Sunday, March 31, 2013

Broken Fact: The Brutal Killing of Teachers

The Original Story:
On Page 44 of Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping told this unusually gruesome story:
On one afternoon, the Red Guards gathered us to watch a teacher be thrown head first into a deep well, and another quartered by four horsemen on the soccer field. Later they beat to death an older boy for a prank he had pulled involving a cat because the Chinese word for cat, mao, has the same pinyin spelling as Chairman Mao's name, differing only by a subtle tone change. Crime and punishment were meted out haphazardly, so no one among us black elements ever felt safe.
She recited the same story to Dick Gordon on the American Public Media's The Story show on March 9, 2010:
When we first got together in the dormitory, they gathered us all to a soccer field. It's a big soccer field in the middle of the living quarter of the student dormitory. They killed two teachers right in front of us to scare us. So, they basically said that, if you dare to say anything wrong or do anything wrong, this is what gonna happen to you. One teacher was tied up on 4 horses on the field and, when the 4 horses going 4 different directions and she just got split. We were forced to watch it. That was in the first 10 days I was there.

The Changed Story:
After Fang Zhouzi openly questioned her tall tale involving four horses, Fu Ping made the following clarification on March 6, 2013:
To this day, in my mind, I think I saw it. That is my emotional memory of it. After reading Fang's post, I think in this particular case that his analysis is more rational and accurate than my memory. Those first weeks after having been separated from both my birth parents and my adoptive parents were so traumatic, and I was only eight years old. There is a famous phrase in China for this killing; I had many nightmares about it. 

The Debunking:
To Fu Ping's credit, this is the only occasion so far that she has publicly recanted a portion of her story, although she chose to hide behind the phrase "emotional memory." As Fang Zhouzi had already decisively pointed out -- and Fu Ping concurred -- the four-horse-style execution is only a legend and impossible to carry out in real life.

Fu Ping's candid admission showed that she may have trouble separating her imagination (nightmares) from reality, which actually could explain a lot of discrepancies we are debunking in her story.

She also chose not to respond on questions of the other two killings. Some readers have investigated NUAA campus and concluded that there was never a deep well near the soccer field. During the Cultural Revolution, many people had suffered unexpected, and some lost their lives, due to unfortunate word associations, but that between "cat" and Chairman Mao had not shown up in all the existing literature.

Questionable Fact: Fu Ping's "Struggle Session"

The Original Story:
On Pages 42-43 of Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping describes a "struggle session" in which she was one of the targets when she was only 8 years old:
My legs began to tremble as I listened to the endless taunts and jeers from the crowd, the repeated chants of "Black element!" I was the third or fourth person to be called onstage. Before me was a sea of angry, curious, and frightened faces. Red Guards hung a sign around my neck made from a piece of chalkboard they'd taken from one of the classrooms at the university. It had my name and the crimes of my bourgeois family printed on it. The chalkboard was so heavy that the wires cut into my neck. I was forced to assume the "airplane position": arms held out straight on either side of my body like wings. My limbs shook so uncontrollably that I felt as though I were standing on a plank floating in a tank of water.
She suffered more beating at the session.

The Debunking:
The scene itself was real. Struggle sessions (批斗会), sign-hanging, and the airplane position are all typical occurrences during the Cultural Revolution.

The problem is that it's almost unheard of that such tactics were used upon an 8-year-old. Maybe as cruel plank in child plays among her peers, but not in a formal session conducted by grown-ups.

Broken Fact: The Bitter Meal

The Original Story:
One of the sufferings Fu Ping had to endure was to be forced to eat "bitter meal". She describes the scene on Page 37 of Bend, Not Break:
There was a big pot on the field into which the Red Guards began dumping dirt, animal dung, pieces of tree trunk, and anything else they could scoop off the ground. One of them scraped a sheet of yellow mold off a tree trunk and flung it into the pot with an evil cackle. 
"This was what our ancestors ate," a female guard said loudly. "Our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents suffered because your selfish families deprived them of good food. Today you will eat this bitter meal to remember our families' suffering."

The Debunking:
That female guard's ancestors might have been deprived of good food, but they would not have eaten meals made of the things listed above.

Consuming "bitter meal" (忆苦饭) was an important ritual during the Cultural Revolution. But in contrary to Fu Ping's memory, it was not a punishment for "bad elements" or their children. It was an educational tool for all peoples in the society so they won't forget the sufferings of poor people in the "old society." If anything, the Red Guards and the "red elements" participated more eagerly to show their revolutionary zeal and they might even deny the opportunity for "bad elements" to participate.

The ingredients for "bitter meal" varied by places and time. They were typically made up of undesirable food items with spoiled meat and inedible vegetables, mimicking what poor people could have got in the old days. It was definitely not tasteful, but a far cry from animal dung.

Questionable Fact: Red Guards as Administrators

The Original Story:
On Page 28 of Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping describes how she got her room assignment in the "ghetto":
Several Red Guards sat at a table calling out names and assigning room numbers. I waited until they called "Fu Ping," and I approached the table. 
I was handed papers that I couldn't read -- the characters were too sophisticated for me. A big, official red stamp decorated the top of each page.

The Debunking:
This scene sounds very familiar. I think I saw it in the Schindler's List.

While the Nazis were a well-oiled operational machine who took upon all kinds of governing and administrating tasks in their mission, the Red Guards in 1966 were far from that. At that time, they were too busy destroying things or making pilgrim trips to Beijing to be bothered in the role of housemasters.

Broken Fact: Fu Ping's Bicycle and Fu Hong's Soccer

The Original Story:
Bend, Not Break described Fu Ping and Fu Hong's lives in the early years of Cultural Revolution as extreme poverty, while constantly suffering in the hands of their Red Guards overlords. But once a while, we got a glimpse of happy moments.

On Page 83, the 11-year-old Fu Ping met her first best friend Li and started to enjoy life:
On free days, we could take long bicycle rides across the old city of Nanjing, visiting green areas and sometimes wandering as far as Sun Yet-sen Park.
Fu Hong also had some good times on her own, as on Page 112:
Once, she broke her arm while sliding down an airplane wing at the abandoned NUAA airfield. Many days, she would come home from an impromptu soccer match covered in cuts and bruises, whining about how much her injuries hurt.

The Debunking:
Fu Ping had a bicycle! At 11 years old!! Seriously!!!

Why is this a big deal? Although western people tend to think China as the country full of bicycles, they were actually a very luxurious item during Cultural Revolution. In fact, as late as in the early 1980s, bicycles were still considered one of the 4 most prominent luxury items one had to get in order to be able to impress a girl for marriage (along with a wristwatch, a sewing machine, and a radio). It was not a simple matter of money either, as bicycles were severely rationed. Even if you had saved enough money, you would still have to wait for your chance of getting a coupon.

Yet Fu Ping, who was supposedly living a miserable life as a child of "bad elements," enjoyed bicycle rides at 11 years old!

OK, maybe she somehow managed to find an old bike or borrowed one. But did she learn how to ride by herself? Remember all her parents were sent away when she was only 8 and she had been living on her own without any adult supervision or friends?

It obviously did not add up.

As for Fu Hong enjoying soccer games "many days," that was also a lovely picture of a common, happy childhood. Hardly one who was living in a ghetto and told not to talk to anyone other than her sister.

Broken Fact: Food Rationing

The Original Story:
In Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping remembered that she and her sister were starving in the early days of Cultural Revolution because they had no food, until some kindly neighbors secretly left food for them. Then, as if to explain their survival, she wrote on Page 33:
I learned later that week that each of us got rations from the Communist government. We could collect food stamps from the neighborhood community office and exchange these for products at the community store. The government told us how much we could fetch each month -- for instance, ten kilos of rice, one bar of soap, a quarter kilo of salt, one bottle of soy sauce, a half kilo of meat, one bottle of cooking oil, ten eggs, and so on.

The Debunking:
Food and other daily essentials were severely rationed during the Cultural Revolution years. But that was not how it worked.

What every resident could collect from the government were not "food stamps" but "coupons," which entitles one to purchase a given amount of particular good. In order to obtain the specified food item, one still has to pay for it, instead of simply "fetch" it from the store.

Why is this distinction important? At that time, Fu Ping and her sister were just thrown into this dorm room on their own. It was even before she was supposedly assigned to a factory job (more on that later). They had no money or income. So even if they were receiving rationing coupons, they would not have been able to actually buy food.

Of course, the fact was that they had been well nourished, as shown in a picture taken in 1972, with no ill effects of starvation or malnutrition.

Oh yeah, one more nitpick. While most items were rationed at that time, I don't recall ever seeing salt or soy sauce on the list.

Broken Fact: Inside Fu Ping's Room 202

The Original Story:
In Bend, Not Break, when Fu Ping was led to her assigned room 202 and found her sister there, it was a room filled with trash. Later, on Page 48, she described what she did to the room:
By that time, I had thoroughly cleared the trash out of Room 202, scrubbed the walls and floor clean, and begun forming a makeshift homestead for Hong and me. For a bed, I found a thin, stained single mattress next to the trash collection site. Sometimes as I wandered around campus, I would come across a chair with a missing leg or other discarded small household items, which I'd bring back to our dorm room.
The condition did not change as late as 1970 when her "Uncle W" came to visit and sat on that broken chair. Or on the Chinese New Year in 1972, when she hosted a dinner party for her then-returned mother (Page 123):
Nanjing Mother brought them into our tightly packed dorm room. We had pushed our mattress against the wall in order to accommodate an additional table and several chairs that we had borrowed from our neighbors.

