Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Questionable Fact: Fu Ping's Flight to US

The Original Story:
The early profile by Inc. magazine in 2005 described Fu Ping's trip to United States:
Two weeks later, Ping boarded a United Airlines flight from Shanghai to San Francisco.
However, the specific airline name was not mentioned in her book Bend, Not Break. Instead, the book vaguely indicated that it was a direct flight operated by a foreign company, Page 3:
When we were airborne, the flight attendant came by, wheeling a cart. She was an American with blond hair, blue eyes, and a warm smile... 
I landed in San Francisco fourteen hours later, jet-lagged and emotionally drained.
Later on Page 165, it mentioned United:
Our software was first put to use for 3D scanning and manufacturing of Winnie the Pooh and Barbie, and the door of a United commercial jet that just happened to be of the same vintage as the one that had first brought me to America.
The Changed Story:
On March 1, 2013, Fu Ping told a slightly different version in her speech at the Downtown Speaker Series:
In 1984, January, I stepped on a Pan Am airline and flew from Shanghai to San Francisco, stop by Tokyo. I landed in San Francisco.
The Debunking:
The Downtown Speaker Series speech was done after many people had pointed out that, in 1984, there was not yet a direct flight from Shanghai to San Francisco by United or any other American airlines. So, she apparently changed her airline and, for the first time, mentioned the Tokyo stopover.

In the 1980s, almost all Chinese students chose to fly the official and only Chinese airline when they go aboard. The chief reason was that Chinese airlines accepted Chinese currency for the airfare. Although there was no solid evidence to dispute Fu Ping's story, it is more reasonable and likely that she had also taken the Chinese carrier but invented the United or Pan Am story to illustrate her "lack of English skills" (more on that later).

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Broken Fact: Fu Ping's Mysterious Academic Degress

The Original Story:
This one is mysterious because it is not in the book Bend, Not Break, nor has Fu Ping spoken about it herself, publicly anyway. But at least two sources have described Fu Ping has a Ph.D. in Chinese Literature.

One is the book How the Web was Born by James Gillies and Robert Cailiau, Oxford University Press, 2000. On Page 237, while describing the birth of the Mosaic browser, it says:
Ping Fu had an eclectic mixture of talents: a Ph.D. in Chinese literature and a flair for scientific visualization projects on computers.
Fu Ping was interviewed for the book, but it is not clear whether she was the source of the above.

Another is the Executive Profile provided by Businessweek, which states:
Ms. Fu holds MS and BS degrees in computer science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has PhD in Chinese literature from Nanjing University, China, and an MA in Chinese literature from Suzhou University, China.
Businessweek cited no sources.

(Update 7/11/2013: Businessweek web site has now been updated with both of her PhD and MA degrees above removed.)

The Debunking:
Perhaps due to the necessity of presenting a case for deportation, the book Bend, Not Break has been very vague on the timeline before Fu Ping's departure from China. So much so that Forbes' Jenna Goudreau discovered it as a "gap" in her timeline. In her own clarification, Fu Ping did mention her plan for attending graduate school in Nanjing:
I originally had been planning to go to graduate school to study comparative literature in Nanjing, but that could not happen due to the circumstances. 
So, she did not attend the graduate school and, even if she did (as reported in a 2009 story in Chinese media), she would not have had enough time to earn a Ph.D.

Businessweek's profile contains multiple errors as Fu Ping did not have MA from Suzhou University either, or BS from Illinois.

Where did James Gillies, Robert Cailiau, and Businessweek get this erroneous information?

Fu Ping's Explanation:
In late June and early July of 2013, Fu Ping attributed the problem with her academic credentials to "automatic internet search." She told South China Morning Post:
In the book I wrote exactly what the fact is: I don’t have a degree from Suzhou [Soochow University], there is no contradiction. I have a MS and BA in the USA. On my social network sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, I only list my two US degrees, which are both in Computer Science. My understanding is that when other publications post my profile on their websites, they may run an automatic Internet search, which presents degrees from other people with the same name as mine, Ping Fu, and these peoples’ degrees get attached to my name. I found many instances of this, even on very reputable sites such as those of Bloomberg Businessweek, the Wall Street Journal, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). 
and Qiaobao:
But there are places that I have no control of. About 10 years ago, our company's marketing department has a girl from Malaysia. I told her that I did not graduate from Suzhou University. So she wrote on our page "post graduate degree." Because she thought "post graduate degree" could also mean "non degree" besides "masters graduate student." We made corrections right away and it was not on our company web site. But recently when our company changed web site, an program that was automatically fetching files made it visible again. I did not discover it in time.  
Right now there are many web sites, including Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, etc., all carried this incorrect information. I found out later that it was because their automated search feature. The real culprit of this academic credentials fraud is the automated search, not me. 

Broken Story: Fu Ping's "Deportation" to New Mexico

The Original Story:
In the early profile by Inc. magazine, Fu Ping's "deportation" to New Mexico was described as a purely passive affair:
...Instead she was being deported to the United States. 
Two weeks later, Ping boarded a United Airlines flight from Shanghai to San Francisco. She was being sent to the University of New Mexico--she didn't know why New Mexico, any more than she knew why she wasn't dead--to study English as a second language.
The Changed Story:
To her credit, in Bend, Not Break and other interviews, Fu Ping has been consistently telling a different story on her own: that her family helped her obtain admission to the University of New Mexico through a former student of his father's. She applied for a visa to the US herself specifically for the purpose of going to that school.

The Debunking:
It's not clear how John Brant of Inc. got this fact so wrong -- among the many other dates and facts in that story that are no longer consistent with the current version of Fu Ping's story. Did Fu Ping tell a different version to John or did John fill in blanks with his own imagination? We shall never know until one or both of them speak up to clarify.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Questionable Fact: Fu Ping's Passport Story

The Original Story:
After supposedly told of "government orders" to leave China, Fu Ping found herself in a quagmire, as she described in Pages 258-260 of Bend, Not Break:
I was happy to learn that my family had begun to make arrangements for me to live overseas. However, one major obstacle still remained: I needed 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 the 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.
Her story after that is too long to be reproduced here. In summary:

  1. She went to "the police station" and volunteered her "black mark" to "a beautiful young policewoman" and asked for help.
  2. The policewoman is moved by her story of investigating infanticide.
  3. A week later, Fu Ping found a handwritten note under the door at her home in Nanjing, telling her "to be at the Five Dragon Bridge at two p.m."
  4. The policewoman met her at the bridge. "With a glance over her shoulder to be sure that no one was watching, she pulled several dozen sheets of paper out of a thick brown envelop" and gave them to Fu Ping.
  5. The policewoman took the rest of the file and left. Four hours later, she came back with a grin, got the sheets from Fu Ping and returned them to the envelop.
  6. A few weeks later, Fu Ping got her passport in the mail.
The Debunking:
Most reasonable people in Fu Ping's situation would probably have not gone through the trouble. If the government was going to deport her, why not let the government worry about the passport issue? Why would a deportee-to-be worry about being denied a passport at all?

What Fu Ping described the "personal file" and "envelop" is a very important document in China called "档案". It follows a person from job to job but is never, never visible to the said person. It's unusual enough for Fu Ping to get a direct touch of her file. But that's not even the real problem in this story.

As Fu Ping acknowledged in the book, for the policewoman to do her such a favor, she would be risking her  own life. In such a dangerous endeavor, was there any point for the policewoman to bring the file out in the open, get Fu Ping involved in the public, and operate in such a clandestine manner? She could not just extract those sheets in the security of her own home without anyone, including Fu Ping herself, knowing about it?

(A side note is that, typically, provincial governments did not inspect personal files when issuing passports. They relied on the applicant's work unit, which held the person's file, to investigate and issue an official approval letter. This might not be the case in 1982 when private passport applications were still rare. Also, at that point, Fu Ping had already left Suzhou University either by graduation or dropping out. It is not sure if she had a formal work unit at that time -- a point we will address a little later.)

