China Digital Times has a comprehensive rundown of the Ping Fu affair, in which a successful Chinese-American businesswoman published an autobiography where, to put it politely, she seems to have relied on her imagination to tell the story of her early life in China during the Cultural Revolution. She also manages to claim that her journey to a US university in the 1980s was a form of punishment for writing a thesis on a forbidden subject. Most of the students from the PRC I met at that time were pretty glad to get away, but I think they’d have been surprised to learn that being sent to a foreign university was a form of punishment. They tended to think that they were lucky, all in all.
Given that a sober, understated account of life in China at that time would be perfectly sufficient to knock the socks off most Western readers, I really don’t understand why the urge to elaborate like this occurs. Maybe it’s some kind of political economy of dissidence, a tendency to judge the validity of the Chinese experience by the extent to which it involved suffering and/or resistance, and a resulting temptation to respond to this framework in a manner that goes past the facts. It certainly seems to be what people want to hear. I once saw a person acting in the capacity of dissident (whose name I don’t recall) give a presentation to a European Parliamentary committee back in the nineties in which she said that when she got on the plane out and saw the menu she burst into tears. There was chicken and there was fish and it was the first time she had been given a choice about anything. The audience just nodded along. And then it voted to stop annual condemnation of China’s human rights record because it was convinced that once Europe had sold China a bunch of stuff and fully exploited the cheapness of its labour, then China would learn to vote. Such was the discourse.
An interesting point here is that Ping Fu was first outed by Fang Zhouzhi, China’s most famous ‘mythbuster’. So far as anyone can tell, Fang isn’t a Party creature. But he does operate in a context where he knows that there are famous and prominent people he can’t attack, along with many that he can: a US based pseudo-dissident is exactly in his line.