Saturday, March 9, 2013

Erica Brindley's Amazon Discussion Thread

On February 1, 2013, Erica Brindley opened a new customer discussion thread on the book Bend, Not Break. She gave the thread a pretty eye-catching and provocative title:
Do not bomb this book if you have not read it! I am a professor of Chinese history and philosophy (PhD from Princeton) and I vouch that her story is a true reflection of what happened to some people in China during the Cultural Revolution.
In her first entry to the thread, she pointed to criticisms of the book as "Chinese nationalists," a term that will be repeated used by Fu Ping and her camp in their responses:
Chinese nationalists who are basing their facts on mistakes by reporters and not the actual book have launched a campaign to bomb this book. If they actually read the book, they'd find that it represents many Chinese in a very honorable light. There are a host of heroes, not just Ping Fu.
Erica Brindley is indeed a professor of Chinese history and philosophy at Penn State University. She has also earned a Ph. D. from Princeton. But what she had failed to disclose, however, is that she is also the sister-in-law of Meimei Fox, a coauthor of the book in question. This fact was soon discovered by participants of the discussion and revealed to public.

Professor Brindley appears to think the backlash to Fu Ping's book not as a fact-checking and debunking effort but one that wishes to blindly defend China's image. In a subsequent followup, she appears to equate the critics with holocaust deniers:

Please read the book, and please avoid ad hominem attacks that attack people and their credentials instead of arguments. This book is not an account by a historian, but a personal memoir of someone who had been traumatized as a kid and wishes to share her experiences with the world. It took a lot of courage for someone who went through this to write it, and she may not have gotten her facts completely straight. She also speaks openly about many kind souls who served as courageous models for her in China, and I think she should be praised for that, not demonized by people who have not even read the book. 
If you read the book, you will see that the things you mention are not at all central to it, and they may have been errors in memory, publishing errors (things lost in translation - this was written in English, with the help of an American writer who worked closely with Ping), and minor mistakes that may be corrected in the second publishing of the book. I know for a fact that Ping now thinks that the issue concerning the horses may have been something she has internalized as a memory because everyone in her 8-yr-old environment was talking in such a way. In other words, what is her memory is her memory - in good faith, not because she is a liar, not because she is trying to cash in on talking about her experiences (the book business in the US is abysmal, and she already has made her fortune), and not because she wishes to demonize China in any particular way.  
There have been many accounts of the horrors of the Cultural Revolution - every culture has atrocities with which it must come to terms. This is not news to anyone in the world, so I'm surprised that you all are so taken aback by it. Memoirs of what the Japanese did in Nanjing should not be slammed by Japanese nationalists trying to preserve a myth of what they think of their country. If you look carefully at what you are doing, it is almost like those Jews who speak out about their persecution in WWII Germany, who are then attacked by people who completely and utterly DENY the existence of the Holocaust. This is not a productive stance to take. Atrocities occur here in the US and all over the world, and it's in everyone's human interest to speak out against perpetrators of atrocities rather than back them.  
Please read the book - you may actually like it. My mother who is Chinese (from Zhejiang) LOVED it and is recommending it to all her relatives.

Within a couple of days and amid heavy criticism in the forum, Professor Brindley quietly withdrew from the discussion. In private, she expressed regret of using her academic and professional credentials in vouching for the book and her characterization of "Chinese nationalists". But she chose not to publicly retract or apologize for her statements. On the other hand, she felt that she had endured unfair personal attacks from the online mob.

1 comment:

  1. I think Princeton failed in teaching Dr. Brindley on subject of logic thinking. "true reflection of what happened to some people in China during the Cultural Revolution" is not equal to what happened to Ping.