Broken Fact: Fu Ping's Passport Timeline

The Original Story:
In Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping told a very convoluted story of how she managed to obtain a passport to travel abroad (which we will debunk later). On Pages 255-260, she had a rough timeline for the process:

  1. "One day in the fall of 1982," she was supposedly arrested by kidnapping
  2. 3 days later, she was released. Then, "I stayed inside for weeks as my family tried to figure out some way of helping me..."
  3. "A few weeks after the house arrest begain..." she was told to leave the country
  4. "A week later," she received an offer of clandestine help from a police
  5. "A few weeks later, my passport arrived in the mail."
The Changing Story:
In several interviews, however, Fu Ping told a different story. That she was given a passport "two weeks" after her arrest. This was reported in the Inc. profile, initial story on Forbes

And also in her very own words, for example, At Authors at Google on January 7, 2013:
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.
When Jenna Goudreau of the Forbes questioned the conflicting timeline, Fu Ping, through her publicist, could not produce a satisfying answer:
Late last night, Fu’s publicist emailed me that they “confirmed that Ping started school in 1978 and left school in the fall of 1982 after being held by the government. She arrived in the U.S. on January 14, 1984.” So she was at home for over year before the police asked her to leave China? “The government asked Ping to leave a couple of weeks after her release,” the publicist wrote me. “However, getting a passport was very difficult, if not impossible, at that time. Even though Ping was asked to leave China, she had to wait for an official passport to be issued.”
The Debunking:
Getting a passport to leave China could indeed be very difficult in the early 1980s -- for ordinary citizens. One would presume that, if the government had decided to deport someone, all would be arranged.

The timeline in her book itself is a little fuzzy, of course. But it is reasonable to deduct that all the events happened within months of "fall of 1982" and that she spent weeks if not months obtaining the passport. Yet then she waited till the January of 1984 to actually leave the country. What a leisure way of getting "deported" into exile!

The alternative "two weeks" timeline would be a lot more consistent with the "deportation" claim. (Although, in practice, Chinese government typically only handed out the passport at the airport just as the deportee was escorted onto an airplane, after they started the practice in the mid-1990s.) Alas, it did not fit her timeline.

With her clarification to Forbes, we know for certain that she had lied to several reporters with the "two weeks" claim, including the instance that was recorded on videotape on Authors at Google

Friday, April 26, 2013

Bend Fact: Fu Ping's Deportation

The Original Story:
The very first sentence of Bend, Not Break, on Page 1, declared,
When I was twenty-five years old, the Chinese government quietly deported me.
She elaborated a little more on Page 258:
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."
In several of her media interviews in 2013, Fu Ping and/or her hosts variously used the phrases "deported", "exile", or "kicked out" to describe her departure from China in 1984.

The Changing Story:
Facing wide-spread questioning, Fu Ping explained to Jenna Goudreau of Forbes, as the latter reported on January 31, 2013:

It also raised eyebrows that she said she had been exiled or deported from China, when there is no official record of it. When I asked her to address it, Fu says “exile” is not the correct word, despite that it’s used in the press release being sent to media members to promote her memoir. The release first states “Ping was deported,” and later repeats “Ping was exiled.”  
“In the beginning of the book I said the Chinese government quietly deported me,” she says. In fact, it is the first line. “We could say that was a literary interpretation. I was asked to leave. My father helped me to find a visa to the US. I was told not to talk about it or to file for political asylum. My interpretation was I involuntary left China….If someone wants to say this is not deportation, fine. That’s my interpretation.” Who asked her to leave? “The police,” she says.  
When I first interviewed her, Fu described being taken in by the police shortly before her college graduation, not being able to graduate and being asked to leave the country. She said, “I was told to leave, and I had two weeks.” I looked back at the timeline she presented and noticed that there was a span of six to seven years between when she took her Suzhou University entrance exam (1977) and arrived in the US (January 1984). When I asked her to confirm it, she says she didn’t start college until the fall of 1978, which she says would have put graduation in the fall of 1982, and that she got in trouble with the police in 1983. I asked: Isn’t there a timing gap of a year? “That’s true. That’s a good question,” Fu says. “Let me go back and verify that one.”  
Late last night, Fu’s publicist emailed me that they “confirmed that Ping started school in 1978 and left school in the fall of 1982 after being held by the government. She arrived in the U.S. on January 14, 1984.” So she was at home for over year before the police asked her to leave China? “The government asked Ping to leave a couple of weeks after her release,” the publicist wrote me. “However, getting a passport was very difficult, if not impossible, at that time. Even though Ping was asked to leave China, she had to wait for an official passport to be issued.”
The Debunking:
We will come back to her bizarre passport situation and story in later posts.

Unlike the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, Chinese government did not adopt the policy of deporting or exiling dissidents until well into the 1990s. In the early 1980s, China had just begun to open her doors and outside world was a mysterious place. The younger generation, and college students in particular, dreamed for opportunities to go abroad but that was out of reach to all but a very selected few at the time.

There were already many famous dissidents at the time, most remarkably the participants of the Democracy Wall movement around 1978. Closer to Fu Ping's timeline, there were many college students who got into bigger political trouble by participating in campus elections. None were deported. In fact, one famous artist who participated in the Democracy Wall movement and later married a French citizen had to fight her way all  the way to the top leadership for her right to leave China.

If Fu Ping's self-claimed political trouble could lead her to be deported, there would have been dozens if not hundreds of similar cases. Consequentially, there would have been an eruption of dissident movement as many people would view it as a shortcut for a lifetime dream. None of that happened.

It is possible that some people in low-level government positions may have said something to her along the line that "you better go abroad..." It would be difficult to speculate their motivations without circumstantial data. But they would unlikely be the "government orders" as she claimed.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Questionable Fact: Deng Xiaoping's Help in Fu Ping's Release

The Original Story:
This is not in the book of Bend, Not Break, but Fu Ping told an amazing story of her release from arrest in an interview at Authors at Google:
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. 
The Debunking:
This one is actually difficult to debunk as we cannot verify it with Deng Xiaoping himself. Given that this is already the author's second close encounter with that supreme leader of China, one has to wonder why she did not include this fascinating story in her book itself. Could it be that it's simply too good to be true, even for herself?

Questionable Fact: Fu Ping's Arrest by Kidnapping

The Original Story:
On Pages 255-257 of Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping details how she was arrested because of her supposed research on infanticide:
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 bound my wrists together tightly. "Don't scream," a menacing male voice whispered as I was escorted into a nearby car. 
We drove for hours...
After 3 days of solitary confinement, she was released:
...As he drove me to my birth parents' apartment in Nanjing, we chatted a little. He told me that I had brought shame to our country because of my research on female infanticide, which had caused an international human rights uproar....
The Later Story:
After her story and timeline was questioned, Jenna Goudreau of Forbes reported that:
Late last night, Fu’s publicist emailed me that they “confirmed that Ping started school in 1978 and left school in the fall of 1982 after being held by the government. She arrived in the U.S. on January 14, 1984.”
The Debunking:
There are several serious questionable facts in this little story:
  1. The timeline simply does not work. Fu Ping entered college in 1978, so she should have graduated and left school before summer of 1982, if not having already dropped out earlier. Since her publicist has specifically reconfirmed it, it can't be a typo. But how could she still be "making preparations for graduation" in her school in the fall of 1982? (Graduation schedules were very tightly controlled in China at the time.)
  2. The geography does not work. If she was arrested in her school in Suzhou. Why did the police not sent her back to the school but drove her all the way to Nanjing upon release? It was not an easy drive in those days when there was not yet a modern highway.
  3. Most importantly of all, why would the police chose such an extreme manner to execute the arrest? In early 1980s, it's pretty common that school authorities or police visited "troubled" students in the open and took them to offices for questioning. There was no need to stage a dramatic, mafia-style kidnapping.
Is this another one of Fu Ping's imagination emotional memory at work?

