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Fabrications fail as the world flattens  

书名:Bend, Not Break
豆瓣评分:2.2分(19人评价)
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Ms. Fu Ping, co-founder of software company Geomagic, recently had a roller coaster ride through media attention after the release of her new book Bend Not Break: a Life in Two Worlds, a memoir that documents her misery in China and rise to glory in America. In China she was initially seen as an example of how social environments can break or make a person. To her America readers, she has the potential to represent the American dream.

Her stories soon caught the attention of Chinese myth-buster Fang Zhouzi who started to expose the inaccuracies in her account. Her widely publicized stories also attracted doubts from Chinese netizens living in the United States, especially those who had gone through the same period of time described in her interviews. They started to leave comments to Amazon and other web sites debating the authenticity of Fu’s story. Within days, Fu fell from the height of a heroine to the lows of almost a fraud.

Indeed, based on published reports and interviews, her stories do not agree with each other. For instance, after US Citizenship and Immigration Services named her "Outstanding American by Choice" in 2012, China News interviewed Fu, and described her as "a graduate student in comparative literature major" whose "competence in languages led her to study computer languages.” In her new book she said when she first came to the United States, she could say only three words. In an interview with a Chinese newspaper based in Singapore, she was described as having obtained her permanent residence in the United States by seeking political asylum. In a response to criticism, she wrote for Huffington Post that she did not seek political asylum. These cannot be both true.

It is puzzling to see that some non-Chinese readers choose to defend her in spite of doubts about her integrity. In a report about the backlash, one reader thanks Ping for her stories as she shows the American dream to be alive and well. Another reader commented on Twitter that he suspects the Chinese government to be orchestrating negative reviews in Amazon, where the book is listed. I do not think any government in the world has so much time in their hands that they will deal with a personal memoir so full of holes. China's Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), a major era in Fu’s book, was officially denounced by the Chinese government in a resolution in 1981. The public saw it as a dark page in the Chinese history.   It is not a "taboo" topic or "dirty laundry" that China is trying to hide.   

Fu is a successful businesswoman and the work she is doing is fascinating. She really did not need to use pulp fiction techniques to embellish or twist her past to make it sound more melodramatic than what it really was. Her narration goes with the tradition of "scar literature" that has been popular among Chinese writers in the United States. Writers in this tradition use shallow sensationalism to dramatize personal suffering. In her interviews and writing, Fu impresses one as a victim to circumstances and harm others inflicted on her, such as gang rape by red guards. Many believe that she was a red guard herself based on a group photo sent to the media herself. As criticism of her dishonesty increases, she uses a conspiracy theory to defend herself by claiming that there is a “smear campaign” against her. There is no campaign that I know of.  There are just individuals who became infuriated with possible acts of fraud.

If she had intended to blend fiction into a memoir, her book had better be labeled as fiction, or fictional memoir rather than merely a memoir. Dave Eggers wrote What is the What a few years ago about the legendary story of Sudanese refuge Valentino Achak Deng. Eggers did not pretend he could get all the facts straight based on Deng’s narration; hence the categorization of the book as “fictionalized memoir”.

Fu’s controversy is thought provoking. Some may consider her to be a victim of jealousy. If that is the case, Yao Ming would be attacked everyday, but he is not. Neither do people question Nien Cheng or Ningkun Wu, who both gave truthful accounts of their personal sufferings in the Cultural Revolution for an English audience. Public anger with Fu came from a dislike of people who are dishonest. Fu is just getting what Greg Mortenson got for bending facts in his book Three Cups of Tea.

When geographical and language barriers kept information from spreading, Ping would probably get away with the fabrication and misrepresentation without anybody noticing it. Chinese businessman Tang Jun could probably also safely brag about his glories in the United States if only a handful people knew anything about life in the outside world. It is increasingly difficult to do so now. People leave digital trails that eventually will lead the public to the truth. The increase of a cross-cultural population is also helping readers to tell truth from lies. When one is caught lying, public feedback can be brutal. Fu may claim that the world is 3D, but as far as information flow goes, it is still dangerously flat.

China Daily, Feb 19, 2013
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