Chinese college threatens libel suit against US author Ping Fu
Wu Nan in Beijing
Chinese-American author Ping Fu may soon be hit by international lawsuits for her controversial memoir Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds, which has been debunked by Chinese academics and critics.
Fu’s alma mater, Soochow University in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, said on Friday that anecdotes in her memoirs, in which she makes claims that during her time at the university she was arrested for her college research, were “falsehoods” and called on the author to participate in a public debate to clarify the details.
The university said that if Fu failed to respond and apologise, it would file libel lawsuits both in China and the United States against her.
“These falsehoods have given both our school and country a poor reputation and caused our alumni and friends to feel deeply incensed,” Soochow University said in a statement.
The university said earlier this week it had formed an investigation team to examine the controversial book, published in February, after it had received several inquiries from university alumnis and media on the memoir. A staff member of Soochow University told the South China Morning Post that the investigation had gone on for about three months and they would hold a press conference next week to announce the results, with Fu’s then teachers on hand to answer questions from the public.
The Post first reported in February the doubts raised by academics and readers buying Fu’s book, who questioned the dramatic details in her memoir including what she called the “twisted cultural revolution experience” of studying at Soochow University. One of her controversial anecdotes claimed school officials conducted intrusive physical checks on female students’ periods, supposedly for birth control purposes.
Other shocking claims in Fu's book include that she was sent to a labour camp at age 8 or 9 with her younger sister during the Cultural Revolution, tortured, gang-raped, and forced into child labour.
In a 2010 interview with NPR, Fu said that she had, during the Cultural Revolution, witnessed Red Guards execute a teacher by tying each her limbs to horses and having them tear the teacher into pieces, done specifically to frighten the kids into submission.
Heated debate ensued when China’s well-known academic “liar hunter”, Fang Zhouzi, publicly challenged the accuracy and consistency of Fu’s memoirs, after the computer scientist and author conducted interviews with US media in which she occasionally changed details of her claims. Hundreds of Chinese netizens supported Fang’s campaign against the memoir, many of them leaving angry messages on the Amazon page for her book.
Although she said that she was “shocked, heartbroken and deeply saddened by the smear campaign”, Fu later retracted some of the statements she had made to the media.
Fu, 55, also responded to critics that her book was an autobiography and that her memories could be wrong. She was backed by her publisher Portfolio, Penguin’s business book imprint.
Fu, a successful entrepreneur who has served on the US National Advisory Council for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, published her memoir during the time she was appointed Chief Strategy Officer of 3D Systems earlier this year.
She declared that her story was of a life straddling two worlds in China and America, which she billed as “one person’s journey from nobody to somebody”.
“It reflects how my past experiences influenced who I am today and how I make decisions as an entrepreneur,” she wrote.
However her alma mater college Soochow University investigated the memoir by reviewing student records in their archives and interviewing her Fu’s teachers and classmates. They claim this investigation has confirmed facts that contradict details in the book – including records of her attendance at the university without earning a degree, records that she studied English as part of the curriculum, and that there was no enforcement of birth control measures on undergraduate students.
“This university ultimately concludes that Ping Fu’s relevant narrative in her memoir is factually inaccurate and has damaged the image of Soochow University,” said Soochow University. “(We) reserve the right to take further action.”