The Debunking:
The lack of beds and other furniture in her room could very well be true given the circumstances. Except that it was not.

How do we know that? Fu Ping included in her book a photograph of her and her sister in that very room, taken by one of her Shanghai brothers who was visiting her in 1972:

In this picture, one can clearly see that they had a fairly large desk with a shiny surface and a two-level bunk bed with something resembling a mosquito net. It's not much, but hardly a picture of poverty either.

Could their living condition dramatically changed in the months between New Year and when this photo was taken (which appears to be summer time)? Possible, but not likely. There was no mention of any life-changing events in 1972 in her book.

Oh by the way, both girls appeared to be healthy and happy in the picture, with no signs of malnutrition whatsoever.

Bent Fact: The Ghetto at NUAA

The Original Story
In Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping describes how she was led to an old student dorm in NUAA and found her little sister there. On Page 28:
Along with several dozen other children who either wept or wore blank expressions, I was escorted up to the second floor of the dormitory. At the top of the stairs, I gazed, terrified, down a long, dark hallway illuminated by a single lightbulb that hung by a wire from its socket. Identical rooms lined each side. The door hinges all were smashed, leaving the doors hanging at a slant.
She went on to say how the room had no sink, water basin, or toilet. Then, on Page 32, she observed the same hallway in the morning:
There were people in the corridor, their faces no more distinguishable in the dim light than pancakes. Many seemed to be Red Guards who had taken up residence with their families; others were orphaned children like me.
So, this dorm room was not a designated residence for children of bad elements. It is a mixed with the all-powerful Red Guards and their families. 

However, in versions she told the press in many interviews, this fact was conveniently dropped and the dorm became a punishing ghetto for the unfortunates only. For example, here is what she said on Jaunary 14, 2013 on the Leopard Lopate Show:
Lopate: You just lived in a school dormitory? 
Fu: Yeah, they put us into the emptied university dormitory which is kind of a ghetto for all the "black elements" kid.
Just so that there is no misunderstanding of her usage of the word "ghetto," she has this passage on Page 44 of Bend, Not Break:
My German neighbor in Shanghai had told me once about how German soldiers had taken millions of Jews like him out of their homes during World War II and forced them to live in "ghettos" before burning them up in ovens. Is that why we had been brought here to live in this ghetto? Was mass extinction awaiting us? Were they going to starve us first, or put us straight into ovens and burn us alive?
The usage of "ghetto" must have left a strong impression that, when Forbes first published a profile based on her book, they titled it as "One Woman's Journey from China's Labor Camp to Top American Tech Entrepreneur". It was only after a backlash of questioning that the magazine changed its title, no using the term "labor camp."

The Debunking:
The conditions of the university dorm sounded horrendous. But for China in the 1960s, the lack of indoor plumbing, the barrack-style hallway and tiny, identical rooms were the norm of universities and other government facilities. Some might even say it was an above-average living compared to other living conditions. Claiming such condition as that of a ghetto is a grave exaggeration.

In her book, Fu Ping speculated that all door hinges were deliberated damaged so that they could not lock them for privacy. This did not make any sense with Red Guard families living on the same floor. Wouldn't they want some privacy for themselves?

Questionable Fact: Fu Ping's Parents Away Time

The Original Story:
In Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping wrote about how her parents were sent away in a dramatic fashion one day in late Summer, 1966. She and her sister Hong, ages 8 and 4 at the time, respectively, were left alone to fend for themselves. The book contained many stories on how she managed to survive and take care of her little sister.

On Page 118, she informed us on the return of her mother:
Then, in 1971, when I was thirteen, my birth mother came back to live with us.
She went on to explain that the reunion was very difficult. She didn't get along with her mother and ended up continuing as the head of the household despite of her age.

The Earlier Story:
In its lengthy profile of Fu Ping, Inc. magazine had previously written:
In 1968, when Ping was 10, her mother was permitted to return to Nanjing. (Her father was retained in the camp.) The homecoming, however, was far from the tender reunion that Ping had fantasized. Rather than comfort her daughter, the woman, half-crazed by her own exile and suffering, persecuted her.
Even earlier, however, in her first autobiography Drifting Bottle, she described a happy childhood with her parents in Nanjing. In that book, when she was complaining about the hardship of her earlier years in America, she recalled longingly of her life in China:
"So free that I have no one to depend on," I sighed, feeling only loneliness, very lonely. I thought of the home of my parents, how warm and how safe a place that was...

The Debunking:
There are many discrepancies in timeline between the Inc. story and that in Bend, Not Break. This is one of the more glaring ones.

We have previously noted that it is impossible for her parents to be sent away, together, in 1966, and that Fu Ping's earlier autobiography did not mention any such separation. If her parents were sent away at all, that should have happened in 1968 instead of 1966.

If the Inc. story was correct, then her mother would be away for a few months at best. This is very reasonable as her mother was an accountant, not exactly a high-profiled "bad element" like her father, a professor. It was also very typical in that time that government employees in cities were sent to countryside for "reeducation" in short periods of time.

With the timeline in Bend, Not Break, her mother would have been away for about 5 years. In reality, it might have been 3 years. This is unlikely but still plausible.

The question is, did Fu Ping and her sister actually live alone when both her parents were away, however long the time was? Fu Ping had consistently claimed so, that she had been "managing her household" ever since she was 8. We do not have solid evidence to debunk that. But typically, children of such families were placed under the care of relatives, neighbors, or some other kinds of adult supervision. It is very difficult to imagine that they would be left completely alone in a ghetto-ish dorm.

On Page 112 of Bend, Not Break, while describing Fu Hong's lively and mischievous characters in that particular period, she wrote:
Unfortunately, these traits were frown upon in China at the time, considered emblematic of someone lacking in virtue. People, even family members, made fun of her, calling her "the girl who loves to eat and play too much."
"Family members"? What family members are the author referring to here? Meanwhile, the Inc. story also hinted the existence of relatives:
Ping's family, instead of sympathizing with the abused child, scorned her for confronting her mother. Despite 50 years of Communist rule, a Confucian morality still held sway in the nation. Filial piety was the paramount rule. How could a daughter bring such grief to her mother? 

Questionable Fact: Fu Ping's Suffering during the Cultural Revolution

The Original Story:
One the biggest selling point of Fu Ping's story is that she became the surrogate mother of her sister at the age of 8 at the onset of the Cultural Revolution in 1966. Bend, Not Break used many pages detailing her sufferings and struggles during those years of preadolescence.

The Earlier Story:
Fu Ping's early autobiography, Drifting Bottle, had no mention of her being away from her birth parents in Nanjing. Not only that, when she was complaining about the hard-word she was forced to endure in America to make a living, she cried out (Page 11):
In my own country, I was nonetheless a professor's daughter, spoiled by my parents, and had never endured such hardship. But it is not just the hardship, the truly unbearable part is the injustice.

The Debunking:
Fu Ping's story in Drifting Bottle was a happy and privileged upbringing during the time she lived in China. Despite common misconceptions in the west, Cultural Revolution is not a taboo subject in China. Indeed, it has become quite fashionable to complain one's sufferings in that period since the 1980s. There was no reason for Fu Ping to exclude that part of story in Drifting Bottle if it did happen and had a great impact in her life.

In the next several posts, we will look into her story during the Cultural Revolution and continue our debunking in more detail.

Bent Fact: The Boots Red Guards Wore

We have already examined the impossibilities of Red Guards driving vehicles in 1966, now let's look at another detail in Fu Ping's Red Guards story: that they were all wearing boots.

The Original Story:
Boots-wearing Red Guards appeared in several places in Bend, Not Break. On Page 17, when they first appeared at her Shanghai home:
Suddenly, I heard a crash echoing from the courtyard below. Next came the heavy beating of boots entering our home, and then voices from the living room on the ground floor.
On Page 42:
A smell of rot from the Red Guards' heavy boots triggered my first onset of a migraine headache, which would continue to plague me for life.
Then, On Page 81, she was wearing a pair of boots herself in a "military training camp":
My boots, hand-me-downs from the military camp, did not fit properly. The shredded back of the left boot rubbed my heel until several blisters the size of thumbnails erupted.
Just so that we are clear that the boots were not just another frivolous results of Meimei Fox's "searches on the internet," Fu Ping said the same in her own voice on PBS:
But one day I heard this loud noise and the boots marching through our backyard. Then I heard my mom crying, saying, “She’s so little.”

The Debunking:
The problem is that, in 1966, there were hardly any boots available in China. Red Guards typically fashioned themselves with army uniforms which in footwear consisted of what it was called the "liberation shoes" (解放鞋):
The shoes have rubber bottoms and cloth tops. They are indeed notorious for bad smells but they are most definitely not "heavy" or able to create the sensation of "heavy beating" or "loud noise."

