My Review of Ping Fu's Bend, Not Break
Liangfu Wu, Downers Grove, IL USA
I am writing this article for the benefit of American readers who may have limited knowledge of China. I believe that many Chinese readers did not fully understand the background either when making statements concerning the truthfulness of Ms. Ping Fu's memoir, Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds.
My overall impression of the book itself is positive. Ms. Fu did tell some interesting stories; reading them is enjoyable. However, her style of the jumping back and forth between time periods may appear artificial, lacking connections and logic for the quantum leaps in time continuum.
Whether readers believe her stories is another matter. My goal is to provide some background information with an objective analysis to help readers form their own opinion. Some of the discrepancies seem minor. However, they are the challenges Ms. Fu's book faces. If a reader reads my article and still chooses to continue believing Ms. Fu, it is his or her personal choice. Perhaps, it is more important that the reader remains honest to herself/himself.
Due to the length, this article is divided into several parts and posted separately. Thank you for your patience, objectivity and critical thinking in reading my article.
I did my graduate work in the United States, majoring in Public Administration, a subfield of Political Science. I have done extensive research in contemporary Chinese politics. In 2010, I published a book titled Astonishing Internal Friction (惊世内耗). Because my book touches upon some sensitive issues in China, I could not have it published in China. Finally, it was published in Hong Kong. My family was against this publication, their concern being the possibility that I would not be able to go back to visit my 91 years old mother.
1. A FEW WORDS TO MS. MEIMEI FOX AND MR. ADRIAN ZACKHEIM
I will not hide my disappointment in the quality of the editing and proofreading efforts that was put into the book. In addition to some typos and misplaced punctuation there are obvious factual mistakes, which calls into question the quality of work on memoirs published by Penguin Publishing.
Example 1: Ms. Fu had a $80 traveler's check when she arrived the United States in 1984 (p. 3). China did not issue traveler's check in the 1980s. Many commentators have pointed this out. But towards the end of the book when Ms. Fu re stated how poor she was in 1984 and said she got an eighty-dollar cashier's check from Bank China (sic). Yes, Bank of China did issue cashier's checks that time. This inconsistency should have been corrected by Penguin Publishing's editor.
Example 2: Ms. Fu described a time when Mao invited people to Beijing to listen to his speech in People's Square (p. 15). The proper name of the public square should be Tiananmen Square. After the intensive reporting by American media during an event in China during the spring of 1989, Tiananmen Square should be an easy name to remember. Such a mistake may not mean much to the overall credibility of her memoir, but it reflects negatively on the professionalism of the ghostwriter and the editor. It would be like calling the White House a Big Caucasian Mansion.
Example 3: At the end of a letter Ms. Fu wrote to her Shanghai parents she used the words "XOXO" (p. 31). I understand it was an English translation. Even if Ms. Fu at age 8 would write "Hugs and Kisses," which was unlikely during 1960s in China, such an expression of love and affection is not the norm given the social and political setting of her memoir.
Example 4: Ms. Fu was rescued by the [Albuquerque] police (p. 8). At the police station, "two burly policemen began to interrogate me." It is unlikely that law enforcement officers from Albuquerque would "interrogate" an alleged victim. It should be "interview me," if that even actually happened.
Example 5: "The police tried to get me to press kidnapping charges against the Vietnamese man. I refused..." (pp. 8-9).
Kidnapping is a criminal offense, and the prosecutor can press charges against the alleged kidnapper in a criminal action. In some states, the victims could refuse to testify, making the criminal prosecution difficult. The alleged victim can also decide whether she would like to bring a separate civil lawsuit to recover her medical expenses and seek other monetary damages. It is hard to believe that Ms. Fox, the co-author and Niki Papadopoulos, the editor, did not pick up on a basic point in American criminal justice .
Example 6: Ms. Fu stated that after she learned how to drive, she went to work in a "fancy Chinese restaurant that just opened in Santa Fe" (p. 60). ... "Santa Fe was an artistic city, and many Hollywood stars had second homes there. Linda Evans, John Wayne, and Miles Davis all came to our restaurant..."
John Wayne died in 1979, when Ping Fu was still a college student in [Suzhou, China].What year did Ms. Fu go to work in that "just opened" restaurant? If Ms. Fu just randomly put movie stars into her memoir to make it more scintillating, her American co-author and editor should have corrected such flagrant error, instead of allowing such mistake to go into final print.
