would have had much better chance of staying in Nanjing. Disappointed that she would not be able to get a job in Nanjing, she and her family frantically searched for a way to avoid being sent to the Northern Jiangsu. Luckily for Ping, her family had resources not available to the vast majority of her peers. Her uncle was in the US and willing to help, but first she needed an excuse to avoid the unfavorable job assignment, because if you were assigned a job by the government and refused to go, you would have hard time getting a passport from the government. Another option was to postpone the decision by getting into a graduate school. Ultimately they decided that the best action was for Ping to fake a “nervous breakdown” and quit the school. Through the financial sponsorship of her uncle in the US, she managed to get into an ESL program at the University of New Mexico in January 1984.

    Her life as a student in the US mirrored many of her fellow international students: supplementing her income by working illegal jobs as a waitress, a babysitter, etc. Being a woman with ambitions, New Mexico didn’t provide enough excitement. In a couple of years she moved to California to take advantage of the many opportunities the golden state had to offer. One of the opportunities available to young women was a quick green card through marriage. Not every woman has the will to go this route, because you have to be willing to exchange your body for the benefits. This apparently didn’t bother Ping. She quickly married a Joe Blow only months after moving to California. The INS requires that to secure a green card, you must stay married for at least 2 years. She didn’t waste much time though, divorcing the Joe Blow like throwing away a soiled napkin three years later (“green card marriage” usually lasts three years because that is how long it takes to replace the 2-year temporary GC with a permanent one). This transaction must have taught her a very valuable business lesson. With a green card on hand just 4 years after landing in the US as an ESL student, her future looked as bright as ever. Later she managed to marry another guy who could help advance her career, this time it was a college professor with expertise in computer algorithm. Eventually she became the CEO of a small software company with 120 employees that is about to be bought by a larger company. Owing to her talent in self-promotion, she is now sort of an unofficial spokesperson for the 3D printing industry.

    Yes she may have been successful, but her real story wasn’t that inspiring at all. To sell the book she had to make up all the drama, including a bizarre tale of getting kidnapped by a Vietnamese man on arrival to the US and slept on a concrete floor for two nights in a locked apartment with the man’s three young children. However, she conveniently failed to mention the two real men that were most important to her success in the US: her two ex-husbands. Written as a memoir, the book is deliberately deceptive and thus deserves no more than a one star rating.

    1. KC Maher says:

      Ms. Skirt, who is Ben Locke? This story is posted as an Amazon review by a person with no history on Amazon before this post.

      1. Silk Skirt says:

        And your point is? Check out the facts, Check with your Chinese friends who experienced those years, see what they say, No need to take anyone’s word, find it out yourself.

        1. RationalCenter says:

          Silk Skirt, the point is your re-posting of a long article from “Ben Locke” proves nothing. You say to check out the facts, and the only response possible is to ask “What facts?” As far as we can tell, the writings of Ben Locke could be a total fantasy – there is no documentation, no references, no clue as to where he supposedly got this information. On the other hand, a little research in any reputable historical book or website will reveal that millions of people suffered a wide range of abuses during the Cultural Revolution, and that somewhere around 500,000 people died. Nothing in your attacks on Ping Fu or the mistakes in her book change the basic facts of her story, which reflect the experiences of millions of people. It’s quite transparently clear that you and your friends are trying to smear her character in a pathetic attempt to distract from the embarrassing chapter in China’s history she is revealing. Even if every word of her own experience were untrue, what she describes most demonstrably did happen, and happened to many, many people.

          1. Ben says:

            ” Even if every word of her own experience were untrue, what she describes most demonstrably did happen, and happened to many, many people.”

            The funniest post I’ve ever read. Is this how you should write a memoir? Many people went to the moon, would it make sense for you to publish a book describing how you went to the moon and all the great details of your wonderful experience?

      2. lin liu says:

        Wow, if this is not personal attack, I don’t know what is. Again it shows what kind of people Fu’s detractors are :)

      3. lin liu says:

        Personal attack again :) If they cannot prove you wrong, they curse you. Thanks for providing a fine specimen.

    2. lin liu says:

      Is Ben Locke even a real name? Judging by the contents and language style of the post, the author is most likely Chinese. Here is my question: why would a Chinese use a Western pseudonym to publish it? To lend himself some credibility? A more important question is : If the author is sincere and honest, why doesn’t he use his real name?