Both Shanghai and Nanjing are cities in southern China where the heat in summer (when the above happened) can be repressive. Nobody would be wearing winter boots of any kind at that time. The only footwear that could resemble "boots" would be rain boots. But those are also made of light rubber and were not part of the regular attire for Red Guards at the time.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Broken Fact: Fu Ping's Parents being Sent Away

The Original Version:
Among a chaotic horror, Fu Ping's fateful day reached the climax when she finally saw her parents, as in Pages 26-27 in Bend, Not Break:
Once I took in the scene, the situation seemed hopeless. Armed military personnel unloaded from tanks and trucks lining the road in front of the main entrance to the university. Behind the military line they had formed, a crowd of thousands pushed at one another and yelled at the Red Guards. Trucks jammed with more people passed by. Chaos filled the air, and confusion shone forth from the face of every citizen. Still eager to find Nanjing Mother and Father, I squeezed between people's legs and made my way to the front of the crowd, right up against the university gates. 
Suddenly, I heard my nickname being called by a thin and familiar voice. Standing on my tiptoes and stretching my neck long to make myself taller, I struggled to determine where the sound was coming from. 
"Ping-Ping!" the voice called again, enabling me to home in on one of the trucks where Red Guards were loading up citizens. Standing there in the truck bed were my Nanjing parents. They furiously nudged their bodies through the crowd to get closer to the edge of the truck bed so that they could wave to me. Their faces were flushed red and drawn tight.
The Debunking:
Where shall we start? We already talked about the impossibility of having tanks on the street in 1966. Indeed, there was no time during the Cultural Revolution that the Red Guards and the the regular military worked together. If any thing, the army was called in, two years later, to suppress the (original) Red Guards.

Just as the case of Fu Ping's siblings being sent away, her Nanjing parents could not have been sent away in 1966. Although the idea of sending government officers and intellectuals down to farms originated from an instruction by Mao Zedong on May 7, 1966 (五七指示), the practice did not start until two years later in 1968.

Even if they did start so much earlier in Nanjing. It is still impossible for Fu Ping's parents being sent away together. In China, everything is organized around a person's "work unit" (单位), or employer. We know that Fu Ping's father is a professor at NUAA. It was unclear exactly where her mother worked, but it was apparent that she did not work in the same school. Therefore she does not belong to NUAA. When NUAA was sending its people away from its campus, her mother would not be in the truck.

If her parents did get sent away, they would have gone separately.

By her account, Fu Ping had lived with her Shanghai parents all her life at this point. She saw her Nanjing parents only occasionally through the years. We don't know if her Nanjing parents were expecting her arrival on that day -- it would be rather implausible if the Red Guards bothered to inform them ahead of time. Even so, in the chaos as described, with Fu Ping, an 8-year-old girl, literally struggling "between people's legs" in the crowd, her mom was able to immediately spot and recognize her from high above a truck.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Broken Fact: Tanks and Blood on the Streets of Nanjing

The Original Story:
On Page 26 of Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping described what she saw when she arrived at Nanjing:
As we drove through the streets that day, I saw that it was not even as pleasant as I had remembered; it seemed more like a war zone. Military tanks rolled down the tree-lined roads. Gunshots rang out like bad omens. Bloodstains dotted the sidewalks, serving as warning signs.
In the 2010 interview with American Public Media's The Story, she spoke of an even more vivid scene:
So we are driving on the street and I see blood, killing, people get shot, just driving by. It was at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution.

The Debunking:
Cultural Revolution was indeed known for its extreme violence that included factional fighting on college campuses and streets involving guns, heavy weaponry, and sometimes even tanks. But that only happened after 1967.

In 1966, at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guards haven't not taken up real arms yet. They typically beat up people with belts and sticks.

What Fu Ping saw on Nanjing street that day might have come from a scene in one of the movies depicting the chaos of Cultural Revolution at a later time, or a piece of "emotional memory."

Broken Fact: The Vehicles Red Guards Drove

The Original Story:
During the forced trip from Shanghai to Nanjing, Fu Ping was driven by Red Guards to and from train stations in Shanghai and Nanjing, respectively.

At Shanghai, on Page 20 in Bend, Not Break, she wrote:
They loaded me into an empty black military van. Ten minutes later, we arrived at our destination.
Then at Nanjing, on Page 25:
Crank Nose and Squeaky [the two Red Guards] led me to a car and drove me through the city.
The Changing Story:
Fu Ping told the same story in some of her media interviews, with altering details:

In 2010, during an interview with Dick Gordon on American Public Media's The Story show, she said,
I went down to follow them. They put me in a motorcycle, kind of like a military motorcycle.
Then, in 2013, in an interview on UNCTV's NC Bookwatch, Fu Ping said,
I was by myself. The Red Guard took me from the train station in a jeep and drove in Nanjing.
The Debunking:
For this dramatic event, Fu Ping had three different versions of what she was driven in from the Nanjing train station to the city: a car, a motorcycle, and a jeep. These are fairly different vehicles, especially the motorcycle. Even that she was only 8 years old, it's unlikely she would not remember whether it was a car or a motorcycle.

Even if she didn't remember, why would she just make things up on the fly? Isn't that a typical behavior of a habitual liar?

Beyond the obvious inconsistency, there is still a more serious issue. Where did these Red Guards get the vehicles and how did they learn to drive? Remember this was China in 1966. Van, car, jeep, or motorcycle were not household items. Only trained professionals had the access and skills for them. Yet a couple of groups of teenagers who could command them at will. Sounds real?

Broken Fact: Red Guards as Enforcers of Fu Ping's Forced Trip

The Original Story:
When Fu Ping was removed from her Shanghai family and sent back to Nanjing, her story involves two groups of Red Guards, one in Shanghai and one in Nanjing.

The Shanghai group consists "four boys and a girl." They used minor force to take Fu Ping out of her Shanghai family, revealing her family secret and denying her a last hug with her mother in the process, and threw her, literally onto a train through a window, alone.

The Nanjing group only has two people, one boy and one girl. They picked her up from the train by calling her name and took her into the city.

How did this sophisticated operation work? Fu Ping did not know. So she speculated on Page 24 in Bend, Not Break:
How did they [the Nanjing group] known where to find me? Bent Star [one of the Shanghai group] must have notified them that I was in car number five.

The Debunking:
But that is just impossible, for a couple of reasons.

Red Guards first appeared in Beijing at the end of May, 1966, in Beijing and quickly developed into a national frenzy by August that year. Nonetheless, the Red Guard at that time was not (yet) a centralized organization. It is essentially a vast collection of local groups or gangs of extremely activist teenagers. With free travel during the "big linkup" (大串联) period that year, groups in different locations did make contact with each other, but only at a superficial level.

There have been no records, either in historical archives or personal recollections, of Red Guards in different cities coordinate and operate in the way Fu Ping described.

The train ride from Shanghai to Nanjing took 4 hours (Page 24). After throwing Fu Ping into a train, the only way "Bent Star" could notify the Nanjing group her train and car number is by telegraph or telephone. This was China in 1966. Telegraph and long-distance telephone were extremely expensive and notoriously unreliable.

After showing minimum concern in Fu Ping's safety and welfare in getting her into the train, it's hard to imagine they would then take such trouble to make sure another group knows how to pick her up in a different city, within a mere 4 hours.

Questionable Fact: Family Name

The Original Story:
Fu Ping was told that her Shanghai parents are not her biological parents in the most brutal fashion: by a group of Red Guards who had come to take her away. She was 8 years old. As she was riding on the train to Nanjing alone, she reflected on Pages 21-22 of Bend, Not Break:
But the truth of the matter was, there had been hints before that I'd been adopted. I remembered a time when my older sister had complained that my brothers were giving me a longer sedan chair ride in their arms than they were giving their "real" sister. I had run inside the house crying. Mama had assured me that she was my real mother. 
"Ping-Ping," she had said, stroking my hair, "you're so special that you needed two mothers to give birth to you."
She also remembered that she
found it strange that Shanghai Mama had always asked me to call her sister "Nanjing Mother," as opposed to "Auntie." Still it had never occurred to me that Nanjing Mother might be my real mother.
The Debunking:
When Fu Ping was still enjoying sedan chair rides from her brothers, she must be at a very earlier age. Thus it is reasonable that she wasn't immediately alarmed or confused by the statement that she "needed two mothers to give birth to."

However, one thing she did not mention in her book is the last name of her Shanghai father. Fu Ping's Shanghai mother is the sister of her biological mother. So they share the same last name which is different from that of Fu Ping and her biological father. (In China, women do not change their last name after marriage.) Presumably, all other children in the Shanghai family have the same family name as their father, i.e., Fu Ping's Shanghai Papa.

Unless her Shanghai Papa happens to also have the last name "Fu," Fu Ping should find herself with a last name that is different from her siblings and her "parents." This should have come to the attention of a girl who was reaching the age of 8. Yet, no mention of this in the book.

What would be the chance that her Shanghai Papa would have the same last name of her Nanjing Papa? "Fu" is not a very common family name in China.

Questionable Fact: Fu Ping's Forced Return to Nanjing

The Original Story:
Fu Ping devoted Pages 17 to 31 of Bend, Not Break to the first real dramatic story of her life: one day shortly after her 8th birthday in late summer of 1966, she was

  1. shocked by the revelation that her Shanghai parents are not her real parents
  2. forcefully removed from her Shanghai home and sent back to Nanjing
  3. witnessed her Nanjing parents being sent away amid a very chaotic street scene
  4. became the caretaker of her 4-year-old sister Hong
In subsequent interviews with various media, she repeated the same story many times, only occasionally differed in small details. In particular, she likes to state that, "on that same day, I lost the parents who raised me, I lost the parents who born me, and I became the surrogate mother to my little sister."