Example 7: Ms. Fu wrote in detail about her flight experience, e.g., the hair color of the flight attendant, and that she could not order anything to eat due to her poor English and fears of high costs (p. 3). She wrote that it was a 14-hour flight from Shanghai to San Francisco.
However, she should have realized that no direct flight between Shanghai and San Francisco existed in 1984. As a matter of fact, "The first scheduled non-stop flight between the two countries by a U.S. carrier took place on May 1, 1996, between Detroit and Beijing, and was operated by Northwest Airlines (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_route_authority_between_the_United_States_and_the_People's_Republic_of_China).
This was a major mistake in her book because Ms. Fu's flight experience was supposed to show how poor her English was and what a "nobody" she was when she came to America.
There are more factual mistakes throughout her memoir.
Mr. Zackheim made the following statement, as reported by The Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/feb/04/ping-fu-book-chinese-critics), that Portfolio had no plans to look into the veracity of the book. "This is a memoir of a woman's life, it's not a work of journalism. Are there errors in the book? I can't say, but if there are they are errors of memory."
Mr. Zackheim's statement is very socially irresponsible to both the readers and Ms. Fu, the author herself.
There are more serious issues in the book due to a lack of understanding of China's political, social and educational environments. I do not believe that the editor and ghostwriter should be responsible for these mistakes on historical, social and geographical background. There was no way for them to have known to question some of the details in Ms. Fu's story. Below is an example of such mistakes:
There is a photo of a group of Junior Red Guard including Ms. Fu in the book. There is a traditional Chinese tower in the background. That structure, Ling Gu Tower, is a very famous landmark in Nanjing. Ms. Fu, when she defended her memoir in her Huffington Post interview, claimed that photo was taken at the school.
Why did she state that the photo was taken in a different location while the tower is clearly in the photo? The photo shows clearly that the group of Junior Red Guard took a field trip to the park, directly contradicting Ms. Fu's story about her miserable childhood.
Again, readers should not hold Ms. Fox and Mr. Zackheim responsible for these type of errors.
I sincerely hope Meimei Fox and Adrian Zackheim can read this post and help Ms. Fu in correcting her errors before publishing the 2nd edition of her memoir.
2. THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION (CR)
CR plays a major role in her memoir. Ms. Fu contrasts the darkness of her life during CR with her success in the United States. This is also an area where many Chinese American readers found many fabrications.
2.1 Labels in CR
During CR, there were a few words specifically used to describe the enemies of the Communist Party and Mao. People with these labels were treated inhumanely during CR. For example,
Black Gang (黑帮): used to label government officials deemed as anti-Mao and the Party
Bad elements （坏分子）： used to label ordinary people who had different views from Mao, common criminals and other types of persons who were considered against Mao. "Bad elements" was broadly used during CR.
Five Black People (黑五类）: Landlords, Rich Peasants, Anti-Revolutionists, Bad Elements, and Rightists.
"Puppy" (狗崽子; Dog's baby): this was a special term used to label the children of Black Gang or Bad Element. Ms. Fu would be in this category.
In traditional Chinese culture, dogs were not considered as lovely pets. Dogs had very low "social status." If one person said to another "you are a dog," it would be very abusive, possibly causing a physical fight. Calling a person "SOB" would definitely lead to a fight!
During CR, being labeled as a "Puppy" (Dog's baby) was very humiliating and disgraceful.
Throughout Ms. Fu's memoir, she used the term "black element" as the label she was supposed to have had during her childhood. She also uses this label in her talks and speeches today.
It is an incorrect label. One could possibly argue for her that it was a minor translation mistake. However, compared with the other details of her childhood given in her book, it does not appear to be a simple mistake. To me, Ms. Fu was not familiar with those labels, and she was never branded a `black element."
2.2 Big Revolutionary Travel (革命大串联）
On page 15: "One day, a frenzy of excitement swept the country as Mao eliminated train fares and invited millions of Chinese to travel to Beijing to see him speak in the People's Square (Tiananmen Square). My brothers were excited and applied to make the trip, but Mao's army was conducting background checks that extended back for three generations. If you received verification that your family tree was `clean'...."
The turmoil of CR reached its peak during the "frenzy of excitement" period of time known as "Big Revolutionary Travel." During that time, train rides were free nationwide, as correctly described by Ms. Fu. However, Mao's invitation was issued to middle/high school and college students, not generally to "millions of Chinese." Ms. Fu's term, "millions of Chinese," indicated that she did not have basic knowledge of this historic event.
