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.)

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