The Debunking:
The biggest question of this story is of course its premise: Fu Ping had lived in Shanghai since days after her birth till 8th birthday and that she did not know who her biological parents were. That itself is very questionable

The earlier version of her autobiography, Drifting Bottle, describes a happy childhood she lived with her biological parents in Nanjing.

But even if we ignore this glaring issue, there are still quite a few telling tales that her story was made up. In the next few posts, we will go through some of them in detail as we debunk this story.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Broken Fact: Fu Ping's Early Travels

The Original Story:
On Page 3 of Bent, Not Break, Fu Ping reflects on her life as she is flying to America for the first time:
I had never traveled anywhere outside of China. The farthest I had been from Nanjing, the city of my birth, was Suzhou University, where I had studied journalism and literature.
The Debunking:
Fu Ping spent a sizable portion of her book telling us that she grew up in Shanghai until she was 8 years old. During that time, she had traveled between Shanghai and Nanjing quite a few times, as on Page 22:
My nanny had even taken me on this very train to visit Nanjing a few times, though it had been a while since our last trip.
Even after she had settled in Nanjing, she was able to travel to Shanghai a few times (Page 118):
I saw Shanghai Mama and Papa a few times during the Cultural Revolution. The first time was after receiving the letter from Shanghai Mama in 1967, about nine months after I had been sent to Nanjing. Homesickness had overwhelmed me. Trains and buses were free for anyone to ride, and some days there were no struggle or study sessions. I was too young to understand the danger, so I sneaked off to Shanghai one day.
Later on she would be attending Suzhou University and presumably traveled by the same train between Nanjing and Suzhou.

By the time she reflected on her life on that flight. She was already 25 years old and had traveled on the same train route numerous times. She would have to know that Suzhou is between Nanjing and Shanghai. If the farthest she had ever traveled from Nanjing was Suzhou, that means she had never been to Shanghai at all!

In an interview with International Herald Tribune this February, Fu Ping was quoted in blaming her coauthor Meimei Fox for a series of mistakes in her book. In particular, she said of Meimei Fox: "She doesn't know China's geography."

Perhaps. But the paragraph on top is not a background perspective involving geography. It is what was going on in Fu Ping's head. Did Meimei Fox completely make it up or did Fu Ping have a slip in her own mind?

Broken Fact: Fu Ping's Birthday and the Rape of Nanjing

The Original Story:
In Bent, Not Break, Page 24, Fu Ping describes her birthday and its relation to her birth city, Nanjing:
A dark period in Nanjing's recent history had lent the city a new-found and unwelcome notoriety. In December 1937, the Japanese army occupied Nanjing for six weeks...... When I was nine or ten, I learned that the Rape of Nanjing Memorial Day falls on May 30, my birthday. The coincidence unsettles me to this day, making my birthday both a cause of celebration and an opportunity for grave reflection on humankind's potential for cruelty.
The Debunking:
It is of course odd to have a memorial day in May for an event that happened in December. That's because it is not true. The Rape of Nanjing Memorial Day has always been on December 13, the date in 1937 when the city fell to the Japanese army.

From the way the above paragraph is written, it does not seem to be just a simple typo. But why Fu Ping would make such an obvious mistake is just beyond imagination.

Maybe she will be able to have happier birthdays from now on.

Update (4/22/2013)
On April 18, 2013, Fu Ping addressed this issue in a response to an online comment:

the Nanjing Massacre indeed happened on December 13th. The May 30th Massacre is called 五卅惨案 (又稱五卅大屠殺). I didn't know it is translated as "Nanjing Road Incident", this will be corrected in next print. Thanks Cindy for pointing this out.
The May 30th Massacre referred above happened in 1925 in Shanghai and had nothing to do with the city of Nanjing.

Broken Fact: Fu Ping's Shanghai Brothers being Sent Away in 1966

The Original Story:
In Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping described how her elder brothers of her Shanghai family were sent away by the Red Guards. The year is 1966. Since it happened after train fares were eliminated for Red Guards, it must be some times in or after August. On Page 16, she wrote:
Red Guards appeared at the doorway to our home the next day, commanding my brothers to go with them. They were being "sent up the mountains or down to the countryside," a Communist Chinese expression that soon became synonymous with forced labor and a hefty dose of physical and psychological abuse.
Later on Pages 52-53, she received a letter from her Shanghai Mama in February, 1967, which included this passage:
Your brothers are all settled down in the countryside, each in a different place. The youngest is all the way in the north, in a place that borders Russia. I am so worried about him, as I am worried about you. How can a thirteen-year-old boy survive harsh conditions by himself? Your big sister is at home. She works for a factory nearby.
The Debunking:
First, a brief history of the Cultural Revolution. The original Red Guards first appeared at the end of May, 1966, in Beijing and quickly spread all over the nation. Their status peaked in August that year when Mao Zedong received them in mass assemblies at Tiananmen Square. However, they started to fall out of favor by 1968 because of the extreme violence and chaos they were causing. On December 22, Mao Zedong instructed that all "intellectual youth" (知识青年) should go to the countryside to receive reeducation from the peasants, which started the "up to the mountains, down to the countryside" (上山下乡) movement as a way of evicting the trouble-making Red Guards from cities.

Before 1968, there were a very few city youth who were going to countryside already. But they did it by their own choices (which may be heavily influenced by their circumstances in cities).

Fu Ping's story above does not hold up in several ways:

  1. In 1966, there was no such movement yet. Her brothers would not be "sent down" at that time.
  2. The "up to the mountains, down to the countryside" movement was presented as a most glorious endeavor to entice the Red Guard members to join. It was never intended to be a punishment for children of the "bad elements." 
  3. Red Guards is not a police force. They act like hooligans in breaking into homes to destroy things and beat up people. But they are not charged to round up people and send them away. (More on this later with Fu Ping's own ordeal.)
  4. It's pretty much unheard of that a 13-year-old boy would be allowed to join this movement, unless he did it on his own by faking his age.
Also, at that time, a factory job was considered the most privileged position for young people. As a child from a "bad element" family, it is rather curious how her big sister got a job at "a factory nearby," which would be a dream come true for any kids with "red blood" at the time.

Questionable Fact: Fu Ping's Favorite Airfield Playground

The Original Story:
In Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping mentioned several times of an abandoned airfield near his home in Nanjing which she played often.

On Pages 12-13, when she was flying to America for the first time:
I had never flown in an airplane, though I had spent most of my childhood sliding down aircraft wings at an abandoned airfield and dreaming of becoming an astronaut.
On Page 45, when she was in her "first few months" back in Nanjing:
The boys led me across campus to a warehouse filled with abandoned Chinese-manufactured airplanes. As we slid down the emergency chutes and onto the silver wings, it felt like the greatest playground ever built.
On Page 112, her sister Hong played at the same place:
Once, she broke her arm while sliding down an airplane wing at the abandoned NUAA airfield.
It was such a fond memory that she repeated it again at the end of book on Page 271:
As a little girl, I wanted to take flight and join the fairy-tale woman who lived on the moon. Later sliding down airplane at NUAA, where my father had once taught aeronautical engineering, I dreamed of becoming an astronaut.
The Debunking:
Previously, xgz at his The Daily Kos blog had investigated the airfields and concluded that there was indeed one abandoned airfield near NUAA in Nanjing but no such thing near Shanghai. So, even the first quote above is referring to the same NUAA airfield, which is actually consistent.

The question here is what she meant by spending "most of my childhood" on this airfield? According to her story, she was forced back to Nanjing when she was already 8 years old. Even during the incredible duress the Red Guards were supposedly imposing on her at the time, she apparently could still go on playing there occasionally, as shown in the second quote.

We don't know till what age Fu Ping would still be enjoying sliding down an airport wing. It couldn't be many years after she had arrived in Nanjing. It's also hard to imagine she would be spending most of her time playing there as a "black element" constantly punished by the Red Guards.

So, again, did Fu Ping actually spend her early childhood in Nanjing instead of Shanghai?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Broken Fact: Fu Ping's Dinner Table and Rationing in Shanghai

The Original Story:
In Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping describes this family scene when she spent her lovely childhood in Shanghai on Page 12:
While my older siblings were off at school, I would spend afternoons with Shanghai Mama in the kitchen. She said that food must appeal to all five senses: aroma, color, texture, taste, and love. I'd hang on to her legs amid the sizzle and steam and chopping sounds as she prepared the traditional dinners we enjoyed each night: four appetizers, one soup, and eight main courses. My favorite dish was crabmeat with ginkgo nuts in a mint mango sauce.
Then, on Page 188:
Mao's Red Guard had shut down the farmers' markets and taken control of the city's food supply. Each family was given limited rations of rice, cooking oil, sugar, vegetables, and meat. Sometimes it wasn't enough to feed everyone in my household. A few farmers were selling produce on the black market because they didn't have enough money to support their families. As a merchant-class family, we had always had enough money to eat. But in those days food was increasingly hard to come by. My grandfather knew that if he wasn't willing to part with his precious heirlooms, his family might go hungry.
The Debunking:
Traditionally, Chinese cooking is judged by three senses: color, aroma, and taste (色香味). But that is just nitpicking.

Fu Ping seems to think that food rationing only started in 1966 with the Red Guard. That was plainly not true. From 1958 to 1961, China as a nation experienced the disastrous Great Chinese Famine, when tens of millions of people died of starvation or malnutrition. Rationing began during that period, when Fu Ping was still a toddler.

As the biggest metropolitan, Shanghai's food supply was relatively better than the rest of the nation. But rationing was also in place in the late 1950s and early 1960s, with some food items going off and on rations at times.