Furthermore, in terms of free train ride, any student with a "Red Guard" armband could get on the train. As a matter of fact, students could go anywhere in the country, not only to Beijing. Ms. Fu said her brother could not participate because "Mao's army was conducting background checks..."
Nobody checked the background of students. I, then labeled as a "puppy," was able to travel to a few cities to see my relatives without the Red Guard armband.
In addition, Ms. Fu did not know that the army's involvement during CR came much later. During the early stage of CR, Mao kept the army out of the political arena.
2.3 Food Stamp?
On page 33: "I learned later that week that each of us got rations from the Communist government. We could collect food stamps from neighborhood community office and exchange these for products at the community store."
This "food stamp" concept may be borrowed from those given to low-income families in the United States. What Ms. Fu described here was unheard of during CR. The Red Guard would rather let the "bad elements" starve and die than give them free food. Even if there was something close to a free food stamp during CR, it would be issued to workers, peasants and army's families.
2.4 Announcement of Mao's death
On page 225, Ms. Fu told how she and Jie Jie went to a Western-style restaurant in Shanghai. During their dinner, they heard news of Mao's death. At that time in China, restaurants did not open for dinner until 5 p.m. or later. When they arrived, there were "a dozen patrons seated at table inside" already. "About an hour into our meal," Ms. Fu said, she and Jie Jie heard the news on the radio that Mao had passed away (p. 226).
Ms. Fu did not know that the announcement of Mao's death was made exactly at 4 p.m. on Sept 9, 1976. Yes, one can argue that it was minor detail that Ms. Fu did not pay attention to. However, she remembered other details of that meal including what they ordered and how she felt at that moment when the announcement was heard on the radio. Later in her book, Ms. Fu described Mao's death has a major turning point in her life.
There are some similar "minor" details Ms. Fu missed. I do not have time to point them out one by one. She did not seem to care about the history she was trying to tell.
By the way, for that meal, Ms. Fu said it was a treat by Jie Jie because Jie Jie "had just received her paycheck"(p. 226). It should be "her pay" because at that time, there was nothing in China called "paycheck." The monthly (everyone was paid monthly) pay was made in cash. This would qualify as a minor mistake.
2.5 The Gang Rape
I do not have direct evidence to argue against this event. I can only say that it was less likely to happen during CR. Red Guard was a special group of people during CR. Especially in the early stage of CR, Red Guard members were proud of themselves because of their revolutionary family origin. A group Red Guard consisting of teenagers engaged in a gang rape? It was unheard of. In the middle of a soccer field?
Ms. Fu has a vivid description of the beating and the gang rape in her book: "`Beat her!' one of the boys cried as he dropped me onto the ground at their feet. `Beat Fong's dirty little concubine.' The teenagers began kicking me like a soccer ball. `Get her, beat her! She's a filthy girl.' I curled in on myself, attempting to protect my head, face and stomach from the sharp blows. One of the boys kicked me so hard that I flew into the air and landed on another boy's steel-tipped worker's boots. I heard crack like a tree branch splitting and felt a sharp pain in my tailbone...
"all I could do was feel the boys cutting my clothes off, the knife ripping into my armpit and my bare stomach, and the pain of something blunt pressing between my legs. I lost consciousness" (page 77).
During CR, the common choices of weapons for Red Guard were various military type of belts (武装带）with heavy metal buckles and wooden sticks. In all cases I have studied, I have not seen Red Guard using knives. In addition, it was rare for teenagers, Red Guard or not, to carry knives on a daily basis. Large size knives were heavily used by factory workers when they fought in groups (武斗）due to different political views.
Her memory of a knife cutting off her clothe was more like a scene in Hollywood movies. However, that tragedy should not happen to anybody in the world. In Ms. Fu's case, I sincerely hope that Ms. Fu's memory was inaccurate!
Infanticide is a major factor for Ms. Fu to be "deported" or "expelled."
Ms. Fu has a fair description of the general background of infanticide in China. However, the following description was truly beyond anybody's imagination (page 254):
"Our school, officials would confirm that all female students were menstruating each month by checking their sanitary napkins. When they discovered that some women cheating by bringing in their friends' soiled pads, the officials began inserting their fingers directly into our vaginas to check for blood. The degrading practice made me wonder how the rest of China was responding to the one-child policy. Uncle W gave me his blessing, saying this sounded like a powerful humanitarian topic. Even the Communist Party leader at my school approved."
