Monday, March 11, 2013

Shanghailist: Chinese Readers Annoyed that Ping Fu's Memoir is (Allegedly) Full of Lies

The following post was written by James Griffiths and posted on Shanghailist on February 5, 2013:

Chinese entrepreneur and author Ping Fu is having to defend herself from claims that her memoir Bend Not Break, is (allegedly) complete bullshit after readers highlighted a number of lies inconsistencies. 
Readers and critics have taken Fu to task for her horrifying claim that during the Cultural Revolution she was sent to a reeducation camp aged ten where she was gang-raped. Fu herself has admitted that a 2010 account she gave to NPR of being forced to watch Red Guards executing a teacher by using horses to tear him apart was an "emotional memory" or, in regular parlance, made up.
"When I was young, these are the stories being told to us and in my nightmares they come back again and again. That time was so traumatic. I was taken away from my parents," she said. 
But she now accepts that her imagination may have played tricks. "Somehow in my mind I always thought I saw it, but now I'm not sure my memory served me right. I probably saw it in a movie or something, and I acknowledge that's a problem."
Fu's account of leaving China has also been questioned. In Bend Not Break she talks of being "deported" at age 25 due to anger from the government over her university thesis on female infanticide. Fu claims that a Shanghai newspaper learned of her "groundbreaking research" and called for an "end to the madness" of the one child policy, a commentary that was subsequently picked up by the People's Daily, except, of course, it wasn't.
After [Fang Zhouzi, a blogger who focuses on Chinese academia] said he found no trace of the commentary, Fu responded in a column in the Huffington Post: "I remember reading an editorial in a newspaper in 1982 that called for gender equality. It was not a news article and not written by me, and I didn't know it had anything to do with my research. When writing the book, I did not name the paper, since I wasn't certain. However, I think that is where I read the editorial because it was the most popular and official newspaper."
That is some fantastic fucking fact checking by Ping Fu and her publisher, Portfolio books.
“We are proud of the book, and of Ping, and of her perseverance,” Zackheim [of Portfolio] added. “Ping worked hard to get her facts right, but it’s her memory that she’s offering…it’s a personal memoir that’s written with candor.”
While memoirists should be subject to less stringent factual requirements than journalists, if they're going to make such outlandish claims as Red Guards using a form of execution that went out with the Renaissance, or that their graduate thesis was so groundbreaking that the CPC didn't dare let them stay in the country anymore, they should at least be able to back up those claims even a tiny bit (since when does the CPC deport rather than lock up dissidents anyway? It took Chen Guangcheng the personal intervention of Hillary Clinton to get out of China). 
Katie Baker at The Daily Beast offers an embarrassing defence of Fu, in which she surmises that the author's troubles are because of nasty Chinese communist keyboard warriors attacking a fearless truth seeker:
The Amazon attack bears elements of the type of Internet bullying—known by the ominous phrase “Human Flesh Search”—that is increasingly common among Chinese bloggers. 
Indeed, many of Ping’s critics seem to take offense at the book’s airing of China’s dirty laundry—namely, of the traumas of the Cultural Revolution—to non-Chinese readers. Others seem to resent Ping for having escaped China to resettle into a successful life in the United States. As one blogger wrote, “I think the most important point that outrages Chinese is that Ping…lived a better-than-average life.” [Emphasis added]
Baker might want to check the reviews pages of Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962 (4/5 stars), or Out of Mao's Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China (4.5/5 stars), two books that really air China's dirty Cultural Revolution laundry to non-Chinese readers. 
Just as James Frey and Greg Mortensen were exposed for the embellishments they made in their own 'factual' memoirs, Ping Fu shouldn't escape proper criticism and investigation of her outlandish claims just because China is kind of far away.

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