Fu Ping's Shanghai family was pretty large, having one grandfather, two parents, and five siblings. Fu Ping herself would not be receiving any ration if she indeed were not registered as resident in Shanghai. Their combined rations were probably enough to supply a meal as she described above once a month. But every night? That's more likely a fantasy.

The story of her grandfather selling treasured collection for money is also confusing as she clearly stated that they were not short of money. Yet after the paragraph above, she went on to describe her grandfather selling a gold nugget to a pawnshop for a pittance. As far as we know, pawnshops don't deal rationing tickets, if that's what they were supposed to be after.

Oh, by the way, it seems that no Chinese reader had ever recognized her favorite dish. It's not a typical Chinese dish so it must be a special invention of her Shanghai Mama. Then again, hers seems to be a special family anyway.

Fu Ping's Interview on John Batchelor Show

On March 19, 2013, Fu Ping had a lengthy interview on the John Batchelor Show. She appears to consciously walk back or provide justification on some of her stories that have been questioned, such as her knowing only three English words or not knowing fractions. She also stayed away from some of the more outlandish tales.

The host, John Batchelor, on the other hand, appears blissfully ignorant of the controversy of her story.

The entire interview can be heard online. Below is a transcript:

Batchelor: I am John Batchelor. This is John Batchelor Show. Late summer, 1966, Shanghai, a quiet street that is presented by the author Ping Fu of her autobiographical production, Bend, Not Break, a Life in Two Worlds. It was presented as an oasis in the midst of a China that has been through a turmoil for the last 40 years and will continue to go into turmoil after this summer of 1966. Ping is 8 years old. She is living in a large and happy family. She is the youngest of several children and suddenly there is a crash downstairs and she is grabbed upstairs by young people -- she doesn't know their names -- One of whom she referred to as Bent Star. Ping, congratulates and good evening. That day, you have painted a vivid picture in your autobiography. Who are those young people coming upstairs and grabbing you? What do they want? Good evening to you. 
Fu: Good evening. Those people in 1966 are teenagers and some of them are referred as Red Guards. Between 1966 and 1968, they are roaming around the country and being given the power of doing things. They will take me away from the parents who raised me -- they are actually my aunt and uncle -- and take me to Nanjing which is where my biological parents live. 
Batchelor: So, they grabbed you and they took you to a train and put you on a train all by yourself. Their authority was just because they say you were born in Nanjing and not in Shanghai so they had the right to take you, as an 8-year-old, and put you on a train. That is all the authority they have. 
Fu: Well, at that time the train is full of people so I wasn't alone. It is very very crowded. Unlike America where children can not move alone, when we were young, it didn't have that kind of regulations. It is unusual to put a child on a train by yourself but the train was full of people, full of adults. I was placed on that train to go back to Nanjing. In China, there is this registration of where you were born you are supposed to live there. I was 8 and I couldn't go to school in Shanghai because I don't have registration there. So I have to go back to Nanjing. 
Batchelor: This is the first day you learned that you had been born in Nanjing. So it was not only a disruption of your life but also you have been thrown into the revelation that your mother and father was from Nanjing and your father is actually an intellectual who worked at a space institution. 
Fu: Yeah, at an university. When I was young, I thought I was born by my Shanghai mama. My siblings actually teased me so I asked my Shanghai mama and she said that I am so special that I took two mothers to born me. I believed her. 
Batchelor: Now  at 8 years old, your memories are brilliant and very careful. They read like a novel, very much like you are thrown into this world of revolution. But I take that, for the first 8 years in Shanghai, the experience was not a disruption. You were well behaved. You were educated. You are going to school. Your mother and father are there every night. Your house was well taken care of. There were memories of family reaching back to before the revolution. Is that all correct, Ping? 
Fu: By large, when I was little, yes that is correct. Close to the time I was taking away chaos has already started. I wrote in the book about a neighbor disappearing, the struggle session that conducted in my house. I started to notice the chaos erupted everywhere. But I was really too young to understand it. My Shanghai parents kind of sheltered me from all that. 
Batchelor: Now Ping Fu is a very successful American entrepreneur and now an executive of a very large software company. Her success is entirely based on her ability to survive the Cultural Revolution and the years that follow, and then leaving China in 1984. She was thrown out because she was regarded as a counter-revolutionary and in some fashion scarred by having an independent mind. Her success since 1984 is entirely on her shoulders and the shoulders of people who were assistance to, with her, educated her and the skill. The reason I am concentrating on this, the ugly experiences of the Cultural Revolution is because this is the darkness. For Americans it is very difficult to see that because the success of China we see today. What I learn from you today is that the China I think of as a tyranny did not really exist in an overwhelmingly brutal fashion before 1966. That's the period starting when you were grabbed until, I don't know the date, perhaps late 1979, after the death of Mao Zedong, and the solution of the Gang of Four, all of that upset and Deng Xiaoping became the head of the state. It was that 13 year period that is actually the darkness of China  Is that correct? Is that a fair memory? 
Fu: That is the darkest period of China. There were some period before Cultural Revolution but they are more regional or more focused like the Anti-Rightists movement earlier and there was a movement the year I was born in 1958. In terms of largest purge of intellectual that started in 1966. 
Batchelor: Ping's book is extremely romantic in its success. It's everything you wanted in a novel. It is part of the facts that here at the 21st century, that your generation, your cohorts is now the same as the new leadership. This fifth generation of the leaders since revolution, Xi Jinping and the others on the standing committee are standing on the stage of the People's Congress. Those are all your classmates once upon a time. Is that correct? Not the physically classmates but they are the same age as you in 1966. 
Fu: Same generation, yes. 
Batchelor: They experienced this disruption of their lives, this crash-in of these illegitimates,  these brutes in many incidences. There are many people who were murdered, who are scarred, their houses were broken in and their properties were stolen from them. These leaders today, they all experienced that as well and remembered their childhood. Do you think that is true? 
Fu: Absolutely. Actually Xi Jinping and also the premier Li Keqiang, they both went through Cultural Revolution. So we are certainly the same generation. If you believe what doesn't break you makes you stronger, I do believe they are strong leader because they have gone through the atrocity. 
Batchelor: But I mean as an author, they haven't gone through the burden of remembering and writing them done and publish it worldwide. 
Fu: Well, I think you are right. I do hope that China will be opening up and be willing to talk more openly about Cultural Revolution. There are a lot, not a lot, but some books published about Cultural Revolution outside of China. But inside China, some time earlier we had some literature about it but now there is not quite a lot. I hope that China will be able to openly say that. 
Batchelor: Your modesty and humility are blocking me, Ping. Because I mean to flatter you because what you have done is you provided a window into a life that is, we can't reach it except your book. I did not know this kind of violence was visited upon children. You were thrown into a dormitory where there is nothing for you. You are not provided with any food. You were 8-year-old, you are in charge of taking care of your younger sister who is 4 years old and crying all the time. You had no parents. You had no supervision. There is a times strangers, yes, but I could imagine, were you in a different universe you would have perished. You and your sister would have perished and I could guess that there were thousands, tens of thousands, who did not survive that brutality. 
Fu: That is correct. There are as many who didn't survive the brutality as who survived. I thank you for saying that I provided a window into the lives we live. I would also say that there were many who lived similar or worse lives that I described. 
Batchelor: You finally are driven into exile by the brutes and the cruelty of a system that is  deemed pretty much out of control, random. They don't destroy you, they throw you out. Not because something you did wrong but because you are a truth teller. Rather than investigate what truth you did at the time on the one-child policy, you arrived at America. No scene I loved more because of its anonymity  You don't have enough money in the transfer flight. When you arrived at San Francisco, you are 5 dollars short. How did you get that 5 dollars paid? 
Fu: There was an American standing behind me, heard my situation and gave 5 dollars to the counter so I could buy my ticket. That was my first impression of America. That taught me a lesson that, when in doubt, always error on the side of generosity. 
Batchelor: You don't know who that is. Do you picture who that is? Can you see the face? 
Fu: I kind of can see the face. I am not sure if my memory is right. That was 29 years ago and I am still hoping with the publication of the book, someone will come out and say, hey, that was me.  
Batchelor: You could not speak English at the time. What did you say? You had the words "Help", "Hello", and "Thank you". That's all the English you have. 
Fu: I did try to study English when I was in China but when I arrive I couldn't remember most of them and I couldn't speak. 
Batchelor: Well, the only word I had in Chinese when I was at Taipei was "Thank you". I forgot it now so I can't repeat it to you but it helps to practice a lot to say "thank you". Now, your success since 1984 was entirely your genius. I love the fact that you apply from very early on to a computer science master's program. You were accepted because they are not aware that you haven't been through grammar school and study fractions. You didn't have any of that. So you would have to go and get a book for 2nd graders and learn it quickly before you got your master's. That's a joy but you were 25 years old. Have you wondered how your brain could pick up all this subjects so quickly? Usually at 25 the brain is shutting down from learning other languages. 
Fu: I lived with my English teacher. When I came to United States, I didn't know if I could go back so I really am trying to adopt to the society and try to learn the language. I guess I was not gifted to the language also. As I said, I did study English before, I just couldn't speak. When you have the language environment it does come back. As to computer science, I wrote this thing about fractions, it wasn't like I didn't know anything, I was trying to show the knowledge gap. When you don't have a formal education, you cannot pick up those things. It's just pieces here and there. I was working in a factory. I study from workers and farmers. I actually picked up some academic information here and there. What I found when I came to United States is that I have a lot of knowledge gap. Some thing everybody thinks they know but I didn't. Then there are some things I just know. Sometimes I feel I am quite smart, I feel like I am the most stupid person in the room because I didn't know what people are talking about. This fraction is just one example of it even though I may know some more advanced math. It is this particular thing that 3 over 5 that I didn't know. I just didn't study it because I wasn't in school in the 2nd or 3rd grades. So I skipped over those knowledge and then later it catch up on you. 
Batchelor: You go on to educate yourself in Illinois and you found Geomagic in the early 1990s with your then husband and you have a child -- all of the successes of an American entrepreneur. In fact, I remembered reading at one point you hired a young man named Marc Andresseen to work for you and he went on to found Netscape. So you are at the beginning of the foundation. You were there when the Wright brothers who were putting the airplanes together. You were there at the digital beginning  At that time, did you keep contact with all the people you know in China? Or did they emerge after hearing your success and find you? How did you contact them so you are so conversant with their lives today? 
Fu: No. With my families of course I have connections. Other people whether they were victims with me or in the same study groups I did not have contacts with them until 30 years later. I did go back to China a couple of times after I become US citizen. I have various contacts with different people but to really have a deeper connection with them it took me 30 years. 
Batchelor: Today, because you have a unique position here, being able to look back to the Cultural Revolution, the China today, is it some thing you could dream when you arrived at America, that it succeeded despite all of its brutality? Is this a success when you think China today? 
Fu: Absolutely. China today is so much better than the China I was in about 29 years ago. It made huge progress. Average life, average living is so much higher. I do think there is a lot of issues in China, just like any country there is a lot of issues. It's not going to be easy for China to resolve any of those issues. But I think we made huge, huge progress. I also realized that, when I was in China, the atrocity happened during the time I was supposed to go from K to 12, the very formidable years. I had this quite bad experience. Now I realized that China has a really long history. My experience does not define China. Majority of Chinese people are good and kind. I wish them well. The other thing I think that is really, really important is in the 21st century I do believe that China and US relationship, the policy of the two country to collaborate are far, far deeper than anyone understood. We need to get it right. 
Batchelor: I agree with you, Ping. But you and I both read the news very carefully and there are some shadows emerging between the two states especially in the area that you are an expert, which is digital. You know this. It's going on right now. Is that something worries you? You see the President and other leaders of the United States talk about cyber-crime and cyber-spy. And that's your field. 
Fu: Yes, that's becoming an issue of national awareness. I believe big success and big fear come hand-in-hand. Sometimes it takes this kind of big fear for us to innovate for a resolution. Really, we don't really know how to deal with cyber-crime, cyber-terrorism, or cyber-bullying yet. A lot of time people are not using their true identity and you don't know who you are dealing with. The scale and the speed of that attack one can use on the Internet is both damaging and scary. So I think we need to innovate. We need to have a policy. We need to have some normal behavior of how to use the Internet and the technology. 
Batchelor: Well, I am very thankful that you are on the American continent now.

