Ping Fu Controversy I – Defending the Indefensible?

When I was watching Sorkin’s Newsroom, i loved its wit. But i didn’t relate too strongly with the show, because i didn’t really think the US media is as bad as Sorkin was trying to portray: jaded, sensationalism, interested in the rating only, not interested in exposing the truth.

In real life, none of the media focus has been anything I can vouch for, so even when i took a side, it was mostly based on my judgement on people’s character rather than on facts (e.g. Obama vs. Romney).

Until now. Over the last four days, I watched this controversy over Ping Fu and her new book “Bend, Not Break” unfold, going from semi-amused, stunned, entertained, and then angered, I couldn’t believe how jaded, non-critical, sensationalist, and ignorant the US Media has been in dealing with this incident.

Ping Fu is a very successful Chinese American business woman. She is the CEO of a cool 3D printing company and serves on the National Advisory Council for Innovation and Entrepreneurship for the Obama Administration. She released her memoir “Bend, Not Break” recently. The book detailed her childhood during China’s Cultural Revolution, and her amazing success in America.

I first heard of the book on NPR, when Tina Brown was reviewing the book. When Tina mentioned the phrase “labor camp for children as young as four year old”. I filed the book in my mind as fabricated talltales tailored to Americans who know nothing about China. I let it go cuz i thought it was a fiction. There were enough of those around. This is a free country. People are free to read what entertains them. Later last week a friend started to tell me about Fang Zhouzi’s new target. Fang was famed to expose fraud surrounding famous Chinese returning from overseas, who took advantage of Chinese ignorant of Western world and parading around with fake Western credentials. His blog was baned by China because in the process of exposing varies famous and well connected figures he has touched on too many sensitive nerves for Chinese Government’s taste. Fu is the first case he has trying to expose that’s trying to cheat the other side. As a result, most of his followers were laughing instead of getting angry. They couldn’t believe how gullible the US Media is.

As Fang’s findings grew, I became interested. First the book is labeled as Non-Fiction, categorized as Biography/Memoir. Also I couldn’t believe how someone could be so bold and tell so many obvious lies, yet still get away with it. Initial research indicated that Fang started exposing Ping Fu after the Forbes article on Fu was translated to Chinese and published on Forbes China. My research also brought me to amazon’s book review page where someone named “lin” has already posted a one-star review a week before Fang started exposing Fu. Admist all the raving five star reviews, “lin”‘s review was detailed and full of facts and pointed out inconsistency between the book’s claim and reality as we know it.

I started participating in the discussion on review page.

Initially I was merely curious and amused. Curious why despite all her success she still needs to take such a risk and publish her lies, curious how could she be so bold and blatant (e.g. providing a photo that shows herself as a red guard while her story all along portraying herself as a victim of red guard abuse), curious how could she get away with so many lies for so long (the earliest news report on her fairytale started with Inc.’ interview of her dated 2005). Amused that spontaneously the flood of Chinese and Chinese Americans came to amazon’s review page dragged down the book rating from its original 4.5 stars pumped up by Fu’s PR team to 2 stars within 24 hours since Fang broadcasted his findings in weibo (Chinese version of twitter), where Fang had 127k followers.

Events started to twist and turn like a roller coaster. With the mountains of evidence piled up against Ping Fu, she started blaming Forbes article author Jenna Goudreau, “mis-interpretation” “lost in translation” “they didn’t let me review the article before publishing…”. To my surprise (i guess Forbes didn’t rate as high in my mind when it comes to journalist integrity as some other news media. My apology, Forbes and Jenna. I underestimated you.), Jenna responded with a great article. She started fact checking and asked Fu to clarify some of the questions raised by Fang and the comments on

The original Forbes article was published on Jan. 23, 2013. Jenna published a follow up on Jan. 31, 2013. The followup article exposed more inconsistency than it answered. amazon review community became more excited and more evidence and testimony of Fu’s classmates and neighbors in China started surfacing.

More one-star reviews continues to grow on’s review page. Fu released a clarification on her Huffington Post blog on Feb. 1, 2013 around midnight.

Her “clarification” marked a turning point in my attitude toward this entire fiasco. Fu indicated she would release a public statement on an early morning post to amazon review’s comment section. I thought maybe she will offer some statement in the line of “I took too much liberty at exaggerating my own history, in the hope of being the spokes-person for all those suffered during Cultural Revolution and have the world known how much atrocity has been committed.” I thought that would be a graceful way to say, yeah i fabricated this book with good intention. Then i would have been fine with it. Because then the media has to retract their story and the book will go to line up with the other “fake memoir” instead of “non-fiction”.

I was stunned when her “clarification” finally came out. It stone walled all the major controversy, produced more lies to cover previous ones, accusing everyone questioning the authenticity of her story as motivated by political means to protect China’s image(LOL), and engage in smear champaign. What angered me the most was Huffington Post’s role in this. As “lin” has put it

“huffingtonpost… let Ping Fu open a blog at their website yesterday.So now she is enjoying her free ride provided by huffingtonpost, accusing all the critics of engaging in a “smear campaign” against her personally and her book. She can cover, spin and spread her lies with more lies freely without being challenged or questioned. And huffingtonpost don’t need to take any responsibility for that. I would say this is very irresponsible journalism.”