After being challenged with this particular method later, Ms. Fu changed her memory of the method from "fingering by school officials " to "self fingering by female students." According to her memoir, she was examined that way, too.
Ms. Fu failed to explain why school officials would exam, regardless of the methods, those female students who were not even married. There were thousands of female students at the time Ms. Fu was there. However, Ms. Fu seems to be the only one that has such a memory. As a matter of fact, such physical examination was not heard of or used anywhere else in China even when baby killing was an ongoing social issue.
I won't comment further on this point. Hopefully, Ms. Fu will take this "menstrual policing by school officials" out of the 2nd edition. Simply, it is not an error in memory; it is an imagined event!
Another issue under infanticide:
"I spent a few months traveling around the Chinese countryside conducting research. I interviewed doctors and midwives, as well as farmers and government officials. What I discovered was shocking. Everywhere in rural area, infant girls were being killed. In spite of decades of Communist propaganda about the equality of the sexes, our remained a patriarchal society.... I witnessed the horrifying consequences with my own eyes: female infants drowned in rivers and lakes, umbilical wounds still fresh: baby girls tossed into garbage bins. Women I spoke to sobbed hysterically as they told me how their husband had taken their female infant away from them immediately after giving birth or how local officials had forced them to have abortion even in their ninth month of pregnancy. I didn't think there was any way I could help, but at least, I thought, I could offer them an opportunity to unload their burdens and cry on a sympathetic shoulder."
Baby killing constitutes a dark page in China's history. We need to acknowledge such history! However, Ms. Fu, when pulling up this piece of her memory, she was not aware of an important issue. She simply mentioned it, but did not seem to understand it.
The couples that long for a baby boy to carry their family names would kill the first baby if it was a girl. Nevertheless, when government officials, hospitals and birth clinics enforced the one child policy, they would abort all second babies, regardless of the baby's gender. There were cases where government officials were murdered by the parents who found out that the forced abortion killed a baby boy.
I seriously doubt Ms. Fu conducted the field study as she claimed. If she did, she would know baby boys were killed as well. This is a fact that most Americans were not aware of.
Here is an analogy: one claims to have visited the White House, but after the visit, s/he does not know that the White House is the home of the US President!
Education is another area in Ms. Fu's book that caused major discussions regarding her fabrications. In Ms. Fu's efforts to write a rags-to- riches story, only knowing three English words became a colorful background of a successful entrepreneur.
Going to College:
When reading through this part of her memoir, I totally got lost. Ms. Fu's timeline and her school efforts do not make any sense.
Let me provide a quick history lesson. To some, you may not care about the timeline. If you keep reading here, you will see my points.
Ms. Fu mentions in her book that in 1977 (p.230): "The Cultural Revolution had ended. All at once, schools everywhere reopened--not only universities, but also elementary, middle, high, and night schools began to offer classes literally from six a.m. until midnight"...
In 1966 all schools were closed when CR started. However, in 1967-1968, only a little more than a year later, all schools were re-opened. Of course, students were required to come to campuses although they learned nothing at school. In 1974-1975 Deng Xiaoping partially restored the education system. As a result, students in school started learning something.
It is OK if Ms. Fu did not know this piece of history well. But, her statement was wrong.
The part that confuses me was her school entry class: Class of 1977, or Class 1978? In her book, Ms. Fu seems to be in Class 1977, but she later indicated that Ms. Fox, her ghostwriter, made a mistake; it should be Class 1978. Now, let us look at the actual timeline.
CR ended in 10/1976. It was the time when Ms. Fu was in Shanghai and heard the news of Mao's death (09/1976) and the arrest of Gang of Four (10/1976). She went back to Nanjing in 10/1976. She said she started studying "like a sponge trying to soak up the entire ocean."
"Nine months later, in the spring of 1977, China held its first university entrance exams since 1966." "Nine Months later" would be in July of 1977. Wrong! The first university entrance exams were given in 12/1977. If it was a mistake made by Ms. Fox, then she had to make other mistakes as well in order to make this mistake stand.
Let's say, it was Ms. Fox's mistake, and Ms. Fu took the exam for the Class of 1978, then the entrance exams for Class of 1978 took place in July of 1978, not the spring of 1978. If it was the case, Ms. Fu must have spent more than a year and half in preparing for the 1978 exams. But, based on the book, after she returned from Shanghai, she indeed focused on the 1977 exams. Did she fail the 1977 exams and retake it in 1978? Only Ms. Fu knows.
