Fu's memoir tainted by 'false memories'
By Leng Baoqing
Chinese communities around the world have poured criticism on the memoir "Bend, not Break" by Ping Fu, a prominent Chinese-American businesswoman, with many claiming that it contains factual inaccuracies and distortions of the truth.
Suzhou University, Fu's Alma Mater (then called the Jiangsu Teacher's College), recently posted an announcement on its official website which detailed specific instances in which it believes Fu distorted the truth in her book. An incident which came in for particular criticism was Fu's account of female students being examined for evidence of bleeding during their monthly menstrual cycle. In 2010, Fu, serving on the board of the White House's National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, told US media outlet NPR that she witnessed the brutal execution of a teacher by Red Guards in which the teacher was pulled apart by four horses. Fu later admitted that this event might not have taken place and that her "emotional memory" might not be accurate.
For many, however, Fu's explanations are simply excuses. There is no doubt that the memory can play tricks at times; however it seems inconceivable that anyone's memory could be so confused that they are unable to recall whether at a particular time they were in jail or graduating from university.
Experts, however, say that such instances of false memory are quite common. Martin Conway, a professor of cognitive psychology at Leeds University, and Elizabeth Loftus, a distinguished professor at the University of California, Irvine, have both proved in their research that even memories which a person believes are true and accurate can be false. Memory is based on subjective cognition and presupposition and does not work like a tape recorder. In addition, people's memories are constantly changing, and they also tend to have an idealized picture of themselves in their memories.
In Fu's case, this manifests in her attempts to present herself as the personification of the American Dream. Fu's difficult past and rise to prominence is proof enough of her success. To some extent, the urge to idealize or exaggerate memories is understandable. But Fu has gone too far in her memoir and this is what has upset her fellow Chinese-Americans.
Suzhou University's criticisms and presentation of the facts on its website were fair, but Fu's book should not be taken too seriously, as its distortions are simply the author's latest attempt to adapt to mainstream U.S. society and pursue greater success.
Surprisingly, an article in the New York Times on June 28 titled "Cultural Revolution Vigilantes" went to great lengths to defend Fu. The article, which was written by Joe Nocera, argued that "Ping Fu's book has mistakes in it. But it is hard to see how they justify the level of extreme, unrelenting vilification she has suffered."
His point is debatable. In a pluralistic society, it is normal for public figures to face severe criticism. Fu has every right to revisit the Cultural Revolution, but she also has an obligation to tell the truth in her publications.
For example, Fu says in her memoir that, when she was a college student, she was sent to jail for writing about female infanticide in Chinese villages (All the current evidence proves that her account was a complete fabrication). Abortion is the subject of intense public and political debate and discussion in the U.S. In 1973, Harry Blackmun, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the U.S., authored the Court's opinion in Roe v. Wade, invalidating a Texas statute making it a felony to administer an abortion in most circumstances. The case caused an immediate uproar and made Blackmun a target for opponents of abortion who sent him hate mail and death threats as a result of the case. Mr. Nocera, what do you have to say about this behavior?
The majority of Fu's critics are not opposed to a rethinking of the Cultural Revolution and welcome reasoned debate. However, such debate should be grounded in fact, as this is the only way to achieve mutual understanding.
As a Chinese person who has studied abroad and fully understands the difficulties faced by overseas Chinese, I hope all of them, Fu included, can achieve their life dream and be successful. However, different from Mr. Nocera, I believe that those who revisit the past and offer a different perspective on events (including the Cultural Revolution), should have a sense of responsibility. In order to fully and successfully integrate into American society as an American citizen, Ping Fu must base her writing on verified facts instead of unreliable memories.
The author is a current affairs commentator.
This article was first published in Chinese and translated by Li Huiru.
Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.