- How Deng Xiaoping personally intervened her case when she was "thrown in jail" after her research of female infanticide was made public.
- How she never saw fractions before while attending a calculus class as a computer science graduate student. [She would have taken match exam for college entrance in China even if she somehow skipped GRE to get into the graduate school here.]
Tan: Well, my friends, thanks for being here. We are honored today to host somebody who I look up to: Ping Fu. Ping Fu is a 3D pioneer and a remarkably successful entrepreneur As co-founder and CEO of Geomagic, she was named as Inc. magazine's Entrepreneur of the Year in 2005. Before co-founding Geomagic, she managed a team that created the NCSA Mosaic which later became the Netscape browser and which of course gave us the Internet boom. So, Ping was there, right at the beginning, of the Internet boom. With a name like "Ping", I thought it would be involved with the Internet. Sorry, engineer joke for those on the Youtube. Ping was also named an Outstanding American by Choice and she advises the White House on innovation and entrepreneurship But more than her success and her talents, what I most admire about Ping is how she deals with adversity after adversity in her life with amazing resilience and more importantly with kindness and compassion. Her new book, her latest book is her autobiography, Bend, Not Break, available in Google Play and all other major bookstores. In the next hour, Ping and I will talk about the exciting roles of 3D technology and Ping's fascinating life story. And with that, let's welcome Ping Fu.
Tan: So, let me begin with a question. You have lived a fascinating life. If you would boil down your life story to a few sentences, how would you describe it?
Fu: My life is truly an American dream story. I would say that I have lived three lives (for the price of one). I lived in China during Cultural Revolution and then been exiled. I arrived at United States fresh off the boat, poor immigrant try to look for a new life. And I did go through all the new immigration story and later started a business and become an entrepreneur. That's why I said, there was three chapter of my life. But really it shows the human spirits of the adaptability to change and the power of resilience.
Tan: You are very modest. You describe your life as very normal but your life is extraordinary. And I will give you a sense of how extraordinary it is: when I read your book, the first few chapters made me wanting to cry. Your early life to me is horrendous. You were taken away from your parents at age of 8, and you had to fend for yourself and your baby sister, Hong, at the time, and you were gang-raped at 10. You were hungry, you were beaten, endured abuse for years. And then as an adult, you were put in prison for documenting female infanticide, and then exiled from your own country. And then, as if that is not bad enough, when you arrived at the United States, your first experience in the US was getting kidnapped. What I want to know is this. So, first I would like to invite you to tell us the audience your early life experience. More importantly, I want to know how you manage to preserve your goodness, your kindness, and your compassion despite such a horrible experience.
Fu: Thank you Meng. That is a very mindful question. So let me first bring you back to 1966. That was at the dawn of China's infamous Cultural Revolution. Mao decided to turn the country upside down so all schools were closed. I was 8 years old. I was raised by my aunt and uncle who I thought were my biological parents. I had 5 older siblings and I was the youngest one in the family. So, one day I heard noise in our courtyard. I already knew the country kind of turned upside down so I thought they came for my mother who was my aunt. But they came for me. That was the day the Red Guard came to my house and told me that my mother was not my mother. And I was screaming and crying and said, no no no. I tell my mother, you are lying. I am your child. Just weeks ago you told me I was your favorite. I wasn't even given a chance to give her a hug. I was ripped away from the only family I knew and put on a train from Shanghai South station to Nanjing which is where my biological parents lived. I arrived just a little bit too late. When I arrived in Nanjing, all I saw was big dusts down the street and thousands of people, chaos, you can smell blood. My biological parents were put on a truck being taken away, sent far far away in exile. My mother, at the back of the truck, screamed out my name, "Ping, please take care of your sister." A little bit later of that day I was putting into a dormitory, led to a second floor to a room. There I found my little sister, 4 years old. The room was dusty, full of garbage. It did not even have a bath. The only shining place was this concrete floor where she kicked her legs and polished that place. She was crying probably for hours. Her eyes were red shot. I thought she was going to go blind. That was my first day. I lost the parents who raised me. I lost the parents who born me. And I became surrogate mother to my little sister. Then, little did I know Cultural Revolution would last for 10 years. And I was in that ghetto, one room without washbasin, for the next 10 years. I gone through a lot of atrocities you will see in the book. When I was 10 years old, my sister was thrown into a water canal outside of the wall. I jumped in and tried to save her. I did save her but didn't spare myself. I was gang-raped by a group of teenagers, broken, cut up with a knife. I still had 40 stitches on my body. Almost died. But the physical injury was not the most hurtful thing. What was most hurtful was the emotional abuse that followed. At 10, I really did not understand anything. I just thought I was beaten badly. The rumor went around and I had a nickname "broken shoes," which means that you are so worn out nobody would want you. So, at 10 I was a ruined woman. I had no adults to turn to, no psychologists to talk to, no one to help me. Many times I thought about dying. I thought this life is not worth living. But I had this little sister that I have to take care of. I couldn't just die. I have responsibilities. I think, if I didn't have her, I would have treated my life much lighter.