Fu Ping's Explanation:
On July 3, 2013, Fu Ping told Qiaobao that the "fall 1982" was a "typo" in the book and the arrest actually happened in the spring. She did not bother the explain further of her publicist's clarification and other issues within this story.

FORTUNE: An Entrepreneur's Long, Strange Trip

The following article was published on Fortune Blog on January 18, 2013:

In Bend, Not Break, Geomagic founder Ping Fu describes her remarkable journey from victim of China's Cultural Revolution to success in the U.S. tech industry 
By Jessi Hempel, senior writer 
FORTUNE -- By all accounts, Ping Fu should not have survived. At eight, as a young victim of China's cultural revolution, she was wrenched from her home and sent to live in a dormitory as mother to her four-year-old sister. At 10, she was brutally gang raped. At 25, she was jailed for writing critically about the impact of China's one-child policy. 
Yet Fu's indomitable spirit prevailed. In 1980, she escaped to the United States with just $80 in her pocket and a small palette of English words. She studied computer science and eventually started 3-D imaging software company Geomagic. Along the way, she helped develop the web browser Mosaic. She advised the Obama White House on innovation. And she never lost her sense of wonder. 
Her autobiography, Bend, Not Break: A Life In Two Worlds, is a testament to the strength of the human spirit. I picked it up because I was curious about 3-D printing. I raced through it because I'm curious about tenacity. What enables some people to survive horrific circumstances? When you have seen the worst in other people, how can you continue to expect the best? 
Fu is a child of China's lost generation, the group of adults who were robbed of their childhood by Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution, which spanned the decade from 1966 to 1976. Children of this decade were forcibly removed from their parents, denied education, and often starved. They were sent to dormitories in the country where they were "educated" through hard labor. 
Eventually, the restrictions of the decade eased. As a young adult, Fu studied nights and was admitted to university to study literature. Her academic work soon landed her in trouble. Fu had written her senior thesis about the human rights abuses unleashed by the country's relatively nascent one-child policy. Her moving details about visiting country homes where families were forced to kill their infants inspired a newspaper editorial. 
Though Fu wasn't named in the editorial, she writes that the government traced the research to her, imprisoned her for three days and promised further retribution. When a sympathetic policewoman helped her secure her passport, she caught a glimpse of her official record, which carried four black marks: anti-community, anti-socialist, anti-stability, and anti-China. Within months, she escaped to the United States. 
Fu's experience in the United States was also marked by trials. Like so many immigrants, she landed in a country where she didn't speak the language or know the rules. Her luck was both good and bad. Shortly after she arrived at the Albuquerque airport with plans to enroll at the University of New Mexico, a man kidnapped her and locked her in his home to care for his children. After 36 hours of screaming she was rescued by law enforcement. But later, having traveled to San Diego to study computer science at the University of California at San Diego, she met a software entrepreneur while walking on the beach. He offered her a job that paid her way through university. 
In 1988, Fu finished her studies and moved to Illinois where she spent a short period working for Bell Labs before accepting a job at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (Among other things, she worked with a very young Marc Andreessen on the web browser Mosaic.) Nearly a decade later, she left to start Geomagic. 
Much of the book chronicles Ping's efforts to manage her startup, which provides 3-D imaging software for custom manufacturing applications. It's the technology that enables personalized prosthetic limbs or orthodontic work. Fu believes that in the near future, even shoes will be made pair-by-pair to fit individual feet. But like any startup CEO, Fu has her trials -- employees who don't work out, funding crises, lawsuits, and management snafus. She addresses each of these issues with graceful specificity, making the second half of the book a first-person guide to good management. 
Her most central message is clearly influenced by her early life experience. She writes: "I have come to the realization that challenging experiences break us all at some point -- our bodies and minds, our hearts and egos. When we put ourselves back together, we find that we are no longer perfectly straight, but rather bent and cracked. Yet it is through these cracks that our authenticity shines." 
If Fu's narrative, which she wrote with help from co-author MeiMei Fox, contains a few too many platitudes and skips around a bit, she can be forgiven. Her story is worth a reader's investment. And just as the book went to print, she reached another professional milestone: 3-D printing company 3D Systems (DDD) purchased Geomagic in a deal announced January 3. It's a well-deserved victory for a remarkable leader.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Broken Fact: 30 Million Deaths in Four Years

The Original Story:
Other than her outrageous eyewitness accounts, Fu Ping did not include any statistics to substantiate her research in her book Bend, Not Break. But she did provide plenty in her interviews promoting the book.

In January, 2010, in a speech at University of North Carolina, she said,
Baby girls are being killed in the countryside because, being still primarily an agriculture society, people want boys. Later I knew -- now I know -- during that time when I was in college, 30 millions of babies were killed.
On February 17, 2013, she told D. G. Martin of NC Bookwatch:
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. 
The Debunking:
We do not know what is the source of Fu Ping's number above since she never cited any references. But what we do know is that "30 millions of babies were killed" is not the same as "30 million girls were missing". The two statements can not both be correct.

As we have explained earlier, forced abortion and infanticide are two different things. It is likely the number referred to forced abortion (babies killed) which to the most part is gender neutral. It is of course possible to have gender-selective abortions, but the practice requires ultrasound technology which was not widely available in China in the early 1980s, especially in rural areas. Infanticide, on the other hand, is criminal and had never been widely practiced.

Furthermore, although the one-child policy was planned earlier, it was officially launched in the September of 1980 with an open letter from the Party Central. Therefore, what Fu Ping claimed above as the four years of her college, only the latter half of which was under the policy.

According to wikipedia, there were around 20 million total live births per year in that time frame. Yet Fu Ping found 30 million killed babies or missing girls in those 2 or 4 years!

Broken Fact: Public Reporting on Population Control and Infanticide in China in the 1980s

The Original Story:
On Page 255 of Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping made further claims on the impact of her infanticide research:
My findings wound up as the editor's comment in the Shanghai newspaper, which called for an end to the madness. The editorial comment was then picked up by China's national paper, the People's Daily in Beijing. It was the first time a Chinese official newspaper acknowledged that peasants were killing baby girls. The news spread to the international press, who used this acknowledgement as evidence of China's violations of human rights, prompting cries from the UN for economic sanctions. I unwittingly had set off a chain of events that, like toppling dominoes, resulted in a worldwide shaming of my country and its new leadership.
The Changed Story:
After no related editorials were found within the time frame of her research, Fu Ping clarified as:

Why does nobody else in China know that the UN placed sanctions on China in 1981? And how do you know that? 
A: I heard about the sanctions in China while awaiting my passport. I was told that the UN was unhappy about this issue. A quick web search shows that the American-based journalist Steven W. Mosher wrote about female infanticide in China in 1981. His book, called Broken Earth, was published in 1983 -- the same year I was waiting for my passport. Knowing this, it makes sense that I was asked to leave quietly. Anything else would have drawn more attention to the issue. According to the Los Angeles Times, Mosher successfully lobbied George W. Bush to cut UN funding for China. His story and the timeline are consistent with my experience. 
Didi Kirsten Tatlow of the International Herald Tribune concurred on the clarification:
By 1983, state news media were reporting on female infanticide. “At present, the phenomena of butchering, drowning and leaving to die female infants and maltreating women who have given birth to female infants have been very serious. It has become a grave social problem,” People’s Daily reported on March 3 of that year, according to a New York Times article dated April 11. 
The Debunking:
Once again, timeline should play a significant role here. Fu Ping's research and thesis, if actually existed, happened in early 1982. She was then supposedly arrested in the fall of 1982 and told to leave the country. Therefore, newspaper reporting in 1983 or later had absolute no relevance of her misfortune.