I think “lin” has been too kind. What Huffington Post has done has shown not a speck of journalist integrity. They might as well be a celebrity gossip column that is aimed at sensationalize whatever story come their way and they believe will please their audience.

I was looking through all the book promotion Fu’s PR team were able to book, produce, and publish during Janurary 2013, ranged from radio shows, tv interviews, newspaper publication, editorial book “review”(more like copy and paste of Fu’s PR team’s brochure), live recording. Among the twenty or so such publications, both in UK and the US, including lots of great names that i used to trust: NPR, PBS, BBC, WSJ, Reuters, Economist. There was only one host who obviously not only has read the book but also has some basic knowledge of Cultural Revolution, and he showed his skepticism during the show. Fu was obviously irritated at the end of it.

Only One!

The rest were whoo and waa, fanning the sensationalism of Fu’s story. Cheering her on. It partly explained one of my original questions on why she dares to do this. Because she has been able to get away with telling her fairytale with such a cheerleading media force around her.

This only host who demonstrated critical thinking ability was Leonard Lopate on WNYC radio station’s The Leonard Lopate Show. From the likes of Sorkin’s Newsroom, i learned that good journalists are supposed to ask sharp question and tease out the truth from chaos, guiding the public to arrive at a fair picture of what really happened. My immediate thought was it is probably really hard to find such sharp question to ask. One has to do lots of research, able to find suspecting gap among mountains of information. But in Ping Fu’s case, all it required really were some common sense questions that no one but Leonard Lopate asked.

“why were you sent to SH( instead of staying with your parents in Nanjing)?”
“were your SH family impacted by the Cultural Revolution, too? were they sent away? (implying: if you weren’t taken away from your SH family, you would be parentless too, without hukou in SH, how will you survive?)”
Lopate will start by using the more rational and trueful term “school dorm” and “student dormitory”, trying to prevent her from delivering her usual graphic sentionalized stories, which all other talk hosts/reporters relished.
“did working in factory help your interest in technology?”
“are you the only child in the factory?”
“the red guards raped you? The red guards were supposed to be the moral conscience of China at the time, how can they reconcile with being rapists?”
“You published a book in China?! But you were in so much trouble with Chinese government that they had to deport you, now they allow you to publish a book?!”

I was talking to a friend about this today. She said the book rating is at 1.6 stars, you guys found so many convincing evidence that proves the inconsistency of her story, she had to cover one lie with more lies, their defense has been so pathetic that they had to rally people on G+ and Twitter to come and fake positive reviews. Aren’t you guys already win? What more do you need?

Then i realized. All along, Fu, Fox and Co. has been calling the one-star reviewers on amazon “Chinese Nationalists” “Holocaust Deniers” “Communist Hack” who were trying to defend the image of China. How wrong they are!

Here is one excerpt from one of best reviews on amazon (there were so many! If nothing else, I have been truly inspired by my fellow reviewer’s words!)

Why we speak up, February 1, 2013
By Xin Liu
Most people who commented here are Chinese American professionals. We came here 10, 20 or 30 years ago, just like Fu. This country offered us more than the first-rate education; more importantly, it reshaped or reinforced the moral standards that were once lost or distorted in the dark ages of China. Honesty, Integrity and Responsibility are the true assets of this society, on this land we call home. My salute to everyone who speaks up –we are fulfilling our citizen responsibilities to ensure zero tolerance to lies, to make sure our children growing up in a society where they have true role models to look up to.

We’ve either heard from older generation or personal experienced varies horrors of recent China. We’ve been depressed by China’s current human right violations and ever tightening Orwellian style censorship to the free flow of information. We loved the ideal that America stands for: Freedom, Democracy, and a media that care about right and wrong, care about public interests, and care about the truth. For the past week, we’ve spent so much time on, forbes, and (god forbid) huffington post, arguing with the other side, looking for truth, because we want to believe in our ideal, because we want to defend the media that we thought we had here in America, because we thought if we spent enough time providing evidence, bridging the knowledge and culture gap between the east and the west, the Media would see their mistake and act as the true public guardian it should have been.

To Fu and Co.’s surprise, and probably beyond their comprehension, we are doing what we do because we want to defend the America Media.

Are we defending the indefensible? Is the American media as bad as Sorkin described in The Newsroom? I started to think maybe it is. Especially after i went through all these Ping Fu’s book promotions provided by great names i used to trust. Am I too pessimistic? We will find out in the following days or weeks.

Thank you Leonard Lopate for being the pleasant surprise and the only bright spot of a very depressing evening during my research.
Jenna Goudreau, Thank you for your follow up and I hope you would continue to investigate further and help us get to the bottom of this tory.

The rest of US and UK medias, the ball is in your court.