Fu: So, let me fast-forward to end of Cultural Revolution, that was literally 12 years later. China reopened universities in 1977. I studied to try to pass the national exam to get into a college. I did pass and I did go into a college. I was known the girl whose lights are never turned off. My life turned around. China started to change. When I was in college, I studied Chinese literature. I actually wanted to be an astronaut but I didn't have a choice. During the last semester before I graduated, I thought I was going to go to a graduate school so I wanted to do a thesis. China was imposing the one-child policy. I heard there were wide-spread killing of girls in the countryside. So I decided to choose that as a topic. That research being aired in some of Chinese newspapers where Chinese government was calling to stop the killing. But that was the first documentation from China that admitted wide-spread killing was happening. That news being picked up by international newspaper and UN posed sanctions for human rights violation. So this was embarrassment for the new government. At the time, Deng Xiaoping has already taken over China. Cultural Revolution was over. So this was embarrassment for the new government and I got into trouble and was thrown in jail. But it was only 3 days. I was lucky that Deng Xiaoping has asked what happened to the reporter. They said, "Well, we threw her in jail." And he said, "Why? This is not Cultural Revolution any more." But he didn't give any other instructions so nobody knew what to do with me. I was let out. Two weeks later, I was given a passport and told to leave the country and never to come back again. Not to apply for political asylum because my parents and sister were in China. I applied many universities in many countries and I ended up in the United States.
Fu: So your question is how did I live a life like that and remain to be, to see good, to be kind, the preservation of goodness. So when I was little, my uncle, who I thought was my father, had taught me many of those human principles. He told me that you don't want to treat other people the way you don't want to be treated. He also told me that, if you are straight, you are not worried about that your shadow is not. Another thing he had me memorized is what's called three friends of winter. Bamboo is one of it, which is what I write in my book. He told me that, "Ping, you need to be bamboo, bending with the prevailing wind but never breaking." When I was going through Cultural Revolution, I know that, if I don't focus on goodness, then I couldn't live my day. So even in the darkest time, there are human kindness from different places. I would find food left out of my door. Even though people don't dare to be associated with us, people secretly tried to help us. There will be beauty always in ugliness if you want to seek for it. I also found that being good help me to survive. Because if you are good to others, it makes it very hard for others to be cruel to you. So I just continued to focus on that.
Tan: Thank you. So you came to America and survived a kidnapping. I remember reading that you came only knowing 3 words of English, which is "hello", "help", and "thank you".
Fu: [nodding] Very useful 3 words.
Tan: I would add "where is the toilet" [laugh] You came basically crippled in language. Then you went to graduate school and you switched over to computer science. What you say is because you realized mistakenly at the time or you were told that computer science is a different language. You think since I am crippled in English, with a new language I will be in a fair playing field. For those of you who are wondering how Chinese immigrants are such engineers... [pointing to his head]
Fu: [laugh] That's the reason.
Tan: What's even more fascinating is that, when you went to class for a master in computer science and you went to a class not knowing basic mathematic concepts like fractions. You wrote that you saw teacher writing on the blackbord with numbers and a line between them and you are like, what's that? How is like to be in that situation?
Fu: That's a very good question. Like Meng said, I came here and thought I was going to study comparative literature. Yet my English was too poor. I can't study science because I didn't go through K to 12 educations. I asked around. Somebody said, oh ya, there is a new field called computer science and I said, "What's that?" They said, it's a man-made language and you learn that to make stuff. I thought, oh great. I am good with language and I know how to make stuff. That's how I got into computer science. Because I didn't go to formal education or studying mathematics in classroom, when I went to study computer science, the first class I took was calculus. I was okay with new concepts when the professor was teaching. If it's new I can follow. But when he put fraction on the blackboard, I just never seen anything like that. When I asked the professor, he said go back to high school. I took it very literally. I went to get high school math and I couldn't find it. I went to middle school class and couldn't find it. I found it on second grade's math books. So I bought, actually I borrowed, the entire math textbook from first grade to high school. I studied that at night and studied calculus during the day... First semester I almost failed the math class, but by the second math class -- I think was multi-variable calculus, the professor thought I was the sister of an Olympic math champion. That's how I arrived.