However, Fu Ping's research in 1982, if indeed publicized, was not the first public report of the issue either. According to Fang Zhouzi's research, as early as 1981, right after the one-child policy started, a couple of Chinese newspaper and magazine had already reported the criminal practice of killing baby girls influenced by the policy. The reports were even picked up by the American activist magazine Executive Intelligence Reviews in its Volume 8 issue of that year.

Of course, Fu Ping can plead innocence of now knowing these early reports that she honestly thought those phantom editorials were the first. But the more important thing here is, given the early open and public report, why would Fu Ping get into the kind of political trouble she said she endured if her work wasn't ground-breaking at all?

UN might not be happy with China. But anyone with political common sense would know that UN could never impose economic sanction to China, a member with veto power. In 1983, neither George W. Bush or George H. W. Bush was in power. There was indeed a policy change in the US to cut its funding for UN. That would be, at best, US sanction against UN, not UN against China.

Even if we accepted all of Fu Ping's clarification, the socalled international outcry on China's human rights would be a contribution made by the American Steven Mosher. What did that have to do with her own story?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Broken Fact: The Phantom Publicity of Fu Ping's Thesis Work

The Original Story:
On Page 255 of Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping tells how her research of infanticide got publicized and led to big political trouble for her:
When I completed my thesis in the spring of 1982, I never imagined that anything would come of my work. Unbeknownst to me, someone in my department sent a copy of my thesis to the Chinese press. My findings wound up as the editor's comment in the Shanghai newspaper, which called for an end to the madness. The editorial comment was then picked up by China's national paper, the People's Daily in Beijing.
She was more specific in her interview with Dick Gordon of The Story, providing the name of the Shanghai newspaper:
Gordon: So was this a college paper or was it the People's Daily? 
Fu: This was.. People's Daily picked it up from a different newspaper, the Shanghai Wenhui Daily, which is the biggest newspaper in Shanghai at the time. And People's Daily supported it too so they re-reported the same thing.
Yet in a later interview with D. G. Martin of NC Bookwatch, she changed People's Daily to Xinhua Newspaper:
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... 
The Changed Story:
After many people searched and failed to locate any editorial that resembled her research of infanticide in People's Daily or elsewhere, Fu Ping issued a clarification:
In the 2005 Inc. Magazine article, you explained that your findings on female infanticide were later covered by Shanghai's Wen Hui Bao newspaper and later then by People's Daily, resulting in condemnation from around the world, sanctions imposed by the UN, and you getting tossed into prison. People's Daily archives for the period when your research would've been published have nothing regarding female infanticide in rural China. 
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 (pp. 253-255). 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. People who have not read my book made assumptions that I submitted the research to the newspaper, or I published the thesis, but that was not how I described it in the book. 
The Debunking:
It would be a wide, wild stretch to associate an editorial calling for gender equality to infanticide. But even so, there was no such editorial in 1982. There were, however, something close to it in 1983 which we should get to later, but by then Fu Ping had already been getting ready to leave the country.

In her clarification, Fu Ping blamed "people who have not read" her book for the misunderstanding. But her book, quoted above, clearly stated that a copy of her thesis was sent to a newspaper and served as the basis for the editorial. She has also repeated the same tale many times in her media interviews herself.

But apparently, now she does not even know if the news article, if existed, had anything to do with her research.

Broken Fact: Fu Ping's Eyewitness of Infanticide

The Original Story:
On Page 254 of Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping described what she witnessed during her infanticide research:
What I discovered was shocking. Everywhere in rural areas, infant girls were being killed. In spite of decades of Communist propaganda about the equality of the sexes, ours remained a patriarchal society. Out of desperation, some parents chose unborn sons over born daughters. I witnessed the horrifying consequences with my own eyes: female infants drowned in rivers and lakes, umbilical wounds still fresh; baby girls flushed down the sewage system or suffocated in plastic bags and tossed into garbage bins.
She repeated the same assertion in several of her media interviews. For example, in an interview with Leopard Lopate on January 14, 2013, she stated:
Yeah, I was doing my graduation thesis research and I heard that there were baby girls being killed in the countryside due to one-child policy. I went to research that and I saw hundreds of baby girls being killed right in front of my eyes. I saw girls being tossed into the river when their embryonic cord still fresh.
The next day, she repeated the same tale to Sir Harold Evans of Reuters, which cleared shocked the later in the video:
Evans: You saw babies are being killed?
Fu: I saw it with my bare eyes. I saw babies are being tossed into river with their embryonic cords still fresh. I saw babies being put in the plastic bags and tossed into garbage. 
The Changing Story:
When her tale was questioned, Fu Ping issued a semi-clarification to the Guardian on March 12:
The entrepreneur claims she was ordered to leave China after exposing female infanticide in the early 80s, writing that in a few months of research she "witnessed with her own eyes" drowned and suffocated female infants. Last month, she told a radio station she watched "hundreds of baby girls being killed in front of my eyes. I saw girls being tossed into the river."  
Therese Hesketh of University College London, an expert on population controls in China, said: "I have never heard stories of this kind. Infanticide did of course occur, but was not commonplace … It certainly was not done in public as even at that time to be caught meant a possible murder charge."  
Fu told the Guardian that she mis-spoke in the live radio interview and should have said "my research was based on hundreds of cases, and I saw baby girls killed right in front of my eyes".  
She added: "If you went to the countryside and to the family planning unit it was going on all the way down the line in every village and every school. Very few people were allowed to go to the poor areas. These kinds of things happened, and China doesn't want people to know it happened." 

But then on March 23, she spoke again at the Downtown Speaker Series at Last Vegas:
When I went to the countryside to look at that, I saw baby girls are being killed and I saw babies being thrown into river when their embryological cords are still fresh. I saw baby girls being suffocation in pillow cases and being thrown into garbage dumpsters. What I saw broke my heart. 
The Debunking:
First of all, we need to clarify two related but separate issues: forced abortion and infanticide. Forced abortion was applied as a means to enforce the one-child policy in which any "unauthorized" pregnancy, once discovered, was forcefully terminated by the authorities. This policy was carried out openly and widely. There had been many unborn babies being aborted this way, boys or girls.

Infanticide, however, was an entirely different matter. Once a child was born, even "illegally" under the one-child policy, the only punishment would be a heavy financial fine to the parents. There had never been a policy of killing babies after they had been born.

As Therese Hesketh stated in the Guardian article, infanticide did occur in China, when some parents sacrificed their first-born girls after birth in order to preserve their quota to have a boy under the one-child policy. It was not commonplace and it was, is, and always has been a crime of murder, even in China in those days.

Since it is a criminal act, when infanticide did occur, it was done by the parents or other family members in secret. It would be almost impossible for Fu Ping, an outsider from a big city, to witness any of such killings, not to mention "hundreds of them" " in front of my own eyes."

The corpses of infanticide would also have been carefully disposed to hide the evidence of murder. They would not have been tossed into rivers, flushed into sewage (there was no such thing in rural China) or thrown into trash in plastic bags (plastic bags were extremely rare luxury items in rural China at that time).

Fu Ping may have seen some of the remains of forced abortions when hospitals or clinics did not dispose them properly, but not infanticide. If she did, she had an obligation to inform law enforcement for the crimes she witnessed.