A list of unanswered questions with evidence and inconsistency identified.
A list of best reviews on the book (not comprehensive since good ones continue to pop up, i’m so proud of this grassroot community!)

~~~the worst, promoted Fu’s fairytale biography and now publicly supporting Fu ignoring all the evidences already uncovered~~~~

Huff Post Live
Josh Zepps (Jan.11, 2013)

GoogleTalk series
Ping Fu: “Bend not Break”, Authors at Google via @googletalks –
Host: Chade-Meng Tan (Monday, Jan. 7, 2013)

Feb. 4, 2013
Daily Beast
Katie Baker Defending Ping Fu despite mounting evidence

~~~~Still promoting the fake Biography
Jan. 30, 2013 PST
Tavis Smiley

Jan. 29, 2013 GMT
BBC Hardtalk
Stephen Sackur

Mon, Jan 21, 2013 9:54 PM EST
interview with Yahoo finance/CNBC, “Off the cuff”.

Monday, Jan 28, 2013 4:30PST, on XM Radio “the Fran Tarkenton Show”, live.

Jan. 22, 2013 NPR
Tina Brown
reviews the resilient @PFuGeomagic’s Bend, Not Break

Jan. 20, 2013
Daily Beast

Fri. Jan. 25, 2013 at 1:15p / EST 10:15a PST
Mary Kissel (this interview didn’t get into any specifics on PF’s life in China, so it sounds less ridiculous than the others)

Jan. 17, 2013
Ping Fu’s dramatic journey from captivity to computer entrepreneur
Editor-at-Large Sir Harold Evans.

Jan. 21, 2013
BBC Women’s Hour
Jane Garvey.

Jan. 18, 2013
An entrepreneur’s long, strange trip
By Jessi Hempel, senior writer

Jan. 15, 2013
MSNBC: Today on The Cycle: Ping Fu
Abby Borovitz
(an excerpt inside that hasn’t surfaced before, on how she perform self-abusive activities on stage, this woman and/or Fox need help)

Four Hosts: “Touré TV”, “Per S.E.”, “Steve Speak”, and “Krystal Clear”.

Jan. 15, 2013
Tina Roth Eisenberg

Jan. 12, 2013
Economist Print Edition

Jan. 3, 2013
The Fast Company
By Jessen Obrien

Jan. 8, 2013

Jan. 1, 2013
Leigh Newman

Jan 1, 2013
NY Journal of Books
Diane Brandley

~~~~Journalists demonstrated their obligation to public interests, trying to expose the truth, with a healthy dose of skeptism
Jan. 14, 2013
The Leonard Lopate Show | WNYC Radio
Bend, Not Break: From China to America

Jan. 31, 2013
Jenna Goudreau

Feb. 4, 2013
How Chinese readers Fact Check a Book Intended for Western Audience

5 thoughts on “Ping Fu Controversy I – Defending the Indefensible?

  1. Ping Fu said she published a book in Chinese in early 90s in China. That book is about her American experience. It will be extremely interesting to see what she said about her American experience in her Chinese book.

  2. yes, the book’s info is following, but not sure how many copy it sold, i didn’t find it on douban.
    漂流瓶旅美散记傅蘋著湖北少年儿童出版社1996 ISBN:7-5353-1544-5

  3. Hi Jean, in total agreement with your article.

    I have written two comments on Forbes web sites recently under Russell Flannery’s article. You may want to bring them to Amazon for sharing for which I do not have an account. In the second comment, I brought up one possiblity that caused this total disaster to Ping Fu’s personal integrity as well as her PR efforts.

    I believe someone in China is able to do a facts verification at the college Fu attend to solve the key issues here.

    – the true reason she left the school – mental breakdown (with doc paper) as she claimed to avoid being sent to remote China. Due to health unfitness to avoid being assigned a job in a remote area was common those days. Choose using mental breakdown as an accuse for avoid a job assignment is absolutely un-heard of – unless you are truely having a mental breakdown. Now this explains where all those facinating stories coming from – she was living in her fantasy world and has trusted those memory until today.

    – her research topic in her final school year. There is a possibility that she might not even complete her graduation thesis and there is no such record in achieve.

    – find out the fate of her teacher who assigned her research topic – if Ping Fu got trouble with the police because of her research paper, then her teacher would not escape unscratched by the authority. This is an effort to proof that her so-claimed research is a big joke using circumstancial evidence.

    It is very difficult to change people’s mind as far as they are pre-determined. They become illogical, unrational and fact avoiding. If you present hard evidences right in front of them, they will ignore them. Don’t waste time on these people, avoid debate with them. Let fact talk.

    • Hi observer,
      Sorry for the late reply.
      Interesting points on the mental breakdown.
      I will bring it to the amazon crowd and see what people think.

      people have asked about the name and party leader of her school at the time, cuz she did mention in her book that the party leader approved her thesis topic, too. People have also asked the whereabouts of her research, name of the village or the general area. SuZHou, afterall, is one the wealthiest countryside in the entire China! if hundreds of baby girls got killed in front of her eyes during her research, imagine what’s happening in poor areas like Si Chuan and He Nan!

      It is bigger than just a fake memoir at this point. PF and her team has political and monetary agenda that they must follow outside of the book, so they can’t change their mind. Hoping the US media will do the right thing. let’s wait and see.

      Thank you for your comment.


  4. a typo in my previous post

    “Choose using mental breakdown as an accuse …” should be “Choose using mental breakdown as an excuse …”

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