- Red Guards picked her up at Nanjing train station in a jeep, instead of a car or motorcycle
- The famous three English words are "hello", "thank you", and "sorry"
- The national paper which she said published her research becomes "Xinhua Newspaper" instead of People's Daily. It's not clear whether she meant Xinhua Daily or the Xinhua News Agency.
DG: One of North Carolina's most successful and most admired business leaders grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution -- unbelievably repressive system. She was starved, beaten, denied the basic education but somehow she survived and, after she was driven out of the country, came to the United States with three English words and on that pathway found education and business success that should inspire anyone who hears the story. We will hear that story when we talk about her new book Bend, Not Break, with the author Ping Fu, on North Carolina Bookwatch next.
DG: Welcome to North Carolina Bookwatch, I am D. G. Martin. My guest is Ping Fu. She is the author of Bend, Not Break, a Life in Two Worlds. Welcome Ping Fu.
Fu: Thank you. Happy to be here.
DG: We are all exited to have you. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, you grew up in China and then left China under the pressure from the government, made your way in the United States and had incredible success. That's the story of your book.
DG: Maybe we could start by talking where did the title "Bend, Not Break" come from?
Fu: It came from a symbolism called "Three Friends of Winter." My uncle who was the father to me, who was always the father figure to me, told me about bamboos. He said bamboo bending from the prevailing wind but never breaking, as if he knew challenges are waiting for me.
DG: He knew there would be challenges. There are two other trees of the winter, what are they?
Fu: Yeah, the three friends of winters are bamboo, pine trees, and plum blossom. Each one is different. Pine trees -- we have a lot here in North Carolina -- are evergreens and are very straight. Bamboo bend not not breaking. Plum blossom is the first flower bloom in the winter, usually in February. Specially, it will blossom in snow. That signifies the dignity.
DG: This learning lessons you are getting when you were growing up in China when time was tough, can you talk to us about your growing up in China?
Fu: When I was little I grew up in this loving family. We had a big house. All I knew was my parents were very loving. My Mom cooks delicious food. She always says cooking needs five senses: color, smell... but she adds the fifth element: love. My father always came home. He loves scholar's garden. I have five older brothers. So it was really a comfort life in the first 8 years of my life.
DG: This was still Communist China but before the...
Fu: This was still Communist China but before the Cultural Revolution started. Then, in 1966, Cultural Revolution started. This was the home I ever knew. One day I heard breaking sound. Red Guard coming to our house. Of course before that I already knew something was wrong because around the neighborhood there was always things being broken or someone got arrested. But I was too young to really know what's going on. When they came I thought they were coming for my parents or older siblings but did not know they were coming for me. In China, when Cultural Revolution started, everyone has a registration of where you live. They control everyone. So your registration place should be at your birthplace. I was born in Nanjing and came to Shanghai to live with my aunt and uncle when I was 11 days old. So that was the only home I knew. I didn't even know they were not my birth parents. So the Red Guard came to take me away from them and told me that they were not my parents, it was a real shock to me. I was 8. I was crying. I was begging my Mom to tell me that is not true. But I wasn't even allowed to have a hug from her. I was ripped away from a loving home, thrown on a train with full of people The train was so crowded I couldn't find a place to put my feet. I remember sitting on somebody's shoulder for a while before I slid down in this crowded train. Then, arriving Nanjing just a few minutes too late. My biological parents were put on a truck to be taken away. I remember the chaos. I literally can smell the chaos because there was blood everywhere. I was little. I crawled under...
DG: You were by yourself?
Fu: I was by myself. The Red Guard took me from the train station in a Jeep and drove in Nanjing. I remember an empty street compared to the very crowded Shanghai. I remember seeing blood. When I arrived at the Nanjing Aeronautic and Aerospace University which is where my biologic Dad taught, it was chaos. Everything was chaotic. A lot of people on the street. Trucks were going by with people on the truck with big sign with big crosses on them. I was little. I remember crawling literally under other people's feet to try to get to the front of the crowd to see if I can see anything. That's when my Mom spotted me on a truck. The only thing I heard her say was "Ping Ping, take care of your sister."
DG: So you were then assigned to a dormitory room or some kind of room in the university to live by yourself?
Fu: I was putting in a line, marching down across the street to the place students used to stay. The school is closed. All the students went either home or somewhere else. So I was assigned a room in the dormitory They must have pre-assignment already because my little sister, 4 years old, was already in that room.
DG: So you and your sister by yourselves were expected to make a life for yourself?
Fu: Yeah. There was more than me and my sister. There were hundreds of "black kids" like we are. We have been told to be called "black element," not even people.
DG: Why? What about your family that made you have to carry this burden?
Fu: Traditionally China respect education and my family was educated. Both of my parents were educated. My grandparents were entrepreneurs in the 30s of Shanghai. In China, there was actually very few national entrepreneurs. When Mao started the Cultural Revolution, anyone who come from money or education were condemned. He says that the farmers, soldiers, and workers are now the masters of the country and of course they are the majority. He closes schools. Anyone from that kind of background are called "black."