Questionable Fact: Fu Ping's College Thesis

The Original Story:
In Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping describes that she started research infanticide during her senior year in college, Pages 253-255:
During my senior year, I selected a somewhat obscure research topic for my thesis: China's one-child policy... Even the Communist Party leader at my school approved.
I spent a few months traveling around the Chinese countryside conducting research. I interviewed doctors and midwives, as well as farmers and government officials... 
When I completed my thesis in the spring of 1982, I never imagined that anything would come of my work...
The Changing Story:
In the somewhat original story in Inc. magazine, There was a different timeline:

A professor suggested that she go out to the provinces and research a rumored epidemic of infanticide. Ping accepted the assignment. 
For two years she traveled through rural China, visiting hundreds of towns and villages, interviewing hospital staffers, barefoot doctors, and citizens. The national practice of killing infant girls had long been tacitly acknowledged, but never fully investigated. Ping proved an able reporter--curious, meticulous, resourceful, compassionate. There was no explaining or forgiving the crimes she documented and often witnessed. Because the state had ordered that parents were permitted only one child, however, and because tradition enforced an ironclad, son-centered patrimony, Ping did not judge her compatriots. 
In 1980, she delivered her findings to her professor...

But to her credit, in all of her media interviews, she had maintained that she only did the research in her senior year. For example, at the Downtown Speaker Series at Las Vegas, she said,
In my senior year, I decided I wanted to pursue graduate school. I wanted to be a journalist. I chose infanticide as my thesis topic, and i went to research the phenomenon of killing baby girls in the country side due to one child policy.
Or at a BBC interview a little earlier:
Right before I graduated from college I was doing my thesis research. I thought I was picking a humanitarian topic, which is infanticide.
The Debunking:
The Inc. story was obviously wrong in both of the duration and the timing of her research. Fu Ping entered college in the fall of 1978. She would have spent all her freshman and sophomore years to conduct the two-year research in order to finish the research in 1980.

In her own book, she said she had completed the work in the spring of 1982. That would have been consistent with her college schedule as she was scheduled to graduate in that summer. The only problem is that we now know, according to her college, that she had dropped out of the school on March 16 that same year.

How did she complete the thesis work and then got into trouble after she left the school?

That aside, it is also highly doubtful that she would have conducted the research work for her thesis. In universities and colleges in China, the thesis work for undergraduate graduation never required original research work. Most only demanded a report or essay of some sort, if at all. Suzhou University was not a top-rated school and Fu Ping's major, Chinese literature, is not one that demands research or field study.

Fu Ping may have chosen this topic for research on her own, as she claimed that she "wanted to pursue graduate school." But it would be highly unlikely that her project would have been approved by her school, not to mention "the Communist Party leader."

Since Fu Ping had dropped out the school earlier, Suzhou University confirmed that she was not among their graduates. There was no record of her thesis.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Broken Fact: Fu Ping's Dropout from Suzhou University

The Original Story:
On Pages 253-258 in Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping describes how her graduation thesis got her in trouble in school:
During my senior year, I selected a somewhat obscure research for my thesis: China's one-child policy... 
One day in the fall of 1982, as I innocently walked across campus making preparations for graduation...[her story of being kidnapped and detained by government, to be debunked later] 
"I want to leave university, claiming a nervous breakdown," I declared. My parents didn't question the decision; Uncle W had shared with them the advice he'd given me during the Red Maple Society scandal two years earlier. They feared that, given the black marks on my personal record, I would likely be sent to a far-off corner of China for some obscure job upon graduation. Such an outcome would force to relinquish my residence in Nanjing, and I might never be able to return to a city again. It would be better if, by pleading mental illness, I could avoid losing my residency.
The Debunking:

While many of Fu Ping's stories in her book suffer from unclear or inconsistent timeline issues, none is more serious between her senior year in college and her leaving China in January of 1984. Since she needed to make the case of her "deportation," she had to muddle up the close to two years gap between her thesis and her "exile."

The above is a glaring example. We now know that she entered college in the fall of 1978. Therefore, she was scheduled to graduate before the summer of 1982. In those years, time spent in China's colleges were very strict. There is no way that she was still on campus "making preparations for graduation" in the fall of 1982 and then decided to leave the school.

So, did Fu Ping actually dropout Suzhou University? She did. Just not in the fall of 1982 but some time in that spring. In an interview with Didi Kirsten Tatlow of International Herald Tribune, she provided a letter from her former classmate which stated that she "left university abruptly, without graduation," because of a nervous breakdown. The letter was dated May, 1982.

Suzhou University has also confirmed that Fu Ping left school on March 16, 1982.

The last paragraph from her book cited above probably gave the true reason for her dropout, while faking the nervous breakdown. Suzhou University, a teacher's college, is a low-tier college whose mission is to train elementary and middle school teachers. Their graduates were assigned to teaching jobs all over the province, most of them might end up in quite remote areas. While favoritism definitely existed in the job assignments, this applied to the majority of graduates, not just those with "black marks."

Furthermore, as a teacher's college, students enjoyed free tuition, meal and board by the policy at the time to encourage enrollment and training of school teachers, which was suffering a huge shortage. By accepting such an offer, graduates were required to accept their assignments and serve as teachers.

Fu Ping feared losing her city residency so much that she chose to not fulfill her obligation by faking a mental illness. For justification, she might have made up the entire tale of her thesis research on infanticide.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Document: Suzhou University's Letter on Fu Ping

UPDATE (6/11/2013): The letter below, with only slight modifications, has now been officially published by Suzhou University on their web site, dated June 11, 2013.

As the controversy surrounding Fu Ping's story developed in March, Lanlan Wang, a netter active on Amazon, wrote an email to Suzhou University, Fu Ping's alma mater, seeking clarifications. Suzhou University, aka Soochow University, produced an official response on March 14, 2013, after an internal investigation. They emailed the resonse to Lanlan on March 16, 2013. While Lanlan has already disclosed main contents of the letter on Amazon, the letter itself has not been made public until now.

Below is the letter in its entirety (the original is in a Word document.). An abridged English version follows. Besides the letter itself, Lanlan has also provided evidences authenticating the letter. The university instructed Lanlan not to disclose the name of the direct contact. Further information should be obtained by contacting the school directly.

Thank you Lanlan!

三. 关于傅苹毕业论文的问题。 
四. 关于“手指检验”计划生育的问题。 

Official Statement on the Deceptive Behavior of Ping Fu, a Former Student of Soochow University

Recently, many of our alumni at home and abroad have contacted us regarding the validity of the book, Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds. They claim that some stories in the book are outright falsehoods. These falsehoods have given both our school and country a poor reputation and caused our alumni and friends to feel deeply incensed. 
Upon notification of the inquiries from many of our alumni, an investigation team consisting of professors in relevant departments was formed. After careful examination on Ping Fu's student record in this University's archive and many visits to Ping Fu’s teachers and classmates, the following statement is being released for clarification. 
1. Ping Fu was a student at this University with no degree earned 
Ping Fu, female, born in 1958, a native from Nanjing, was admitted as a student in Chinese Literature in September 1978 into Jiangsu Teachers' College (predecessor of Soochow University, or Suzhou University in pinyin, 苏州大学). During her undergraduate years, a demerit entry was made in her record in October 1981 due to several infractions. She formally withdrew from school on March 16, 1982 and earned no diploma or degree from this University. 
2. Ping Fu took English as mandated by the curriculum 
In her book, Ping Fu claimed that she went to the U.S. knowing only three English words – “hello, thank you, and help.” However, our curriculum included mandatory college-level English courses for the first two years. ?The record from the University Registrar’s Office indicates that Ping Fu received an "Excellent" (equivalent to an A) and an 88% (equivalent to a B+) in English as a freshman (1978 to 1979) and as a sophomore (1979 to 1980), respectively. ?
3. No record of Ping Fu's alleged graduation thesis exists 
Ping Fu withdrew from the University a few months before graduation. There are no records of her graduation thesis, or any related work and materials in the University Registrar’s Office. 
As an additional note of clarification, student thesis topics in the Department of Chinese Literature at this University have always been focused on literature and linguistic studies, which do not involve infanticide, a study subject more in the realm of Sociology than in Literature and Linguistics. 
4. No student admitted in 1978 was arrested between 1978 and 1982 
During 1978-1982, no student admitted in 1978 at this University was arrested for criminal conduct or other reasons, let alone for organizing a literary society. Ping Fu’s claim of her arrest and imprisonment is entirely unfounded and contrary to facts. 
5. There was no enforcement of birth control measures on undergraduate students 
The University hereby states unequivocally that this reputable institution of higher learning has never enforced any birth control measures on undergraduate students. Ping Fu’s allegation of “finger checking” for female students’ menstrual periods for birth control purposes is resoundingly false and has unfairly sullied the reputation of female students at this University. To further confirm the absurdity of such allegation, the University additionally contacted a number of individuals in and out of the University who experienced and are knowledgeable of the time period in question. These individuals, including Ping Fu’s former classmates, faculty advisors and the leadership of the Department of Chinese Literature of this University, have all confirmed without any question that such a practice never occurred at Soochow University. 
Based on the above findings, this University ultimately concludes that Ping Fu’s relevant narrative in her memoir is factually inaccurate and has damaged the image of Soochow University. Soochow University reserves the right to take further action. 
At the same time, we would like to thank all alumni and friends for their support and concern for Soochow University. Over the past 113 years, Soochow University has nurtured more than 300,000 graduates who have gone on to make significant contributions for our country. These talented alumni remain loyal and attached to their alma mater, expressing their gratitude for their education through regular reunions and donations, and maintaining old friendships from their time at this school. Not only have these alumni made contributions in our country, but many have also gone abroad, spreading the good name of Soochow University through their hard work and successes. Many alumni overseas have quietly given back to the university in the areas of discipline construction, talent training, and scientific research, making their mother university proud. It is not fair for Ping Fu and her thunderous falsehoods to write off the many good deeds and pride that all the other alumni have done and shared for Soochow University. 
We appreciate all the concern and support that the alumni and friends have shown for our university!
Soochow University
June 11, 2013

