Wednesday, April 10, 2013

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.


  1. Wonder if Ping's actually from Soochow (Dong wu, Eastern Wu) university of Taiwan. Look at photos of Ping and her sister Hong in New Mexico (from Bend, Not Break), which appears to be quite fashionable in 80s "taiwanese" style.

  2. Great story. this is worth sharing. Gonna share this to my fellow students. I hope they are going to like this one. Thank you for sharing wonderful story and essay with us.