DG: Well, this is really a poignant point of your story. But you were able to work your way through and begin to get an education at the college level in China after the Cultural Revolution started. But that wasn't the end of your problems of the Chinese authorities.
Fu: Right. I did study very hard when China reopens 10 years later. I actually wanted to study being an astronaut but I didn't have a choice as I was assigned to study Chinese literature which is a major nobody wants to take. It was kind of blessing too. I really enjoyed it. So when I studied Chinese literature I was thinking about going to graduate school. If you do go to graduate school you need to write a thesis. I decided to choose killing baby girls as a subject. I thought that was a humanitarian subject to write my thesis on.
DG: What do you mean killing baby girls?
Fu: In 1978, China started to impose the one-child policy. Every couple could have only one child. At that time, China was still, by large, an agriculture society and people all wanted boys. I heard in the countryside, people were killing baby girls because they can only have one child.
DG: So when the baby comes and it's a girl, the couple for various reasons kills the baby?
Fu: Well, there are a lot of forced abortion if that's not the first baby, even at 8 or 9 month pregnant There are people try to hide if they already had a child and try to get a son. One woman I interviewed literally lived with pig for the entire pregnancy, eating pig food. Pig food had a lot of alcohol in there. So when she give birth, it was a boy but it's a stillchild. The child died in her stomach. I interviewed other women say that, if they give birth and it's a girl, the men will take the girl and throw it into the river. I have seen that. I have seen baby girls being thrown into the river when their embryo cords were still fresh.
DG: What was your problem about your research and writing about this topic?
Fu: I was writing this for calling to a stop of killing baby girls for my thesis. One of my professor who took this material and gave it to a newspaper reporter because she is already aware this is happening. The reporter did an editorial comment. At that time, China didn't even have authorship. So she, out of compassion, wrote an editorial to call stopping killing. That piece got picked up by Xinhua Newspaper, which was an official government newspaper. That editor also wrote a syndicated editorial comment at his own, calling for a stop of killing baby girls. Unbeknownst to China, this was the first time Chinese official newspaper admitted this was happening. I actually didn't know how wide-spread it was. I think a lot. But now we know, during 78 to 82, in 4 years, 30 million girls were missing. It was...
DG: So the authority was picking up your research and endorsing it. Why did this create trouble for you?
Fu: What happen was the international media picked it up and had an outcry of human rights violation and UN was threatening to sanction China on economics. This was Deng Xiaoping's China. The new government just come to power. It's an embarrassment to the current government. So, now nobody wants to say they created trouble so it goes down to where this data come from. It traces down to my research.
DG: You become a non-welcome person in your own country.
Fu: I become the scapegoat. I become the person who embarrassed the country.
DG: As you explained in your book, this leads to your coming to the United States, really as an exile. Talk about your entry to the United States, what's your preparation and your ability to pay for what you needed?
Fu: I didn't have money and I didn't speak English.
DG: You have 3 words in English, didn't you?
Fu: I tried to remember more than 3, but by the time I get here I only remembered 3. That was help, thank you, and sorry. Very useful words. My mother took her life's savings and bought me the ticket to come to the United States. I had some savings and I bought a traveler's check to go from San Francisco to New Mexico because that's where I got to study English as a Second Language. I got admitted to University of New Mexico. So I left Shanghai to come to United States. When I landed in San Francisco, The ticket agent wouldn't give me the ticket and I don't know what's happening. I didn't know the ticket price changed from $80 to $85.
DG: So you had 80 dollars only?
Fu: I only had $80 in traveler's check. In China it's a Communist system. The price never change. I have no idea that in 12 hours the price changed from $80 to $85. So, blessing San Francisco there are Chinese-speaking people. They explained to me what was happening and then the American man standing behind me took out $5 and gave it to the counter and said here it is. I was so touched by a stranger who doesn't know me would give me $5 so I could go to New Mexico.
DG: One of the best parts of your book is how you worked your way as a waitress, as a housekeeper, babysitter to get through college. Then into graduate school, and then as an employee. But I want to skip that and get to the point that you are a worker in the high tech field and very happily engaged. How did you change from an employee to an entrepreneur?
Fu: That's a good question. I was at NCSA, National Center for Supercomputing Applications. I hired this student whose name is Marc Andreessen. He started to write this code called NCSA Mosaic that became Netscape and Internet Explorer.
DG: He became famous. And he was your graduate student?
Fu: He was an undergraduate student. He came as a sophomore and then graduated. He was with me for 3 years. Marc complained that he made $6.75 an hour. I was paying him that. He left to start Netscape with Jim Clark. The rest become history. So the university kind of pushed me to start a business.
DG: Most people close to the high tech world know Marc Andreessen, one of the sort of .com millionaries. He decided to be a millionaire rather than a $6.75 student assistant for you.
Fu: Mark is a great programmer. He always wanted to make money. I remember the prompt on his computer was a dollar sign.
[More conversation on the start of Geomagic.]