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TMCNet:  More questions over businesswoman's account of Chinese childhood

[February 13, 2013]

More questions over businesswoman's account of Chinese childhood

(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) A successful US entrepreneur faces mounting questions over her widely lauded tale of childhood torment in China's cultural revolution, as fresh contradictions emerge and experts cast doubt on important elements of her story.


Ping Fu's rags-to-riches memoir Bend, Not Break says she was torn away from her parents at eight, brutally abused and sent to work in a factory; then forced to leave China for the US after triggering an international outcry over female infanticide as a student. She went on to found the software company Geomagic, which is being acquired by 3D Systems.

Critics acknowledge the horrors of the cultural revolution, but question Fu's personal account. She has already conceded that a description of Red Guards killing a teacher by tying their victim to four horses was an "emotional memory" and probably wrong. Closer examination of her book and interviews reveal numerous conflicting claims, and experts told the Guardian that several parts of her story were implausible.

Fu, 54, said she was traumatised and hurt by the criticism, adding: "I don't know who is behind this, but somebody is." One of her most striking claims is that Sun Yat-sen, revered as the father of modern China, "raised my grandfather and grand uncle as his own sons" - akin to a Briton being reared by Winston Churchill. Prof John Wong of the University of Sydney, an expert on Sun's life, said he had no knowledge of such wards.

Fu told the Guardian: "That was what I was told by my family before I left China. I believe this is true. My mother says it's in history books." She then added that Sun was attentive towards them, rather than actually adopting them.

In a chapter of her book, Factory Worker, Fu describes labouring in factories for a decade until schools reopened in 1976. She describes working six hours a day, six days a week and told an interviewer she never went to school in 10 years.

Experts on the cultural revolution told the Guardian that schools mostly reopened in 1968 or 1969 and that pupils had lessons in factories to learn skills, but were not used as labour.

Fu said: "For 10 years I didn't have proper schooling. I was sent to study in the factory, and sometimes in farms." A photograph supplied by Fu shows her posing with a little red book, Mao badge and armband. Michel Bonnin of Tsinghua University and Prof Yin Hongbiao of Beijing University said it showed she was not disgraced as a "black element" at the time, as she claimed; Fu said it was common for children to be pictured pledging allegiance to Mao, "whether 'black' or 'red'".

Fu also says she was arrested and criticised by Suzhou University authorities after Deng Xiaoping, then China's paramount leader, met student publishers. She says Deng had seen a daring article from the popular magazine she edited. 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.

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 said: "I am completely unaware of that group and publication and if it had been that popular I would have known." Fu, who supplied a copy of her magazine, said her contemporaries might not have heard of the society because it was underground.

Experts have cast doubts over significant elements of Ping Fu's Bend, Not Break, which focuses on China's cultural revolution (c) 2013 Guardian Newspapers Limited.

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