Fu Ping's Speech at the Downtown Speaker Series

On March 1, 2013, Fu Ping gave a speech at the Downtown Speaker Series at Las Vegas. In the speech, she made a couple of subtle changes to her story. For example, she now says that she tool the Pan Am flight to US instead of United and it was not a direct flight. Instead of baby girls being killed with plastic bags, it is now pillow cases. She didn't mention the more outlandish claims surrounding her infanticide research (not even mention newspaper any more) or kidnapping.

More significantly, she used the opportunity of answering a question from the audience at the end to once again claim the "attack" she received on Amazon is a smear campaign originated from China, elevating its status to an "attack to democracy."

The speech can be viewed in its entirety here. Below is a partial transcript. Thanks to Jean and Z. Wang for helping out the transcript work.

I'm going to break this talk into three components. The first one I'll talk a little bit about
my life, which most of them are in the book. Then, I'll talk a little bit about my
entrepreneurial journey. And the third part will be what will be the future for 3D printing, sensors, and the digital world.  
So let me take you back almost 40 years, to 1966. At the dawn of Cultural Revolution, I was 8  years old. I was living with a loving family. My Shanghai papa and mama had 5 children and I was the youngest of the 6, the youngest one. i didn't know when I was little that they were not my biological parents. They were the only parents I knew. And they were incredibly loving and it's a normal family. 
When the Cultural Revolution started, I was taken away from them. That day when Red Guards came to my family to taken me away, to send me to Nanjing, which is a
city about 300 miles north of Shanghai to stay with my biological parents. That was when I was told that they were not my parents. I went to Nanjing in a very crowded train on myself and arrived only a little too late. My biological parents were put on a truck being sent away to exile also. And I was then placed in a dormitory room in a college where my dad used to be professor. It was there I found my little sister. She was 4 years old. And then for the next 10 years, I lived in a dormitory room, and taking care of my younger sister. My father was away for 11 years. I almost never seen him. My mother came back when i was 13. Life was very confusing at that time. One day I lost the parents who raised me, the parents who born me, and I became the surrogate mother to my sister. 
The first two years of the Cultural Revolution, the entire country turned upside down. Family, educated family been sent away, households are confiscated. I was out there to witness much of the atrocity scene, watching teacher being killed. Been sent to struggle sessions which I would be put on stage denouncing myself. Screaming very loud that I was nobody. That I wasn't worth the dirt beneath their feet. That was the very beginning of my education. I was supposed to be in the 1st grade. The schools were closed. I didn't have any academic education. 
But rather Chairman Mao, who was the head of communist party said that we need to study from farmers, workers, and soldiers. So I was working in the factory, many years, and also worked in the country side, planting rice, and doing some farming. Then when I was a little older, I also went to military camp to be trained on long march, shooting. So in the essence, although I didn’t have much in formal education, I learned how to make things with my hands, I built radios when I was 9 years old, I built speedometers, and later televisions, I put the lights up so on and so forth. 
When I was 10 years old, I also experienced a very dramatic event. I was gang-raped by a group of teenagers, and i was left on the soccer field to die. I had cuts on my body, probably more than 40 stitches because of a knife   It was not just the physical abuse that was hurtful. it was the emotional abuse that followed. I was called broken shoes. at 10, I was a broken woman. 
Fast forward 10 years, Culture Revolution was over, China re-opened university. Given that I have not had much formal education. I really wanted to go to college. I studied like mad. I was called the girl whose lights never turned off. I took the first college exam i didn't pass, the 2nd year i took it again. in 1978, I past the national exam and went to college. I really wanted to be an astronaut, but i didn't really have much choice. My father was a professor at Nanjing Aeronautics and Astronautics University before he was sent away. So when I grew up, my playground was airplanes and the slider was airplane wings. I have seen a lot of planes on the field.  But i was assigned to study Chinese literature. My mother said, oh please, don’t go study literature. A writer has no future in China. but i wasn't going to listen. I really wanted to go to school.  
So I was admitted to Suzhou University, majoring Chinese literature. I absolutely loved it. I couldn't believe that reading a novel, going to see a play or see a movie, and call that study. It was really fascinating time and China is completely changing its ideology and very open at the time. 
In my senior year, I decided I wanted to pursue graduate school. I wanted to be a journalist. I chose infanticide as my thesis topic, and i went to research the phenomenon of killing baby girls in the country side due to one child policy. In 1979, Chinese government decided that people can only have one child and they enforced one-child policy quite severally. In many countries, people, farmers, or families favor boys over girls. It's not a unique thing for China. But in China, what's unique at that time was the one-child policy. There was this policy called illegal pregnancy. You can be illegal to be pregnant for a second child if it is within 4 years of having the first child. The policy was enforced by local communities, the neighborhood communities. A lot of time, those enforcements are very cruel. 
When I went to the countryside to look at that, I saw baby girls are being killed and I saw babies being thrown into river when their embryological cords are still fresh. I saw baby girls being suffocation in pillow cases and being thrown into garbage dumpsters. What I saw broke my heart. 
Even though I was punished for missing schools and not return to college dormitories, I was possessed to do those research. So I went to many remote areas and interviewed hundreds of women. I heard many stories. I put my research in paper and gave them to my teacher. I haven't written my thesis yet. I just gave the teacher my raw material. 
Unbeknownst to me, she turned those material to the press and the material was apparently passed up and got the attention of the Chinese government. For that I was kicked out of the school. Actually I was put in jail briefly for 3 days. I thought I was going to die. They wouldn't tell me why I was arrested and I didn't know it was because of the infanticide research. I was just put in jail. There was no interrogation, no telling why I was there. 
But fortunately I was let out 3 days later. I was told to go home and wait to be told what I should do. Then I was told that I have two choices.  
One is to leave China and never talk about this again, just quietly leave. I was told to be careful what I say because my sister and family is still in China. This is fairly common in Chinese history back then, probably today also, that the threat to you is not yourself but your family. Or, I will be put in a place remote in China. I thought leaving was a better idea. 
So, it took me a year and half actually for me to get a passport to leave China. My family helped me to pull all the strings and eventually I was able to obtain visa and passport to leave China. I applied to many countries but the US was the easiest to get a student visa so I ended up coming  to the United States. How lucky I am. 
In 1984, January, I stepped on a Pan Am airline and flew from Shanghai to San Francisco, stop by Tokyo. I landed in San Francisco. I had 80 dollars traveler's check and only a few words of English. I tried to learn English when I was in China when I knew I was going to come to the United States. I tried to memorize them but somehow by the time I landed in San Francisco I only remembered 3 words. That was "help", "thank you", and... there was another word that I can't remember. 
Anyway, so I was in San Francisco. I have a traveler's check. Back then, Chinese dollar was not exchangeable with dollar so you should go to a bank, give them RMB and they issue you a traveler's check. For me to go from San Francisco to New Mexico where I got a student visa. The ticket price changed. It become 85 dollars and I only had an 80 dollar traveler's check. Because in China, it's a Communist society that the price doesn't change. I didn't know what to do. 
Of course, blessing San Francisco, there was a lot of Chinese-speaking people so one of the agents was able to explain to me the price changed. There was an American man standing behind me who gave 5 dollars to the counter so I can get my ticket. That was my first impression of an American. That taught me a lesson: when in doubt, always error on the side of generocity.  
To this day, I still haven't found that person who helped me. I was hoping someone who read to book would say, hey, that was me. Five dollars may not have meant much to me but it meant the whole world to me. 
So that's how I landed in United States and went to New Mexico. 
I enrolled in English as Second Language and I thought I was going to study comparative literature. I quickly realized that I didn't have enough English to do that. Also, my teacher who has a Ph. D. in literature couldn't find a job.  I was told to leave China and never to come back again so I don't have the luxury of studying something I couldn't find a job with. So I have to very quickly find something that's marketable. But I didn't have formal K-12 education so I couldn't quite go to study science. 
I asked around what I could study. Someone said why don't you go study computer science. It's a new field. I never heard about computer science so I asked what is that. The student said that is a man-made language used to make stuff. I was like, great, I am good with language and I know how to make stuff. That's what I am going to study. So, that's how I got into computer science. I was very lucky that it's a new field. 
Computer science of course at that time, and maybe today also, has a lot of group projects. It's not always individual projects. I wasn't the best programmer. Programming wasn't really a strong suite of mine but I quickly realized that I was a pretty good software designer. Being trained in literature, in structure, compositions, flow, I found software design to be very easy. So I end up with always having the best programmer in my group because, being a good software designer, our project always get the high scores from the professors. So that's how I got through my computer science career. 
I worked for a start up company and then I went to work for Bell Labs and then I went to work for University of Illinois at their supercomputing center. I went to the supercomputing center because they were doing graphics and visualization and I totally fall in love with that field. It's like art meeting science. 
At the supercomputing center I hired a student, his name is Marc Andreessen. Marc didn't quite like the match and geometry I was doing and decided to work on a browser. So Marc and severl other students wrote the NCSA Mosiac that became Netscape and was also licensed to Microsoft and became Internet Explorer. So he went to start Netscape and the rest was history. 
The university started to push me to start a business. They said, Ping, everything you touched turning into gold. I had no idea how to start a business. At university we have really good jobs. I love my job and also my daughter was 3 years old at the time. But one day my boss Joe Harding said, "All this talk and nobody is doing anything. I am really frustrated." So I said, okay, I will do it. So that's how I started Geomagic. 
[Talk about Geomagic and 3D technology...]

