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PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 January, 2013, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 January, 2013, 4:03pm

'Liar-hunter' Fang Zhouzi accuses Ping Fu of selling fake tragedy to Americans

What hurts more than a beating that never took place? Getting a lesson in truthiness from China's most-hated myth-buster, academic and otherwise, Fang Zhouzi.

While not as painful to watch as that time Christopher Hitchens went after myths surrounding Mother Teresa, what Fang seeks to expose now are a number of claims by Geomagic CEO Ping Fu, who found corporate success in the United States after arriving in 1983 to attend graduate school, claims Fang argues range from the unlikely to the seemingly impossible and yet which journalists have taken at face value here, here and elsewhere.

Of the recent heartrending coverage of Fu's new memoir, "Bend, Not Break", it seems to have been this piece from Inc. magazine that prompted Fang's takedown earlier this week (that and Forbes had the piece linked to above translated for its Chinese site here).

First up, Fu's claim she was sent to a labour camp at age 8 or 9 with her younger sister where for the duration of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) she was kept apart from her parents, brainwashed, starved, tortured, gang-raped, forced into child labour and deprived of education.

Fu would have been a minor throughout the Cultural Revolution, Fang points out, never mind her younger sister; children that young being forced into labour camps was unheard of: "I haven't seen this in anyone else's memoirs of the Cultural Revolution, it must have been a tragic experience had only by Ping Fu herself."

As for Fu's claim of being deprived of education those ten years, Fang points out that in 1977 - when the holding of university entrance examinations resumed and Fu was accepted by Suzhou University - not only were all applicants get pre-screened for eligibility, but also less than 5 per cent of applicants were accepted that year. "Was she a prodigy?," he asks.

In 2010, Fu told NPR (13:30 here) she witnessed Red Guards execute one teacher by tying each limb to a separate horse and dismembering her by having each horse run simultaneously in a separate outward direction, done specifically to frighten the kids into submission.

Of all the different cruel ways people were killed during the Cultural Revolution, Fang writes, with many beaten to death or buried alive, dismemberment using four horses was unheard of, except for Ping Fu's having said so. She says all the other kids in the labour camp were assembled to watch this, he asks, so why didn't even a single one of them step forward to say they'd witnessed such a rare and inhumane thing? Were all the other children killed?

Getting technical, Fang adds dismemberment by horse sounds easy, but would have been quite difficult to pull off even if Red Guards had been able to find four horses trained to do such things. "Would Red Guards go to such great lengths just to scare these kids?"

Several hundred years ago there was rumoured to have been dismemberment by five horses, Fang goes on, but in fact that was just a legend:

Criminals have been dismembered using horse carriages, which is obviously easy to carry out, but not using horses themselves.

Dismemberment by carriage has been carried out several times in Chinese history, he says, but records of it were kept each time and the practice died out hundreds of years ago. Dismemberment by four horses was used in ancient times in the West, and if China's Red Guards actually resumed the practice in Nanjing in the 1960s, making that the first time in Chinese history a living human was dismembered using four horses, and Ping Fu is the only person to publicly acknowledge having witnessed this, then shouldn't those who research incidents of torture call her to talk? Shouldn't the victims and other eyewitnesses also be sorted out?

In an interview with Forbes, Fu also appears to have claimed to have written her undergrad thesis at Suzhou University on the practice of female infanticide in rural China and that her research received nationwide press converage at the time. In 2005, speaking to Inc., Fu went on to explain that after she submitted her undergrad thesis in 1980, her findings were later covered by Shanghai's Wen Hui Bao newspaper and later also by People's Daily, resulting in condemnation from around the world, sanctions imposed by the UN, and Fu getting tossed into prison.

Fang says he went back and checked People's Daily archives for the period Fu says her research would've been published there and found nothing regarding female infanticide in rural China:

In fact anyone with a bit of political common sense knows that People's Daily at that time was full of nothing but glorious and wonderful news and it's impossible anything affecting China's image as much as this would've received coverage.

As for the UN imposing sanctions on China, does she not know that China, as a member of the UN Security Council, also has the power to veto motions? Why does nobody else in China know that the UN placed sanctions on China in 1981? And how does Ping Fu know that?

Regarding Fu's claim to NPR she was walking on campus when a black bag was suddenly thrown over her head and she was stuffed into a car before being arrested:

This is like a scene from a gangster film. In 1981, was there actually any university campus in China where the Public Security Bureau would have had any reservation about taking away a university student?

On Fu's claim she was then held three days and narrowly avoided being sentenced to reform through labour when authorities decided instead to send her into exile:

Getting exiled to the United States to study just for writing a thesis with negative content, could there be anything more wonderful in this world? The only people China sentences to be deported are foreigners. The practice of sending dissidents off to the United States didn't begin until the 1990s, and that was only reserved for the most high-profile of dissidents.

Ping Fu was an unheard-of university student at the time, which makes being deported off to the United States to study a true miracle. Being allowed to pay your own way to study in the United States in the early 1980s was remarkably difficult to achive; without special connections overseas, it would've been impossible.

Noting Fu told Forbes she arrived in the United States knowing only three words of English, Fang remembered hearing the same anecdote in interviews she'd given to other media, so he went back and checked and found different sets of those first three words:

Inc.: Please, thank you, help;
Bend, Not Break: Thank you, hello, help;
NPR: Thank you, help, excuse me.

Not only that:

According to the Inc. report Ping Fu arrived at Suzhou University wanting to study engineering or business, but the Party assigned her to study English. How then could she have only learned just three words? Even if she wasn't an English major, English was still one of the core courses. And even if she was a poor student, how is it possible she was only able to remember the three most basic words in English?

All these claims are only good enough to fool laowai who don't know anything about China. Ping Fu knows that, which is why she's so much more honest when speaking with Chinese.
[...]
At the time, Chinese international students had many ways of being able to stay there in the United States. One of those was to fabricate bizarre tales of having faced persecution in China and apply for political asylum. It didn't matter how fantastic you made your experiences, Americans would still believe them to be true. Some people told so many lies they even started believing it themselves.

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This article is now closed to comments

chrislee
Hope more journalists will follow up her story. What puzzles me is that If she really experienced those things as she claims, how come she gave different versions of her story at different times? What disturbs me further is that it might be a well-publicized example of cheating to succeed.
 
 
 
 
 

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