There is another "minor" mistake: Ms. Fu "heard that out of every ten thousand applications, only one was accepted to a university." 1 out of 10,000 was a remarkable achievement for Ms. Fu. Actually, for the 1977 exams, of 5.7million applicants, 270,000 were accepted (4.8%); for the 1978 exams, of 6.1million applicants, 400,000 were accepted (7%). As a CEO of a successful business, Ms. Fu did not even know, when she wrote the manuscript, that if that ratio was correct, approximately 33% of the Chinese population would have to apply for the exam.
Ms. Fu did not have to make this mistake because 4.8% or 7% would still make her one of the top applicants at that time.
On pp 231-231, Ms. Fu said "I was not accepted to an aerospace engineering program, even though all my life I had dreamed of being astronaut. When the acceptance letter came in the fall of 1977, it said that I had been assigned to study literature at Suzhou University..."
For Class of 1977 and Class 1978, applicants for majors in liberal art and applicants for majors in science and engineering took 2 different sets of entrance exams. Ms. Fu could not possibly be assigned to a liberal art major after she took the exam for a major in science and engineering.
This was not a minor mistake. Ms. Fox needs to make sure Ms. Fu can remember correctly for the 2nd edition.
English as Second Language in Chinese Universities
Yes, Ms. Fu was correct to state that for classes of 1977 and 1978, foreign language was not required on the entrance exams. One could choose to take it, but the score was only viewed as a reference. However, foreign language, mostly English, was a required course as part of the nationwide school curriculum.
It is impossible for a student in Class of 1977 or Class of 1978 to have stayed in school and not learned some foreign language (or only three words).
Ms. Fu stated in her Huffington Postinterview that "In college, English language classes were offered, but not required" This was just simply not true!
By the way, I was class of 1978 in Tianjin Normal University, known in 1978 as Tianjin Normal College.
The key component of Ms. Fu's book that motivates many readers was the part where she was deported/expelled before she graduated from Suzhou University. However, according to the application Ms. Fu submitted for her graduate study at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, she did earn a BA degree from Suzhou University.
"We had a student by that name graduate with an MS from UIUC May 1990 and her Advisor was Jane Liu. She also obtained a BA in Computer Science & Economics from the University of CA, San Diego in 1988 and a BA in Literature from Suzhou University-China in 1982. Her original application file indicated she attended the University of New Mexico from 1984 to 1986, but no degree was awarded." (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/02/04/1184660/-Ping-Fu-s-time-travel-machine).
Her application to UICU is a serious problem for her China story. She either fabricated a degree on her application to UIUC or her deportation story is not true. Ms. Fu and Ms. Fox need to rework this part of the book for the 2nd edition.
Becoming A Student in the Unite States
In order for a foreign student with a bachelor's degree to apply for a graduate program, there are a few required steps:
a. Take the TOFEL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). Each American university has its own TOFEL score requirements. In the early 1980s, the minimum score range was approximately between 480~520.
If an applicant did not meet the minimum score, either the application is denied or admitted as a student at large, taking language class until the language level improves to meet the standard.
Ms. Ping Fu's story seems to follow this route.
b. Take GRE. In the 1980s, some American universities did not require GRE.
c. Required official documents:
- Transcript from the undergraduate study (some US universities require the transcript be sent to them directly from the foreign university).
- A copy of college diploma
- 2 to3 recommendation letters from professors/instructors of the applicants
If Ms. Fu did not graduate from SuZhou University, she could not apply for a graduate program at University of New Mexico.
- Financial documents: In the early 1980s, usually one had to have a financial sponsor in the US. A sponsor is typically a close relative who is a US citizen or legal resident. The sponsor would commit to offering any of the following: full financial support, limited financing, room & board, or any variation thereof. A sponsorship letter is simply a letter to the US consulate in the candidate's native country, stating background information of the sponsor including the current employment and financial abilities, and level of commitment.