Q:  How is China like you now? What’s the potential of technology like this to solve the humanitarian crisis that factory in so many countries like China poses?
A: I certainly is on the attack by the Chinese at this point. The day after New York Time had a story broke on Chinese hacking on New York Time, I woke up with 2000 hate mail in my email. And I’m still on the attack by the Chinese. If you go on Amazon and look for Bend not Break Ping Fu, and you will see the full scale of the attack on me. They completely bombarded my book site, and if you saw the titles of five hundred comments, doesn't matter it is one-star or five-stars, they are all smear. 
You can’t see any good comments because it will... if you put a good comment, hundreds of them are gonna come and say this is not helpful. And if they call me a liar, fat liar, bitch, traitor, whatever, you will get one thousand five hundred people will say that is helpful.  
In comparison, the most helpful comment review on Harry Potter in its entire life is five hundred. And in twenty second, a smear comment on amazon will get three times more comments on this is helpful. How does that happen? It happens in twenty seconds! So someone is writing a program... notify something there. You can just go there to see it. It is incredible. 
So I look at it. My book is not available in China. None of those reviewers have read my book and they even say they have never read my book. So there are three things they really don't like me. They don't like me write about “gang rape,” “No, China has no rape.” That’s one. And they don't like I wrote about “infanticide.” “No, China didn’t kill baby girls.” It didn't matter the statistics says thirty million girls were missing. “It didn’t happen.” And of course I’m a traitor because I’m talking about bring job to United States. Actually i was talking about bring job locally ,distributed. And it is not just bring back to United States. For China, I talked about China should make product that carries Chinese Culture. And China has 1.3 billion people there, it is a huge market. It is good for China also. 
But it didn't matter, because, you know, that’s the attack. 
It is interesting, because I love Amazon, don’t get me wrong. I love Jeff. He is probably one of the most respected entrepreneur ever in my life. He is my hero. 
But I always believe failure and success go in hand in hand. Ironically a long time ago, I help to create Internet or the browsers. Today I become the victim of that technology. So the question is to the technologists here, what can we do to prevent this happen. Because those people hiding behind internet with fake ids are so cruel. The attack is so vicious and I don’t understand that phenomenon. And I don’t understand why we allow that happen. And it is more vicious to women than to men in general. It is not Chinese or American, cruelty has no nationality. But allow people to hide behind Internet to be cruel is something we should solve. Because that shouldn't happen to anyone. 
They are not just attack me, my family, my colleagues, but anyone who go voice something authentic get attacked. This is attack to democracy.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Questionable Fact: The Mysterious Shanghai Villa

The Original Story:
In Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping stated that she spent her early childhood in Shanghai and lived together with the Shanghai family in a "grand home," as described on Page 9:
Our family house was peaceful rather than showy, a three-story and three-section villa connecting to a courtyard with a front gate that opened onto the main street of our neighborhood. Surrounding the complex, a stone wall decorated with an ornate iron fence shielded the serene interior from the unpredictable outside world.
And she has a photo to prove it:
Curiously, however, she provided no photo of her family with the house.

On Page 10, she provided a few more details on the location of the house:
  1. it is close to the famous Nanjing Road and the headquarters of the Soviet Friendship Society
  2. Streetcar Number 24 passed nearby
Later in 1967, Fu Ping made a sneak visit back to Shanghai (Page 118):
I didn't know the villa had been confiscated by the government and divided up. But I found Shanghai Mama in the one room that had been left to her and Papa, on the second floor.
Much later, in 1993, when Fu Ping made her first visit home from America, she found her Shanghai family still lived in the same house (Page 110):
Shanghai Papa complained to me about our villa, where he and Mama continued to live. At the start of the Cultural Revolution, they had been forced into one room. The house had been co-occupied by a newspaper agency and several other families. Slowly the government returned a few more rooms to them, but never the entire house.
The Debunking:
Fu Ping's description of the house being divided up and occupied by others rings true -- it was a common practice during the Cultural Revolution.

The problem? Nobody has been able to locate this house. The headquarters of the Soviet Friendship Society had later become the Shanghai Exhibition Center, which is indeed close to the Nanjing Road. Yet, according to many people who had walked the neighborhood, there was no sign of a house like Fu Ping described.

Could the house have been demolished since then? A house with such a stylish character that had survived to at least 1993 will be more than likely to be preserved. Besides, as recently as February 20, 2013, Fu Ping was quoted by Didi Kirsten Tatlow of the International Herald and Tribune in a complain about her critics:
They smear my name, they try to get my daughter’s name on the Internet, they sent people to Shanghai to surround my family and to Nanjing to harass my neighbors.
Well, it is of course impossible to surround her family in Shanghai if no one could locate the house they live in. But taking at face value, Fu Ping's above accusation clearly indicated that at least some members of her Shanghai family (her Shanghai parents have since passed away) are still living in that villa.

Then, where is this mysterious villa?

Questionable Fact: Fu Ping's Childhood in Shanghai

The Original Story
According to Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping was taken by her Shanghai Mama, the sister of her biological mother (Nanjing Mama) when she was 11 days old. She grew up in Shanghai with her adopting family until shortly after her 8th birthday in 1966, when a group of Red Guards took her from the loving family and sent her back to Nanjing. She did not realize that her Shanghai parents were not her real parents until that day.

The Earlier Story
In Drifting Bottle, Fu Ping wrote (Page 15): 
It was different at home. One day, I suddenly announced to my Dad and Mom: my career plan is to be a driver of the small motor-tricycles. This shocked them. Chinese parents always wish their children grew up to do big things and have significant achievements. This is called "wish kids to become dragons." The motor-tricycles were used by small business people in transportation. It was very noisy and emitted black smoke in the rear. We called them "farting bugs."
I grew up on a university campus, right outside of the campus is the famous Yudaojie of Nanjing. In ancient time it was a road dedicated to the emperors, thus called Yudaojie (Emperor Road Street). Nowadays there are huge traffic on this ancient street, anyone could wander on this wide emperor road. In my childhood memory, the most proud people are those who drive the "farting bugs." 
And also on Page 88:
This is Wuchaomen, very close to my home. I played here often when I was little.

The Debunking
The differences between the two autobiographies is striking. Besides the direct contradictory above, the Shanghai parents, who were heartily described in Bend, Not Break as much more of parents than her biological Nanjing counterparts, were not even mentioned at all in Drifting Bottle. Instead, we read that she not only grew up in Nanjing but she also did so with her biological parents on her side.

