We’re all suckers for a good story. In recent years, we’ve seen the authors of too-good-to-be-true memoirs exposed (James Frey, Greg Mortensen, etc.), and now we’re seeing this with a notable businesswoman from China.
In Bend, Not Break, Ping Fu details her eventful life. During the Cultural Revolution, she was separated from her parents at age 8, then tortured and raped and assigned to work. In college, she wrote her thesis on female infanticide caused by the One Child Policy, which subsequently led to her deportation (the word she uses in the book) at the age of 25. (She wound up at the University of New Mexico.) Since, she’s become a successful entrepreneur as CEO of Geomagic, a pioneer in 3D printing. She’s even a member of President Obama’s National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Her incredible journey has led major publications like Inc., Daily Beast and Forbes to write about her.
But how incredible is her story, really?
Incredible in the truest since, as in not believable. Among those who have called her out include Fang Zhouzi, a notable fraud buster who’s exposed personalities such as Tang Jun (former president of MSN China) for credential fraud and accused Han Han (blogger, author, race-car driver) for plagiarism. SCMP has an excellent summary of Fang’s arguments. And several other publications — such as Forbes and Daily Beast – have been forced to publish follow-ups to their own initial, skepticism-free stories.
The accusations have led Ping to write a commentary in the Huffington Post that makes her seem even more of a liar. For one of her falsified accounts, she cites “emotional memory,” claiming:
When I was young, these are the stories being told to us and in my nightmares they come back again and again. That time was so traumatic. I was taken away from my parents.
And here’s what she told the Guardian:
But she now accepts that her imagination may have played tricks. “Somehow in my mind I always thought I saw it, but now I’m not sure my memory served me right. I probably saw it in a movie or something, and I acknowledge that’s a problem.”
Seems like she’s claiming that some of her stories are manifestations of her imagination. Shouldn’t that make these stories fiction? We get that witnessing the Cultural Revolution was extremely traumatic, but exaggerating helps no one. In Ping’s case, she purposefully deceived for the sake of strengthening herself — like a carpetbagger, profitting off collective tragedy.
Unfortunately, we are all too often deceived. We want to believe in success against all odds. These stories inspire us, and tragedy sells. For authors, it’s easy to sensationalize when they know that they’re just giving people what they want. Unfortunately for Ping Fu, as she’s learning, it seems the people don’t want the story she’s peddling.