On page 260, Mr. Fu described in detail her financial situation: "A few weeks later, my passport arrived in the mail. I traveled to Shanghai, where I was able to get my U.S. student visa at the American consulate without any difficulty. The only hurdle that remained was finding enough money to purchase my plane ticket to the United States. I converted my entire savings from my factory work and the sales of most of my personal items into U.S. dollars, and received an eighty-dollar cashier's check from Bank China. This would cover the flight from San Francisco to Albuquerque. But, I still needed six hundred dollars to buy my one-way international ticket from Shanghai to San Francisco. Nanjing Mother offered to make purchase for me."
3. Application form. In the early 1980s, there was no such thing called Internet. Ms. Fu had to contact (call or write letters) US universities to ask for application form and make sure she understand how to fill out the forms. Even she had someone help fill out the applications; she had to know more than 3 English words when she went to apply for a US visa.
Between the time she was told to leave China as she claimed and this "A few weeks later," there were only "a few weeks." Ms. Fu did not mention anything about how she obtained all the documents introduced above in order to obtain "U.S. student visa at the American consulate without any difficulty."
Although she made no mention of that important paperwork, we know that she was not that poor because she had to have money to cover the tuition at least. She mentioned later in her book, the person who helped her left University of New Mexico at the time she arrived. That person made some traveling before heading back to China. Obviously, that person was not her sponsor.
A story like this would be more believable: "after Ms. A, or my family, paid my tuition, I had only $80 left when I arrived in the US." However, Ms. Fu chose to tell the world that all she had was $80 in traveler's check or cashier's check.
5. DEPORTED OR EXPELLED
This is the most important motivator in Ms. Fu book. Since so many people have found inconsistencies in this story, I only want to point out a few interesting details. Based on what I read from the book, I have to say that Ms. Fu needed to know more about how China's police operated under the Communist rules before she put it in her book.
As of today, China is still under an authoritarian regime. In 1982, did the police need to cover a person's head to arrest that person? Police in China is afraid of nothing--laws, human rights--nothing!
Based on text of the book, Ms. Fu was transported back to Nanjing from Suzhou University. Then, she was left in a dark room for three days without being given any explanation before they released her.
Pp. 258-269: "A few weeks after the house arrest began, I was called to the local police station and given my government orders. "You must leave China at once. You are not welcome back." a stiff-lipped officer told me. He instructed me never to talk about my arrest or my thesis research. "Don't embarrass your country again.' After a short silence, he then added "We know where your family lives."
Threat like "We know where your family lives" would sound normal to Americans. But, police in China just do not say that because they always know that, and people know that, too. It is a threat in the daily life.
In the next edition, Ms. Fu should change it to "Next time, we won't be this polite!"
Next comes a difficult task: How to explain why she was to be deported or expelled from China by the government but could not get a passport issued by the government. Here is her story:
"I need to obtain an official passport from the Nanjing provincial government in order to leave the country...Chinese officials did not always communicate with one another or conduct thorough background checks unless an event triggered it. I was sure that when Nanjing Provincial passport office inevitably checked my personal record, they would discover the black mark from my Red Maple Society activities at Suzhou University. That might very well be enough reason for them to deny me a passport."
By the way, it should be Jiangsu Provincial government, not Nanjing. Of course, Ms. Fox made this mistake.
Ms. Fu explained to her readers why she would have difficulty getting her passport. But, her explanations showed how little she knew the subject. Throughout the history of communist countries, there has not been even one case where communist government wanted to deport someone, but would not issue the passport.
For communist countries, from the former Soviet Union, North Korea, to China, they ALWAYS keep political dissidents under their control and make their lives miserable. Even in 2012, the blind Chinese dissident, Guangcheng Chen, had to find way to sneak into the United States Embassy in order to leave China.
Although Ms. Fu had no clue concerning how communist governments treat political dissidents, she went ahead and put this story in her book. What happened next was even more interesting.
After she was let go by that man, Ms. Fu met "A beautiful young policewoman with a compassionate smile appeared and explained that she was in charge of my case." In her office, with great sympathy, that policewoman agreed to help Ms. Fu.
When writing book, a search paper, or a letter, one has to build a flow of ideas so that readers can follow the story. The next paragraph breaks the flow of her deportation story. Here it comes:
"A week later, a handwritten note appeared under the front door of my Nanjing family's apartment, telling me to be at the Five Dragon Bridge at two p.m. When I arrived, I found the policewoman and her bicycle leaning against the bridge's intricately carved stonewalls, where I had often played as a child. The young woman nodded for me to come close. With a glance over her shoulder to be sure on one was watching, she pulled several dozen sheets of paper out of a thick brown envelope and handed them to me. She whispered softly in my ear, "If the officials see these `Four Anti' black marks in your file, they will never let you leave China. Hold down to them while I go get your passport issued." Then, she disappeared on her bicycle."