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Questionable Fact: Synchronized Political and Romantic Troubles

The Original Story:
The phantom political trouble Fu Ping experienced in her second year in college had another consequence, as she described on Page 252 of Bend, Not Break:
I also knew for sure that I now could not form a romance with anyone. Soon after my troubles, my dearest friend and classmate, Jin Lin, announced that his family had introduced him to a girl from a Red Army family whom he intended to marry after graduation. No one in our group of friends knew that he told me this with a deep sense of regret -- not because the girl was an unsuitable wife for him, but because he had hoped that we might have a chance someday. I was touched and wished him well, encouraging him to proceed with the engagement and keep his distance from me. I had to push Jin Lin away to spare us both the trouble that would have come from his romantic involvement with someone as black as I.
She went on to explain that Uncle W suggested her to declare that she had "gone crazy" and drop out of school but she did not follow his advice.

Two years later, she would get into political trouble again with her supposed infanticide research thesis work (we will get into that next). She did drop out of school that time, citing mental breakdown. Interestingly enough, as an evidence for that trouble, she provided Didi Kirsten Tatlow of International Herald Tribune a letter from a former classmate, as Ms. Tatlow reported:
Ms. Fu sent me a scanned copy of what she said was a letter from a fellow student, dated May 1982. In the hand-written letter, he mentions that Ms. Fu left university abruptly, without graduating, as all the others were finishing their theses -- under mysterious circumstances that classmates gossiped about but didn't understand.  
He writes that college officials were saying that Ms. Fu had a nervous breakdown after being jilted. A classmate was named as the former boyfriend.  
Ms. Fu said in the interview that this was a cover-up and that in reality she was in political trouble, that her thesis had been secretly passed by a sympathetic teacher to a newspaper and traveled up the chain. Eventually, she said, it caused a national and international scandal about the abuses of the one-child policy.  
In the letter, the classmate wonders if the story about the jilting was true. He writes that he spoke to the jilter “for about an hour” about Ms. Fu, but the man was distant and “He says he was also a victim.” 
The Debunking:
After being jilted by Jin Lin around 1980, Fu Ping did not say anything of her personal life for the rest of her college life in Bend, Not Break. It was as if she indeed "knew for sure" that she was doomed on the romantic front and avoided it entirely. In the book about her political trouble in the senior year, there was no mention of romance or classmates.

Which makes the letter she showed Didi Kirsten Tatlow rather curious.

In this 1982 version, the classmate who wrote the letter was not sure if the jilting story was true, but he spoke to the jilter who did not deny it. For the officials to use it as a cover story, there had to be at least some truth behind it. Thus, Fu Ping had two romantic relations that broke apart for political reasons.

It is not unusual that a person's romantic failures coincide with their political troubles, as the latter usually asserts tremendous pressure on relationships. The question is why Fu Ping mentioned only one in her book.

We don't know if the 1982 jilter is (also) Jin Lin. [Upon inquiry, Ms. Tatlow refused to disclose this information, citing ethics.] If Jin Lin had reconciled with her and only to dump her again in the face of another political trouble, it would have been a much bigger, more interesting, and more dramatic story that warranted more pages in the book. The same is also true, but to a slightly lesser extent, that a different boyfriend did the same thing.

Or, could it simply be the case that Fu Ping used the same romantic misfortune in two separate occasions of her life, two years apart?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Broken Fact: Fu Ping's First Political Trouble in College

The Original Story:
On Pages 252-253 of Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping details the political trouble she endured at Suzhou University in the fallout of her magazine being criticized by Deng Xiaoping:
So when the news came back to Suzhou University of what Deng Xiaoping had said about our magazine, the authorities interpreted it as very bad news and took a preemptive strike against us. 
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. As the editor in chief, I was held most responsible for the trouble. For punishment, I was given a black mark in my personal file... 
For the rest of the semester, I endured relentless criticism by Communist Party officials and never-ending confession sessions. I sank into a deep depression.
The Debunking:
Now we know that Deng Xiaoping was not even aware of Fu Ping's magazine, the entire premise of the above passage falls apart. Shall we category it as her fantasy, nightmare, or simply "emotional memory"?

Update (6/20/2013): Suzhou University confirmed the existence of Red Maple Society in their school at the time. But no members of that organization had experienced political trouble. Two of its key members were selected to become professors at the school, considered prestige position for its graduates.

Update (7/5/2013): In an interview with Qiaobao on July 3, 2013, Fu Ping reinterpreted the meaning of word "arrest" in this story:
I had indeed not been taken into custody because of Red Maple Society. But in my book I used the word "arrest," which could mean "taking into custody" or "detain," it could also be understood as "stop." It was not as going into prison, but that they don't allow you to attend classes. They put several of you into a room, make you write confessions and expose each other.  

Broken Fact: This Generation and Deng Xiaoping

The Original Story:
On Pages 251-252 of Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping described in amazing detail how her Red Maple Society got into trouble by publishing an article that caught Deng Xiaoping's attention:
Toward the end of my second year at Suzhou University, our group was invited to attend a conference in Beijing with the publishers of literary magazines from ten other universities. Since we were not ranked a first-tier school, this was a tremendous honor. The Red Maple Society slaved for weeks to create what we considered our finest magazine yet. And in doing so, we took a huge risk: we choose to include an article written by a student titled "A Confession of a Communist Member," which compared Mao's Little Red Book to the Bible... 
We made a special cover for this issue, and I spent many nights had printing copies. We then sent our representative from our inner working group to Beijing for the conference and distributed the publication around Suzhou. But the meeting never happened. 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. Every representative who attended the special meeting with Deng had a copy of the Red Maple Society's current magazine in hand. Deng asked  to see what people were reading. One student from Beijing University passed him a copy of our magazine with its pages opened to the "Confessions" article, which was considered daring and controversial. 
"A Communist member questions his own party?" Deng asked with his eyebrow raised after quickly skimming the article...
To prove her tale, she provided a couple of pictures showing the magazine they produced, named Wu Gou:

The first picture shows the cover while the second picture is the Table of Content page, with the "Confessions" article being the first item.

