Q and A with Ping Fu, author of 'Bend not Break'

The South China Morning Post's Wu Nan spoke to Ping Fu in late June about the continuing controversy surrounding her memoir.

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 July, 2013, 11:45am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 July, 2013, 12:49pm

South China Morning Post: Your alma mater, Soochow University, has documents showing that you dropped out of school in March 1982 without earning a BA or MA. Nanking University has also said that you were not a graduate of theirs, nor did you earn a Ph.D there. What's your comment on this?

Ping Fu: In the book I wrote exactly what the fact is: I don’t have a degree from Suzhou [Soochow University], there is no contradiction. I have a MS and BA in the USA. On my social network sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, I only list my two US degrees, which are both in Computer Science. My understanding is that when other publications post my profile on their websites, they may run an automatic Internet search, which presents degrees from other people with the same name as mine, Ping Fu, and these peoples’ degrees get attached to my name. I found many instances of this, even on very reputable sites such as those of Bloomberg Businessweek, the Wall Street Journal, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

Post: Soochow University said they gave you demerits in October 1981 for being absent for classes and for violating school regulations. Is that true?

Fu: Yes, in chapter eight of my book I explained the incident,  related to my research, and my demerits were due to absences from school. I did not have a chance to write the thesis. My research about birth control policy, which let to the observation of infanticide, never turned into a thesis because I left school.  In my senior year I was planning to go to Nanking University to study journalism. Some of my classmates and my family knew about it. It was permitted for a literature student to write on a generalised topic instead of a specific literature topic in order to pursue graduate studies in journalism.  

Post: Your class advisor, Ni Junqiang, said that the university did not arrest you and other Red Maple Society members, or interrogated any of you.  How do you comment?

Fu: There was no arrest or time in jail or prison for the Red Maple Society members. We did informing and confession. As I wrote in the book, I was not the author of the article “A Confession of A Communist Member," I was an editor. In 1980 Deng Xiaoping had a university student publication in his hand and criticised the underground publications. Later our magazine (“Wu Gou”) was not allowed to be published any more.

Post: You mentioned in your book chapter "Life is a Mountain Range" that Soochow University authorities arrested you after Deng Xiaoping met student publishers and read a daring article you published as an editor in chief. Tang Zheshen, former leader of the Red Maple Society, said that none of their members ever went to Beijing, or met with Deng Xiaoping. Could you clarify?

Fu: Different people have different memories. We are talking about something that happened more than 30 years ago. If you ask different people what happened, you may hear different answers. I wrote a memoir and this was my memory of what happened and how I felt. If someone said they remember differently I’m not going to say they are wrong. It's just we remember differently.  

Post: In the same book chapter, you mentioned the "controversial and daring article"--"A Confession of A Communist Member" -- published by you.

Liu Buchun, the author of the article said that his article appeared in October 1979 in an internal student magazine, "Wu Gou", which was not part of the Red Maple Society and you were not its editor in chief. He said you were not punished in relation with this article, nor convicted or sentenced to prison terms.

Fu: The author was Liu Buchun. I don’t know what he said. But I was the co-editor in chief of “Wu Gou” with Wang Jia-Ju at same time. I remember the magazine only published two issues before it was banned. I was the only female involved in two magazines, including the earlier version of “Wu Gou,” “Zhengyan.” In the early ‘80s, a publication got banned and the order was from the central government. There was surely punishment. But in chapter eight of my memoir, I mainly wrote about the happiness and excitement we had, not so much about the punishment.

If Suzhou University said they don’t have record that I was punished, I can’t comment on that. I never got a chance to see my record, and whether I received a “Four Anti” black mark. In that time, no one could see his/her own record. I thought we received black marks for the magazine.

Post Soochow University has demanded that you apologise, withdraw the "falsehoods" in your memoir, and stop further promotion of the book such as giving the scheduled speech at American Library Association meeting on June 29th, otherwise they would start a lawsuit against you. What's your view on that?

Fu: Suzhou University is my alma mater. I hope that they are more tolerant and protective of their former student. I have never been disrespectful to the university. I’ve never attacked and will not be disrespectful to the university. The book tells stories about how I make decisions, how I emotionally respond to setback, and how I became who I am today. I have been a promoter of tolerance and compassion. I’m surprised how Suzhou [Soochow] University responded to my memoir. I wish they could see me with pride, not shame. I sincerely wish that Suzhou University and I can reach a peaceful reconciliation.  

About the apology they asked for, I would like to issue an open apology for the description that appears about Suzhou [Soochow University] conducting intrusive physical checks on all female students’ periods for birth control purposes. I didn’t catch this error in the last round of editing before my memoir was published. My original intention was to describe the unique policy of “illegal pregnancy” and the phenomena (periods police) that was a result of harsh enforcement in some local regions. Gender inequality occurred not only in China but also in other parts of Asia, such as India, Japan, and Korea. Birth control was a big topic in 1981 in China. I wanted to explain the historic background. Given the ambiguities of the Chinese language, what I wrote could be read as general information or something that happened in Suzhou. It’s clear Suzhou [Soochow] University and female students were offended by this. I’m sorry about it.

I have always been a promoter of China and its harmonious culture. I’m an American citizen. ALA invited me as their speaker. It’s an important meeting. I honour the invitation and the freedom of speech. I have no reason to cancel it. It would be very unprofessional to do so.  

Post: What do you think about the netizens’ controversial comments on your memoir?  

Fu: News is often controversial. I received many support letters, too. When people are upset, you are touching on something sensitive. If people need to talk about the Cultural Revolution and by criticising me they can create some healthy discussion, that's my contribution. Churchill once said, “You have enemies?  That means you've stood up for something...” In my view, these netizens are not enemies, they just generate heated debate.

But I admit it also bothers me. Sometimes I’m confused. I’m not helping the “American side” or “Chinese side” to attack one other. We should unite rather than divide; extreme opinion divides. I won’t fight with Suzhou University. It will only hurt both of us.

Post: Can you talk about your current role at 3D Systems?

Fu: My new title at 3D Systems is Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer.  My responsibility is to support our company’s vision: manufacturing the future, and to align our execution with our vision. Creativity for us is about thinking out of the box in an exponential time and innovation is imagination applied. My new role is a perfect combination of creative destruction and pragmatic problem solving. I love what I do: 3D printing.