What the policewoman told Ms. Fu contradicts the entire deportation story. This meeting described by Ms. Fu indicates that Ms. Fu wanted to leave China, worrying about not being able to leave.
Logically, when the policewoman told her "they will never let you leave China," Ms. Fu's reaction should be: "I did not want to leave. It was them that force me to leave." This would be more of a support to the story Ms. Fu wanted readers to believe because at that time, Ms. Fu knew no English and no money to travel abroad.
As described by Ms. Fu, the meeting was supposed to be secretive, but that policewoman arranged to have the meeting at the Five Dragon Bridge in the middle of an afternoon. The Five Dragon Bridge is a well known tourist site located south of the Ming Palace. During the day, there would be a lot of foot traffic. If the policewoman was so concerned with being watched, she could have picked a more private location.
At this meeting, the policewoman showed Ms. Fu her own personal records. Here, again, Ms. Fu made another mistake. She saw on her records there were the five Antis: "Anti Communist, anti-socialist, anti-stability and anti-China--printed these in ink."
"Anti-Stability?" Stability was a slogan the Party started using in 2004 by the Party boss, Jingtao Hu. In 1982, there was no such crime label. This is a mistake that could not possibly be made by Ms. Meimei Fox.
When making a story like this, one has to at least know something about the history.
Then, the policewoman left Ms. Fu the bridge alone:
"Four hours, I waited nervously, the paper clasped tightly in my sweaty hands. Finally, the young woman returned. With a grin, she quickly took the paper from me and stuffed them back into the brown envelope containing the rest of my personal file. Then, she jumped onto her bicycle, turned her head back toward me, and called out, "Make China proud, Ping. I know you will."
So far, the story does not make any sense. Why did that policewoman leave and come back after four hours? She could simply show the records to Ms. Fu, tell her she would get the passport issued, and end the secret meeting quickly.
There was another issue for this story that Ms. Fu did not understand. That is, her personal records at that point should be at Suzhou University where she was still a student.
Let me pause and explain the Personnel Records and Residence Registration System in China for our American readers.
The Personnel Records System (PRS) is somewhat similar to what we have in the United States, but it contains much more extensive personal and family information about a person. In China, you would have a personnel record as early as the first grade. It would contain all major events (e.g., marriage, awards, disciplinary action against you, etc.) in your life. The personnel record goes with you for your entire life, from elementary school, middle and high schools, college, and your work unit. If you retire or die, your personnel record remains at the last employer's archive. This is a simplified description of PRS.
The Residence Registration System (RRS) is probably the most evil and notorious method the Chinese government used to control people in that country. Combined with PRS, RRS deprives people of their right to move their residence from one place to another freely, their rights to switch jobs freely, switch schools freely and a great deal of other rights.
In China, each family has a little booklet called Residence Registration Book. The number of pages matches the number of family members. Each double-sided page has the information about a person in the family.
When a new baby is born, s/he will have a new page inserted into the booklet of the family. A same set of residence data is kept in a local police station.
For a family to change its residency from one city to another, the only possible reason was to switch jobs with the approval of the government. The person will have to have official documentation for the new job in order to register and establish a residency with the local police in new location.
In Ms. Fu's case, when she went to Suzhou University, her PRS and RRS would go to Suzhou University, and the university became the legal custodian of her PRS and RRS. When Ms. Fu attempted to get her passport, she should be talking to police in SuZhou, not in Nanjing. Or her story needs to change the local police station from Nanjing to Suzhou. By the way, it is the municipal police, offically called Municipal Public Safety Bureau, that issues passports to its residents, not the provincial police.
Here is the problem for Ms. Fu's story. Before the computer age, the management of RRS was done by paper and personal visits conducted by local police. If that beautiful policewoman wanted to get Ms. Fu's personnel record, she had to go to Suzhou U. from Nanjing with official ID showing she was there on business. She could not take Ms. Fu's personnel records away with her. All she could do was to write on what she needed to know from Ms. Fu's records. But, according to the book, she showed Ms. Fu "several dozen sheets of paper." This would be the entire personnel records of Ms. Fu.
This part of the story could not happen.
One can argue for Ms. Fu that the policewoman did go to Suzhou University prior to the secret meeting. But, this argument cannot overcome the biggest problem for Ms. Fu's entire deportation story.