Drifting Bottle was written when Fu Ping was not yet famous. Her Nanjing mother had helped her copying and proof-reading the manuscript. Therefore that version met her mother's approval.

Fu Ping could claim that she neglected the Shanghai story and her true affection to her Shanghai parents in Drifting Bottle to avoid hurting the feelings of her biological mother. But would that be necessary not to mention the parents who had allegedly raised her and influenced her a great deal?

Someone claimed to be Fu Ping's childhood friend has emerged to testify that Fu Ping had indeed grown up in Nanjing instead of Shanghai. But since the individual chose to remain anonymous, the testimony, however credible it appears, could not be taken as a solid proof.

But there are other holes in Fu Ping's new version of her story, which we will continue to debunk in more specifics.

Engineering and Technology's Interview with Fu Ping

The following interview with Fu Ping was written by Nick Smith and published in Engineering and Technology Magazine on March 11, 2013. In the interview, Fu Ping was quoted as saying "I was living in a concentration camp" despite her recent denial of having never said anything like that. The interview mentioned the controversy in passing but dismissed it as a "smear campaign."

CEO and founder of Geomagic, Ping Fu discusses her extraordinary journey from the concentration camps of China's Cultural Revolution to becoming one of America's most influential women in reality capture technology. 
Ping Fu and I are sitting in the London headquarters of her UK publisher, Penguin, in the Strand. The CEO of the US software modelling company Geomagic has a hectic schedule promoting her new book, and simply getting to be in the same room as her has been something of a logistical nightmare. At the time, neither of us could have known that the book would bring her to the centre of a firestorm of controversy. But as we sit in a conference room with a copy of 'Bend, Not Break' between us she is calm and attentive. 
The book is an autobiography tracing Fu's journey from China's forced-labour camps during Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution to becoming the driving force behind a company that was to bring her recognition as one of America's most influential technologists. 
In her mid-50s, well dressed and perhaps suffering from meeting fatigue, Fu tells me how she wrote a book that she had misgivings about starting. "Shortly after I was named Entrepreneur of the Year in 2006, I had the idea for the book. But, going through the research material at the time, I found that it was going to be difficult. My daughter was an early teenager then and I wanted to protect her from a story that she might not be able to take. But in 2012 she turned 18, and I met my co-author MeiMei Fox. It was a case of all things coming together." 
Fu kept a diary in China as a 12-year-old, an activity forbidden by the Red Guard, who ceremonially burned it before her eyes. "I couldn't pick up my pen again. And so to write now was a way to conquer the fear." 
To make the transformation from a 'Black Element' in Communist China to a leading light of the western digital world is unusual, a fact reflected in our conversation continually drifting from one world to the other. Her book is subtitled 'a life in two worlds', and it is clear that the two don't separate easily. One minute Fu is busily describing Geomagic as a "leader in reality capture", and the next reminiscing on a background infected by fear and isolation, where conventional norms of childhood are stripped away by the state. 
Reality capture could so easily be a term to describe day-to-day life in a concentration camp. But for Fu it is a technical term "about taking everything in real life and recreating it in a digital environment. Today, I think our physical environment and our digital selves are no longer separate. If you look at the publishing industry, we no longer think about the distinction between digital and physical. Publishing a magazine on paper or for a digital reader is now one and the same. I wanted to do this for products in healthcare and not just publishing." 
In the early 1980s Fu worked in imaging software publishing, which led to her developing ideas for combining Internet technology with manufacturing "so that instead of desktop publishing we could have desktop manufacturing. That was my thought in starting Geomagic. I also decided some time ago that I wanted to have a technology company that is an enabler rather than being self-contained. We helped many companies in the orthodontic market as well as the hearing-aid industry, which we transformed from a manual process to becoming all 3D printed. Today, we are working with UNESCO. We want to scan 500 Heritage Sites to preserve those old treasures, which is the human collective memory. I think we owe this to future generations." 
Today 3D modelling is more important than ever says Fu, because "given the economic climate it has now become a political issue rather than just a socio-economic issue. We are losing manufacturing jobs to the cheaper labour countries, and so this is how we can bring employment back to the US or the UK. If you fabricate things locally then you bring jobs in all spectrums of society: not just the thinkers, but also the doers. It is no longer efficient to produce a design locally, ship it overseas to make it and then ship it back." 
Earlier this year Geomagic was acquired by 3D Systems, which will "combine the force of design and manufacturing in the digital space. Which is very exciting. That's why I started the company in the first place." In an official statement released by Geomagic, Fu said: "Joining 3D Systems provides us with the scale, resources and strategic platform to realise our shared vision of delivering functional, affordable and extensible 3D authoring solutions for the benefit of professional designers and engineers, as well as the exciting maker's movement." 
Encounters with engineering
Fu's earliest encounters with engineering were to set her on the road to finding a meaning to her life outside of her imprisonment. "My first assignment was the factory. I was living in a concentration camp. Because I was of the younger generation I wasn't sent from the ghetto to the countryside to be a farm labourer. I wasn't immediately sent to the military camp, either. I was sent to the factory." 
She remembers this as being "actually quite a good experience", partly because the workers were adults who tended to treat the young girl kindly, unlike the Red Guards, predominantly teenagers who went "around the country beating people. I had a supervisor who was very kind to me." 
Her first job was building radios. "This gave me a great sense of accomplishment. I had been conditioned to think that I was useless. But to be able to make something with my hands made me feel I could contribute something. The radio is also such a common object. Back then it was just for Communist broadcasting. But I do remember that if you could get an antenna big enough you could pick up Voice of America. It wasn't easy, but at night we tried. It was a treat." 
She could hardly have known at the time, but these early communications with the other side of the world were to become part of a chain of events that would lead to her eventual defection to America. With only rudimentary English and a few dollars, she took whatever work she could. At first this meant bussing tables in a Chinese restaurant, little more than a cliché in the Land of Opportunity. 
Fu is keen to stress that at this point "I was running for my life. I didn't know anything about America. Everything I thought about the place seemed to be wrong. But at the time the unknown was better than a bad life." 
The most alienating thing about America was its boundless freedom. "In China everything was completely suppressed. In America, everything is a choice and there is nobody there to help you make that choice. That was scary because, although in China you might get assigned a bad job, or be sent to a bad area, in America you have to find a job for yourself. If you can't find a job then you can't live. Initially I did not think that this was the land of opportunity. Very quickly I discovered that if I was to have a future then I had to make it for myself." 
Realising that her lack of formal education would make it virtually impossible for her to follow her longed-for path into either literature or engineering at university level, she was at a loss. But she was quickly introduced to, and excited by, the idea of computer science. "Here was a manmade language I could learn. I thought it was great that I could make stuff and study a marketable skill." A chance encounter with start-up software company guru Len Sherman gave Fu an introduction to entrepreneurship, of which she admits "I had no idea how hard that could be." This would eventually open the door to career progression to Bell Labs, where she could simultaneously work and pursue her PhD programme. To be paid a salary and have her tuition fees paid "was like a fairy tale". 
At Bell Labs Fu was primarily involved with networking, but it was computer graphics that really fired her imagination. "This was because it was the in-between space between art and science." Eventually she became director of visualisation at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, where she "initiated and managed the NCSA Mosaic software project that led to Netscape and Internet Explorer." Working on global warming models led to the idea of founding Geomagic. 
As her career progressed Fu became more influential outside the immediate sphere of software development. She was recognised by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services as an Outstanding American By Choice. Since 2010, she has served as a member of the National Council on Women in Technology in the US, and the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship board at the White House, where she has been photographed standing between President Barack Obama and the First Lady. 
Fu accepts that it is unusual for women to reach the level of influence that she has done in the engineering community, especially if they are from an ethnic background. "But I believe women will be the fastest emerging labour force for the 21st century. Unfortunately, whether you look at Hollywood movies or the Internet, Technology Woman has this image of being nerdy, which is something that a young girl doesn't want to be." 
This is an image she wants to correct, and one of the reasons she is helping encourage young girls to follow a career in technology. "Once you are dealing with adults it's almost a hopeless situation. I asked my daughter what I needed to do or say to help girls, and she said that it is not what you say, but who you are. So I talk to women in technology and I tell them that it is up to us. If girls don't have an ambition to be like us, they will not choose a career in technology. I don't try to be a man. I try to show that being Technology Woman is really, really cool. You get a great job, you get paid well and we are not all nerds." 
"Sad but not broken"
Since the publication of 'Bend, Not Break' (and the conversation that forms the basis of this article), Ping Fu has been subjected to a highly vocal and at times personally abusive smear campaign questioning the accuracy of her memoir that has left her "shocked, heartbroken and deeply saddened". Anyone who has read her book (many of her critics haven't) will recognise that the first half, which concentrates on her formative years in China, is the writing of someone traumatised by their past. While she has publicly admitted to minor inaccuracies in her text, it is clear that she endured suffering and privation under the Cultural Revolution that is hard for westerners to fully appreciate. There are certainly times when her story pushes credulity. But, as she told me, the reason she wrote the book is precisely that her story is so extraordinary. As she says: "It is a story about a life lived in two worlds: China and America. It tells of one person's journey from nobody to somebody. It reflects how my past experiences influenced who I am today and how I make decisions as an entrepreneur."