Monday, March 11, 2013

xgz: Ping Fu's Time Travel Machine

The following post was published by xgz on his The Daily Kos blog on February 4, 2013:

Ping Fu's new book, Bend, not Break: A Life in Two Worlds, stirred a huge controversy because of its conflicting and sometimes nonsensical description of her life in China. In the face of mounting criticism, she has insisted that all of the inconsistencies were the faults of the reporters and news media who used the words such as "labor camp" and "child soldier" which distorted the meaning of her book. She urged people to read her book to see that she did not lie about her life in China. 
So now I am going to read for you a few excerpts from her book and let you see for your own eyes what a liar she is.

What characterizes Fu's autobiography is the incredible out of place, out of time feeling one gets for anyone who had experienced China during the periods covered in her book. In other words, what Fu described in her book is a China that no Chinese would recognize. She transplanted stories from other places or other time periods into her story. She must have a time travel machine. 
Let us look at her college years to begin our analysis. 
She stated that towards the end of her second year in college, which would be the end of 1979, she joined a student club called "Red Maple Society" which published something that got into trouble with Deng Xiaoping himself (an incredible story already, but let's suspend our disbelief for now and see what happened). On page 251:
The government decided at the last minute to ban the gathering of the ten universities, deeming it illegal. Instead, it was announced that china's de facto leader, Deng Xiaoping, would receive the representatives for a private meeting. 
This was when things went terribly wrong.
After the unsuccessful meeting in Beijing, news went to Suzhou, and her club and herself got punished by university officials (page 252):
The Red maple society was deemed an illegal underground society responsible for publishing anti-Communist propaganda. University officials arrested and interrogated all the students who belonged to our magazine group. For weeks, they pressed us to confess our counterrevolutionary activities.
After going through all the repercussions of the this unfortunate turn of event, Fu continued on page 253:
For the rest of the semester, I endured relentless criticism by Communist Party officials and never-ending confession sessions.
What's wrong with this scene? Well, this was 1980 by now. And 1980's China was not like this at all. What Fu is describing is more like 1970 than 1980. 1980 was the year that Deng finally took control of the power in China, squeezing out the former party boss Hua Guofeng. Deng did this with the help of democratic forces in China. Although by 1979 he already started to crackdown on the democratic advocates and arrested Wei Jingsheng, he still left college campuses largely alone. And that year he rewarded the democratic forces with the first and only (partially) democratic election in China. I know because I was there. I was on the campus of Peking University in 1980, and was really excited to see people like Hu Ping and Wang Juntao (both are now dissidents living in New York) to campaign openly on campus against party endorsed candidates. At the end Hu Ping won the election in our district. (For a detailed analysis of the 1980 election in China, see B Womack 1982, "The 1980 County-Level Elections in China: Experiment in Democratic Modernization."  Asian Survey 22:3 (March), pp. 261-277.) In my view, the election of 1980 was the biggest thing that happened in China during my college years. Yet during this period Ms. Fu was having a 1970's flashback at Suzhou University. 
Then her story went from strange to bizarre. She talked about how university officials would check all female students to see whether they had their periods to make sure that they were not pregnant (page 254):
At our school, officials would confirm that all female students were menstruating each month by checking their sanitary napkins. When they discovered that some women were cheating by bringing in their friends' soiled pads, the officials began inserting their fingers into our vaginas to check for blood.
In a culture that viewed women's virginity before marriage as paramount, any official who dared to do this would immediately lose her job. In reality, the way the university officials controlled students at that time, was by not allowing marriage, sex, or even any contacts between male and female students at all. We lived in separate dorm buildings. The dorm buildings for female students always had ugly old ladies as guards. The gates were locked during the night. They did not need to check for pregnancies because they already controlled everything else. Ping Fu did not seem to have lived in China in the 1980s. 
Then there was this kidnapping that came right out of a 007 spy movie (page 255):
One day in the fall of 1982, as I innocently walked across campus making preparations for graduation, someone sneaked up behind me, jammed a black canvas bag over my head, and bounded my wrists together tightly. "Don't scream," a menacing male voice whispered as I was escorted into a nearby car.
There are so many things wrong with this scene it is comical. First of all, there was really no need for the police in 1982 to make secret arrests in this dramatic manner. If they wanted someone to quietly go with them, all they had to do was to show their id and say "come with me". No one would have resisted. Kidnapping would actually draw more attention. Second, the police in 1982 was not that rich. They could not afford to give their potential captives a car ride. They would have used a military style jeep. In fact, in her interview with Reuters, Fu did say it was a jeep. It is a mystery why she changed it into a car in the book. Third, the time of the year was not consistent. She took the college entrance exam in 1977. The school started in Feb of 1978. Since at that time all of Chinese universities had four year programs, she should have graduated by the spring of 1982. So it made absolutely no sense for her to think about graduation in the fall of 1982. She must have had another time travel. 
Then, after this kidnapping episode, she went home to Nanjing and declared (page 258),
"I want to leave the university, claiming a nervous breakdown."
So this was how she quit the university without graduation. And she was forced to exile to the US. But there is this one big problem. She did graduate from Suzhou University with a BA degree in Chinese Literature. I contacted University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where Ping Fu got her MS degree, for her degree information, and this was their reply,
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.
She had a BA degree from Suzhou University in 1982 as indicated in her application form. Did Ping Fu the author of Bend, not Break live in a parallel universe? 
Finally, let me end with a couple of jewels in the book. First, page 3:
The farthest I had been from Nanjing, the city of my birth, was Suzhou University, where I had studied journalism and literature.
This is what happens when you tell too many lies. You cannot keep track of all the lies that you have told, and somewhere you let it slip the reality, which conflicts with everything else you say. Here Ms. Fu finally told a truth. The truth was, that she never went further than Suzhou before leaving for the US in 1984. The distance between Shanghai (where Fu was supposedly living before the Cultural Revolution) and Nanjing (her birthplace) is about 350 kilometers, but the distance between Suzhou and Nanjing is about 220 kilometers. In fact, if you take a train from Nanjing to Shanghai, there is a stop in between for Suzhou. This sentence on page 3 may have let the truth slip through the web of lies weaved by Fu. It tells us that the story in Shanghai before the Cultural Revolution may have been a tale. She lived in Nanjing all along. 
The second little jewel is also on page 3:
I landed in San Francisco fourteen hours later, jet-lagged and emotionally drained.
That was a direct, nonstop flight from Shanghai to San Francisco, on Jan 14, 1984, the date she arrived in the US. And on the flight there were American flight attendants, who did not speak Chinese. United Airlines was the only US airline that has direct nonstop flights from Shanghai to San Francisco, when it was started in 1999. Did Ping Fu travel forward in time to catch the United flight? 
This book should be categorized as a science fiction.

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