  5. Mike says:

    I understand that you cannot go to China to verify the details of her story. Could you just verify one thing? A picure of the house was printed in her book and I would like to know if NOW she can find the house in Shanghai. If she fails to find the house in Shanghai, my next question would be where she found that picture.

    1. Mike says:

      Her Shanghai house is a physical object, not an event. It should be very easy to verify whether she lied or not about it.

    2. lin liu says:

      That picture was taken decades ago, that house is most likely demolished, considering Shanghai’s rapid development. Even Fang Zhouzi could not find evidence she lied on the house issue. I dare you to find any reliable evidence that she is lying.

      1. Mike says:

        If the house was demolished, could Fu tell the address?

  6. Y. Chen says:

    I wish you could read Chinese because if you did you will find this debate is not only going on at Amazon but on nearly all major blogsites in Chinese around the world. There is unanimous agreement that Ping Fu lied about her experiences in the Cultural Revolution. Could these people all bear grudge against Ping Fu? Why didn’t other books on the Cultural Revolution trigger such an overwhelming negative reaction?

    1. lin liu says:

      Unanimous? Far from it. Just look at this blog: http://rosesofmay382.blogspot.ca/

  7. Leo R says:

    Stett,

    I appreciate your efforts in following up the Ping Fu story. I understand your background might refrain you from making a sound judgment on her personal history. I’d take a brief moment to refresh what I have learnt from other medias.

    1) a teacher quartered by 4 horses – false (admitted by herself)
    2) detained 3 days in prison and expelled to US afterwards – false (inconsistent timing, see Forbes)
    3) in a labor camp for 10 years since she was 8 – false (see Forbes)
    4) grandpa raised as his own son of the China’s founding father – false (see Guardian UK)
    5) Chinese leader saw her article in a popular magazine – false (see Guardian UK)
    6) kidnapped and forced to work as a babysitter in Albuquerque – false (see International Herald Tribune)
    7) political refugee green card – false (see International Herald Tribune). She said she got the green card through a 3-year marriage before meeting Herbert Edelsbrunner.
    8) “period police” who used the fingers to check female students’ menstrual cycle – false (see International Herald Tribune).
    9) a smear campaign by Chinese government – false (see Guardian UK)

    This is just a short list and there are much more to be added. Frankly I’d personally stay away from any of the words from such a book and such a person. I’d also be particularly insulted to be labeled as an “attacker”, “mob”, “internet terrorist”, just because I didn’t believe her story. I understand why so many people are angered. There are lies, and there are bigger lies trying to suppress the critics. To me, they are not minor mistakes.

    Thank you.

    1. lin liu says:

      Except points 1 and 8, all of your accusations are false. Anyone who cared to look at your sources can attest to that:)

      1. lol says:

        Honestly, I only care 1 and 8. She admitted 1 and 8 are wrong. They are lies. Don’t tell me those are small mistakes or can’t remember. If item 1 is true, invade China now! If item 8 is true, invade China again! Unfortunately, item 1 is total lie and item 8 is another total lie with “heavy taste”….You probably enjoy to read these lies. Fu, Mei, and Evans should ashamed. They started to labeling people questioning Fu. That’s why I call Fu, Mei, and Evans morons. If you are tied to them in anyway, you are the same.

  8. chuck says:

    Come on makers- let’s grow up.
    Thingiverse’s minor re-branding, Makerbot’s changes in business model, 3D printed guns, black maker month, Ping Fu’s memoirs… every day there’s more polarization and argument. I’m not trying to be dramatic but we are at a pivotal moment. I saw a character circuit bending on a cartoon today. The president is talking about additive manufacturing. State Farm insurance has a bitpunk jingle in their new ads. As more folks become aware and interested in what we do how many will google their way to this site(among others), see a bunch of squabbling children, bigots, and trolls, and never come back. More importantly, how many won’t get inspired to create something?
    I’m just going to leave this here-

    ‘Where’s the common cause
    Too many factions
    Safely sulk in their shells
    Agree with us on everything
    Or we won’t help with anything
    That kind of attitude
    Just makes a split grow wider
    Guess who’s laughing
    While the world explodes
    When we’re all crybabies
    Who fight best among ourselves’

    Jello Biafra

    1. Lux Lee says:

      I think you are wrong. Attidude like yours lets bad things happen. Makes life worse little by little.

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