The Changing Story:
Tania Branigan and Ed Pilkington of The Guardian also looked into this tale and reported:
Perry Link, an expert on modern Chinese literature at the University of California at Riverside, said student magazine representatives met in 1979, but added: "I do not believe for a moment that Deng Xiaoping ever came near the group."  
Neither he nor others knows of a representative from Fu's group, Red Maple, attending. Fu said she believed the article was selected for This Generation, the joint publication from the meeting, but Link's copy shows it is not included. 
Didi Kirsten Tatlow of International Herald Tribune also reported Fu Ping's clarification on this matter:
And in an e-mail to me, she admitted she made mistakes about a magazine she said she helped edit, called Wugou, or “No Hook,” produced in 1979 by students at her college, then called the Jiangsu Teacher’s College (later it changed its name to Suzhou University, she said.) It was not that magazine but another one, This Generation, that was taken to a meeting in Beijing of student magazine writers from around the country, she wrote in the e-mail. “A good case that shows everyone’s memory can be wrong,” she wrote. 
[Note: Didi Kirsten Tatlow made a translation error above: Wu Gou does not mean "No Hook," but a hook-like weapon used in the ancient country of Wu, close to where Suzhou is.]

The Debunking:
There are many parts of Fu Ping's story as well as her clarifications that are false. Indeed, the only parts that are true are her statements that Suzhou University is not a first-tier school and that they had published an issue of magazine that contained the "Confessions" article. Alas, neither of which is even helpful to her tall tale.

First of all, once again, her timeline is all wrong. As Professor Perry Link stated, student magazine representatives did meet in Beijing in 1979, on July 15 of that year in fact. This makes it at the end of Fu Ping's first year in college, not "second year." But wait, Fu Ping's Red Maple Society was founded only in the fall of 1979! Oops. Big Oops.

Suzhou University, named Jiangsu Teacher's College at the time, was indeed not a first-tier school. It would be quite remarkable for them to get an invitation to that meeting. The fact is that it wasn't. No school from Jiangsu province attended the meeting. (Incidentally, there was a magazine named Red Maple represented in that meeting, but it was from Jilin University in northern China where red maple trees are much more prominent than Suzhou in the south.)

For those who can read Chinese language, here is a detailed account of what happened at that time from someone who was actually there.

The group had a productive meeting in Beijing and encountered neither Deng Xiaoping nor any political trouble. They then returned to their respective campuses and founded the journal This Generation. If Deng Xiaoping were going to meet them at that time, there would have been neither Wu Gou nor This Generation for him to pick up and pick upon.

However, Fu Ping's tale of Deng Xiaoping's involvement is not entirely made up either. The above account also remembered that, on January 16, 1980, Deng Xiaoping did make a speech criticizing the magazine This Generation, labeling it a counter-revolutionary propaganda, with a copy of that magazine in his hand. Consequently, This Generation ceased to exist after her very first edition.

Fu Ping probably heard of this story and thus conveniently substituted This Generation with her own Wu Gou and claimed the story for herself. When that was exposed, she quickly pivoted and claimed that she "believed the article was selected for This Generation." Her belief proves to be as erroneous as her facts.

Perry Link is once again correct that the only issue of This Generation did not include the article Fu Ping mentioned from Wu Gou, as seen in its table of contents below:

This Generation got into political trouble because of her own contents, having nothing to do with Fu Ping's little group or journal.

Broken Fact: Fu Ping's Famous Red Maple Society in College

The Original Story:
In Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping tells one of the most significant events in her college life on Pages 250-253:
Halfway through our first semester, my friends and I formed a group called the Red Maple Society. We decided to publish a literary magazine composed of our essays and poems, as well as articles about events taking place across campus and in Suzhou. I was elected editor in chief... 
Over the course of the next year and a half, our magazine grew quite popular -- and not just among the university students or in Suzhou... our professors endorsed us, and the university itself printed the magazine...
Fu Ping provided a picture of their group to a Chinese online media:
The caption in the above photo says "founding Red Maple Society at Taipin Mountain, fall, 1979". The main picture was reproduced in Bend, Not Break.

The Changed Story:
Tania Branigan and Ed Pilkington of The Guardian took an interest in this story and did a little ask around:

Yinghong Cheng, now a professor of history at Delaware state university, studied at the same time and in the same building at Suzhou as Fu, and had his own literary group. He told the Guardian: "I am completely unaware of that group [Red Maple] and publication, and if it had been that popular I would have known about it."  
Fu, who supplied a copy of her magazine, said her contemporaries might not have heard of the society because it was underground.
The Debunking:
During the years Fu Ping was in college, 1978-1982, editing and publishing unauthorized student journals became quite fashionable. It is therefore quite natural for her, a student of Chinese literature, to be involved in such activities.

But Fu Ping presented her Red Maple Society as quite popular in her school and beyond, endorsed by professors and the university itself (before it supposedly ran into political trouble later). Yet Professor Cheng Yinghong who was in the same school at the same time was "completely unaware of" it!

Fu Ping's only response was "because it was underground," so much so that her contemporaries never have heard of it. So, where was the popularity?

By the way, the photo above stated that the Red Maple Society was founded in the fall of 1979, a full year after she started college based on her revised timeline, not "halfway through our first semester."

Of course, there are still more to this student journal story, and each of them turned out to be false...

Friday, April 12, 2013

Broken Fact: The Infamous Period Police

The Original Story:
In Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping tells one of the most outlandish tales on Page 254:
At our school, officials 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 directly into our vaginas to check for blood. 
The Changed Story:
After being widely criticized for the implausibility of this story, Fu Ping "volunteered" a clarification to Didi Kirsten Tatlow of the International Herald Tribune:

In the interview, she volunteered an example of an error: a widely criticized account of the "period police," the authorities who checked a woman’s menstrual cycle to ensure she wasn’t pregnant in the early days of the one-child policy. To stop women substituting others’ sanitary pads for inspection, they were sometimes required to use their own finger to show blood. Through a misunderstanding with Ms. Fox, Ms. Fu said this was portrayed as the use of other people’s fingers — an invasion of the woman’s body.  
Ms. Fox “wrote it wrong,’’ she said. ‘‘I corrected it three times but it didn't get corrected.’’ Women used their own finger to show blood, she said, but the mistake went into print anyway. 
The Debunking:
It would be interesting to know who exactly dropped the ball on the correction for an error of this magnitude, as the original story describes a sexual crime regularly committed to young women, some of whom were virgins.

But even the modified version is not believable at all. A lot of bad things happened when the one-child policy was imposed, checking female periods wasn't one of them.

There were indeed sporadic tales of period-verification in some memoirs of the Cultural Revolution era. The purpose of those was however to make sure females did not falsify them as an excuse to escape hard work or study sessions.

But to check period regularly as a means to detect pregnancy is just impractical, as Fang Zhouzi had pointed out in one of his blogs: Female students did not have their periods synchronized. These officials would have to keep detailed records for each student and perform such checks on weekly if not daily basis. That's just unthinkable.