The underlying issue is something Ms. Fu would not possibly understand. That is, with the communist rule under Mao, Deng or any leader after them, military police and local police are forbidden from enforcing laws and performing their duties beyond the boundaries of their jurisdictions. This doctrine was established due to the fear of the top leaders in Beijing that neighboring municipal and provincial military and police forces may form their own authority to challenge the central government.
Therefore, there was no way for the police from Nanjing to make an arrest on the campus of Suzhou University. Besides, it was not necessary. Even if Ms. Fu indeed did something wrong, the central government could simply direct Suzhou municipal police to handle her because Ms. Fu was a Suzhou resident.
By the way, with some understanding of the PRS and RRS, we could see now that the story about Ms. Fu's Shanghai family vs. Nanjing family was highly questionable. Her initial residency should be where she was born. If she was officially adopted by her Shanghai family, her residency should go to Shanghai. The Red Guard that drove her to Shanghai train station, sending her back to Nanjing would not have access to her RRS because during that stage of CR, military and police forces were not involved.
Simply sending her back to Nanjing would not make her a Nanjing resident.
Ms. Fu did mention in the book that one day Mao decided to return people to their birthplace. No such order from Mao in the history of CR was ever recorded.
My review of Ms. Fu's memoir is based the book itself and recent history of China. Any reasonable reader can now tell that the entire childhood story told in Ms. Fu's memoir is questionable.
Ms. Fu sometimes missed an important timeline, like one regarding the announcement of Mao's death. Those minor misses only show how much she knew about Chinese history. We do not need to focus on those minor mistakes. But, these minor mistakes, in aggregate, do cast doubts on the credibility of the book. On the other hand, there are major breaks in timeline.
For example, she was arrested on campus and sent back to Nanjing in the fall of 1982.
According to the book, after several weeks, she got her passport with the help of that beautiful policewoman. Then, she got her student Visa without difficulty. That should put the time in the end of 1982 or beginning of 1983. But, she actually left China in 1984 with that direct flight that did not exist at that time. There was a full year that was not explained in the book. Given her life was in danger if she did not leave, what did she do to avoid being caught again by Nanjing police?
In the book, Ms. Fu talks many things as she goes without thinking twice whether they were true or not. Due to my time and space constraint, I cannot point all of them out--maybe one more:
p. 225 "the fervor of Cultural Revolution has been dying down. People were allowed great freedom on travel where they wanted and take leaves of absence from their work. I notified my factory boss that I was heading off for two weeks, and he gave his approval. The next day, I eagerly packed up a few clothes, jumped on a train, and took off for my childhood home..."
This paragraph was meant to explain how she could go to Shanghai for a visit in the early fall of 1976. But, she did not know that in 1976, before Mao's death, two other top leaders died (Enlai Zhou, January; De Zhu, July). Mao's health was in question. The political situation in China was very tense, not "dying down."
"People were allowed great freedom on travel where they wanted and take leaves of absence from their work?" If Ms. Fu had any idea regarding workers' rights during that period of time, she would not make this statement.
Enough is enough! It is time to finish this long post. Based on my reading between lines, I have pretty good ideas about what would be the true childhood and her life after CR prior to her coming to the United States:
Ping Fu's childhood was interrupted by CR which happened to millions of other children in China. She grew up in Nanjing with her parents who were intellectuals, and they gave her a good family environment. She went through the normal (relatively speaking) school years. She graduated from high school in 1977 and took the 1977 university entrance exams but did not make it. She re took the exams in 1978 and was admitted to Suzhou University in the fall of 1978. She graduated in the summer of 1982, but she probably did not go to the working unit she was assigned to. She started preparing to study in the US.
Her route to the US should be Shanghai-->Tokyo-->San Francisco. Her life after that will be the focus of another review.
Note, my review and analysis did not go beyond her 2012 memoir, Bend, Not Break. Another memoir written by Ms. Fu in 1996, "A Drifting Bottle: Traveling in America" (Piao Liu Ping), tells the readers a happy and true childhood of Ping Fu.
Finally, a few more words for Ms. Meimei Fox and the editor of Penguin Publishing, regardless of the truthfulness of the book, there are too many mistakes most of which could be avoided by simply checking online or double checking with the author. A book like this casts serious doubt the quality of work by Penguin Publishing. It is rather disappointing!