This book presents a classic case of Pseudologia fantastica, or pathological lying.
Though Ping Fu personifies pseudologia fantastica, it can only be a coincidence that her name and the disorder share the same initials. Below the initials PF are used as a shorthand for Ping Fu.
According to wikipedia, characteristics of pseudologia fantastica include:
1. The stories told are not entirely improbable and often have some element of truth.
This is indeed the case with PF's memoirs. She tells tales of being a factory worker from 1968 to 1976, doing a "rotation to the countryside outside Nanjing for half a year" [in 1970] and "in 1971 at age thirteen, spent some time completing mandatory military service." [quotes are from p.143 of Bend, Not Break]
Though it seems quite far-fetched that a 13-year-old girl had to do mandatory military service, there was some element of truth in her fibs. After all, Mao did say that students should learn from workers, peasants, and soldiers. And PF dutifully mingled with all three groups.
2. The fabricative tendency is long lasting; it is not provoked by the immediate situation or social pressure as much as it is an innate trait of the personality.
PF demonstrates this trait by the lies she has been telling in various interviews since at least 2005.
3. A definitely internal, not an external, motive for the behavior can be discerned clinically.
A sign that PF possesses an internal motive for lying is that she lies about everything, big or small. She lied about matters that are of no concern to others, such as family meals. The sumptuous thirteen-course daily dinners at her Shanghai home before the Cultural Revolution sound more like official banquets nowadays than family affairs in starvation-era China. She lied about writing an undergraduate thesis on female infanticides, a matter of international concern that "resulted in a worldwide shaming of my country and its new leadership." [p.255]
4. The stories told tend toward presenting the liar favorably. For example, the person might be presented as being fantastically brave, knowing or being related to many famous people.
This characteristic is also evident in PF's memoirs. She described how she brought her sister Hong and Hong's friend Su to the local health clinic after the two younger girls (aged 5 or 6 at the time; PF was 8 or 9) accidentally scalded themselves by knocking a pot of boiling water over their bodies. Even though the younger girls screamed their heads off in pain, "no neighbors came rushing to our rescue; people were still too frightened of being punished for overtly helping black elements." [p.115] So Ping scooped up Su into her arms and asked Hong to climb up on her back. PF stumbled for almost one mile carrying two girls who together must have weighed more than herself. She was so exhausted when she reached the clinic that she collapsed on the floor and the nurse thought she was the one who needed medical attention.
Yes, I read PF's book. It provides an excellent case study of pseudologia fantastica. I recommend the book to anybody who is interested in the disorder.
[the following paragraph added on 2/13/2013]
PF wrote in her book: "My greatgrandfather had been killed during the uprising led by Sun Yatsen, the founding father of modern China. Dr. Sun had raised my grandfather and granduncle as his own sons." The Guardian calls it one of her most striking claims; it's also a striking example of "presenting the liar favorably, ... as ... knowing or being related to many famous people."