Furthermore, although "unauthorized" pregnancy was of course discouraged, the enforcement of the one-child policy centered at after-pregnancy: forced abortion. Therefore, there was no need to know if a student had missed periods. If she was pregnant, she wouldn't be able to hide that fact for long.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Broken Fact: Fu Ping's Choice of Undergraduate Major

The Original Story:
Fu Ping has repeatedly stated that her dream was to be an astronaut but she ended up majoring in Chinese literature because she didn't have the choice. In Bend, not Break, she wrote on Pages 231-232:
I quickly became known as "the girl who never turns off her lights." How could I possibly sleep? My mind was hyperstimulated by everything I was learning: math, physics, chemistry, literature, history, geology, geography. I felt like a sponge trying to soak up the entire ocean.
Although I had been asked to fill out a form listing my preferences, I had no choice of where or what I would study. Ultimately, the government would make the assignment.
I was not accepted to an aerospace engineering program, even though all my life I had dreamed of being an astronaut. When the acceptance letter came in the fall of 1977, it said that I had been assigned to study literature at Suzhou University.
As if that wasn't enough, she repeated herself on Page 249:
I had wanted to major in aerospace engineering, but the government had decided that I would study literature. 
The Debunking:
One of the mainstays in China's college entrance exam is that it is separated into two distinct categories: science and technology (理工科) and liberal arts (文科). Students have to choose and commit to one of the two months if not years before the exam. In 1977 and 1978, there are a few common subjects such as politics, Chinese, math for both categories although their difficulty level differed slightly between the categories. Then there are subjects only for each category: physics and chemistry for science and technology; history and geography for liberal arts.

Given the precious time before the exam, nobody would be foolish enough to study both physics/chemistry and history/geography (while forgetting to study fraction in math).

Aerospace engineering is obviously a major in the science and technology category, while Chinese literature a liberal arts one. There was and is no possibility whatsoever that government would assign a student from the science and technology category into a major in liberal arts. That does not happen. When Fu Ping chose to take up exams in liberal arts, she had already abandoned her dream to be an astronaut on her own.

Furthermore, although the government did have much leeway in assigning majors not necessarily according to students' expressed preference, it typically did that to fill in unpopular or unknown majors. In 1977 and 1978, most students didn't know many majors. They only knew the few famous ones such as math, physics, chemistry in science and Chinese literature, history, etc. in liberal arts. These majors were therefore hyper-popular and would not have needed forced assignments. For Fu Ping to be accepted as a Chinese literature major, chances were that it was her own choice to begin with.

Broken Fact: Fu Ping's 1977 College Entrance Exam

The Original Story:
In Bend, Not Break, after the end of Cultural Revolution, Fu Ping got the opportunity to attend the newly reinstated college entrance exam. She wrote on Page 231:
Nine months later, in the spring of 1977, China held its first university entrance exams since 1966.... I raced to view the public bulletin board where the results were posted a few months later after the test. I had done it! My score was above the minimum require for acceptance.
When the acceptance letter came in the fall of 1977, it said that I had been assigned to study literature at Suzhou University. 
The Changed Story:
After her tale being questioned, she published the following clarification:
Suzhou University did not reopen until 1982. How could you go there in 1977? 
A: This is a typo in the book (p. 232). I took the college entrance exams in 1977 and 1978, and was admitted in 1978. When I entered, I believe it was called Jiangsu Teachers College or Jiangsu Teachers University. Its name changed to Suzhou University before I left; it was the same university in the same location. 
The Debunking:
So Fu Ping actually took the exam twice and got in on the second try. It's amazing how she could forgot or confuse such a life changing event. But as we shall see, her explanation of "a typo" in her original story is simply not true.

The first national college entrance exam after the Cultural Revolution actually took place in December of 1977. Half a year later, another exam was held in July of 1978. Thereafter, exams took place every year in July. There was never any exam in the spring of 1977 or 1978.

On Page 232, after learning about her "assigned" major (we will come to that in next post), she wrote about her mother's reaction:
"Maybe you shouldn't go," Nanjing Mother advised, "You can get in trouble so easily with a degree in literature. Wait half a year until you can take the entrance exam again. You may get into a science program."
When Fu Ping took the exam second time in 1978, she should have learned the result some time in that August (instead of "a few months later" as she claimed in the book) and reported in school by September. If she adhere to her mother's advice, she would have to wait for almost an entire year to take the exam again, not "half a year."

Maybe her mother had this conversation with her after her failed first attempt. But then the whole premise of this conversation is lost. Her mother wouldn't be telling her not to go to school and she would be taking another exam anyway.

Again, this is not as simple as a "typo" and it's amazing how she could get this important story wrong in the autobiography. Maybe she was taking "literal license" to elevate the drama of her success with passing the exam on the first try. Maybe she had issues with separating fantasy with reality. The truth is that her fact is broken.

Questionable Fact: Dinner as Mao Died

The Original Story:
On Pages 226-227 in Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping describes how she learned Mao Zedong's death in 1976:
On my second day in Shanghai, Jie Jie took me to celebrate our reunion by going to eat at the only Western-style restaurant in town, Red House...We walked over half an hour through the bustling streets of Shanghai to the elegant restaurant, which spotted a bold red roof, and found a dozen patrons seated at tables inside...Jie Jie and I were so enraptured by our conversation and the tantalizing food that we paid no attention to our surroundings. Suddenly, about an hour into our meal, she gave me a puzzled look....Then the announcer's voice came on: "Our great leader Chairman Mao passed away today."
The Debunking:
Mao Zedong's death was such a shocking event at the time that everybody remembered where they were and what they were doing when the news broke out. So, it's not surprising that Fu Ping could recall the details of that moment.

What is questionable, however, is the timing in her memory. The news was broadcast at 4pm nationwide that day, which means Fu Ping and her sister would have started their meal around 3 in the afternoon. That was right between lunch and dinner time. Most, if not all, restaurants did not open during those hours. Apparently at this Red House, it was not only open but had a dozen patrons enjoying their mid-afternoon meal.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Broken Fact: Fu Ping's Red Guard Photo

The Original Story:
In Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping provided a photo of her in a group under a big Red Guard flag.

The photo was not mentioned directly in the book itself, but it has the following caption:
When I lived in the dormitories, I spent much of my time with students my age. During our mandatory study sessions, we recited slogans from Mao's Little Red Book. I am second from the right in the bottom row.
The Later Clarification:
After being widely questioned whether the picture shows that Fu Ping was a Red Guard herself, she clarified:
In the Fast Company story image, you and other kids are wearing Red Guard armbands under the Red Guard flag, yet you claim you were not a Red Guard.  
If you zoom into that picture, you only need to look closely to see I have no red band on my arm. The image was taken in front of a Red Guard flag at the school that I attended in the late 70s. I wrote in the book that the situation got better after 1972. Still, I was never a Red Guard. 

The Debunking:
There are several issues, some of which are blatant lies, in her clarification.

First of all, she now admits that she was attending school in the "late 70s". Yet her original caption was insisting that she was in "study sessions," not school. She was spending time with "students my age", implying that she was not a student herself.

She states that the picture was taken at the school, as if the flag was just a coincidental background. That is not true. The background of this picture is not any school, but a famous park in Nanjing. It is obvious that the picture was a record of an organized field trip in which they had brought out the flags and arm bands of the Red Guard to display their revolutionary spirits.

It is not as clear whether Fu Ping was wearing an arm band herself in the picture. She insists that she was not. But some people have taken up her challenge of zooming into that picture. The result may be convincing to some but skeptical to others. It is a case that you have to know what to look for to see it:

What is clear, however, is that most, if not all, other kids in the picture are wearing the Red Guard arm bands. It would be quite odd if Fu Ping was the only one without it and yet was allowed to join the group in their field trip.

In late 1970s, Red Guards was no longer their initial incarnation in 1966 but more or less an honor organization parallel to the Communist Youth League, which later absorbed and disbanded Red Guards altogether. Although no longer radical or violent, Red Guard nonetheless maintained a political standard that excluded "bad elements." Given that Fu Ping was possibly a member of the Red Guard herself, or at least very close to them, her entire story of being prosecuted during the Cultural Revolution has to be in serious doubt.

Update (6/20/2013): Suzhou University disclosed that their records show that Fu Ping had become a member of the Chinese Communist Youth League in 1973, before or when she started high school. The Youth League is the precursor organization for Chinese Communist Party and only very selective few could gain acceptance, unlike the Red Guards which had a much wider membership. It's extremely unlikely Fu Ping could gain acceptance of the Youth League without being a Red Guard earlier in those years.