“It sounds too unbelievable for fiction, but this is the true story of a life in two worlds,” enthuses the website for Ping Fu’s autobiography, Bend Not Break. In one interview to promote the book, the entrepreneur boasted that Michelle Obama had invited her back to the White House for a nightcap after the 2010 State of the Union address.
But after Chinese readers flagged up a series of inconsistencies and improbabilities in interviews she has given, Ms. Fu has been forced to defend her book from accusations that some of it is not true.
Fu, the president, chief executive and cofounder of the 3D software company Geomagic, has said she is “shocked, heartbroken and deeply saddened” by what she considers a smear campaign that “reveals the dark side of human cruelty” and “makes me relive the emotional abuse of my childhood”.
Many of the questions centre on the 54-year-old’s horrifying account of being wrenched from her parents when the cultural revolution started in 1966, and sent to a re-education camp where she was gang-raped at the age of 10.
An estimated 36 million people were persecuted during the turmoil and numerous families torn apart. But sceptics, including Fang Zhouzi, an influential blogger who scrutinises Chinese academia, say much of Ms. Fu’s story does not ring true.
Ms. Fu has now acknowledged that her account of a brutal execution by Red Guards in which they killed a teacher by using four horses to tear her apart was an “emotional memory” and probably wrong. Pressed by critics, Ms. Fu wrote in the Huffington Post: “To this day, in my mind, I think I saw it. That is my emotional memory of it. After reading Fang’s post, I think in this particular case that his analysis is more rational and accurate than my memory.” She said she had been in a state of trauma after separation from her parents.
Some of her clarifications have also raised more questions than they answer. She wrote: “I also did not say I was a factory worker. I said Mao wanted us to study and learn from farmers, soldiers and workers.” Yet a section of her book is entitled Factory Worker: 1968 to 1976. It begins “When I was 10 ... I received my first factory assignment,” and describes her work in several plants.
One of the biggest question marks is over the circumstances surrounding her departure from China. The opening line of the book reads: “When I was 25 years old, the Chinese government quietly deported me,” prompting sceptics to point out that usually only prominent dissidents go into exile by arrangement.
According to Ms. Fu’s book, she was forced to leave because of her university thesis on female infanticide prompted by the one-child policy. A Shanghai newspaper learned of her groundbreaking research and “called for an end to the madness” in an editorial comment subsequently republished by The People’s Daily — in what would have been an astonishing move for the staid official Communist party newspaper. That sparked an international outcry and her detention, she wrote.
After Mr. Fang said he found no trace of the commentary, Ms. Fu responded: “I remember reading an editorial in a newspaper in 1982 that called for gender equality. It was not a news article and not written by me, and I didn’t know it had anything to do with my research. When writing the book, I did not name the paper, since I wasn’t certain. However, I think that is where I read the editorial because it was the most popular and official newspaper.” She wrote that her parents arranged for her to study in the US after her release, but argued that she was forced into exile because police told her to leave China.
The personification of the American dream, Ms. Fu worked her way through college in the US as a babysitter, cleaner and waitress. She now sits on the US National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship; last month (Jan) 3D Systems announced a deal to acquire her firm, Geomagic.
Neither Penguin — which has published the book via its US imprint — nor Ping Fu were available for comment.