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Clarifying the Facts in Bend, Not Break

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An article about my book, Bend, Not Break, which appeared in Forbes and was translated into Chinese for ForbesChina.com (this link is to a Google English translation), contained several inaccuracies in wording. The posts have since been corrected. Meanwhile, Chinese blogger Fang Zhouzi posted a story in which he questioned my credibility, and John Kennedy reacted to that blog in the South China Morning Post. Though factually correct based on the original version of the Forbes article, both Fang and Kennedy made comments based on inaccurate information, rather than on material actually printed in the book. I would like to respond to their comments, as well as the comments of other critics who have since posted to various websites attacking the authenticity of my story.

Why did you say you were in a labor camp during the Cultural Revolution?

I did not say or write that I was in a labor camp; I stated that I lived for 10 years in a university dormitory on the NUAA campus. Chinese children don't get put in labor camps. I also did not say I was a factory worker. I said Mao wanted us to study and learn from farmers, soldiers and workers.

If you were deprived of an education for those 10 years of the Cultural Revolution, and less than 5 percent of applicants were accepted when universities reopened, how did you get in? Were you a prodigy?

After 1972, school resumed (p. 128). We had few formal classes at my school at the edge of Nanjing in an industrial area. I studied nonstop (pp. 229-231) and was known by my family as "the girl who never turns off her lights." (p. 231)

Suzhou University did not reopen until 1982. How could you go there in 1977?

A: This is a typo in the book (p. 232). I took the college entrance exams in 1977 and 1978, and was admitted in 1978. When I entered, I believe it was called Jiangsu Teachers College or Jiangsu Teachers University. Its name changed to Suzhou University before I left; it was the same university in the same location.

In a 2010 NPR interview, you say you saw Red Guards execute one teacher by tying each limb to a separate horse and dismembering her by having each horse run simultaneously in a separate outward direction. During the Cultural Revolution, dismemberment using four horses was unheard of and would have been quite difficult. This was a legend from several hundred years ago.

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. Those first weeks after having been separated from both my birth parents and my adoptive parents were so traumatic, and I was only eight years old. There is a famous phrase in China for this killing; I had many nightmares about it.

You claim you were brutally gang-raped. Gang rape doesn't happen in China.

A: Rape is a very private matter and this definitely happened. I know this was not a hallucination. I have scars. My body was broken.

In the Forbes piece, you say you wrote your undergrad thesis at Suzhou University on the practice of female infanticide in rural China. Your research received nationwide press coverage at the time, and you were sentenced to exile as a result.

NOTE: The Forbes editorial mistake noting that I "published my thesis" on female infanticide in rural China has been corrected.

I said I was asked to leave quietly. I did not say my research was published; it was never published. I was told that the reason I was arrested was because of my research (book p. 257).

In the 2005 Inc. Magazine article, you explained that your findings on female infanticide were later covered by Shanghai's Wen Hui Bao newspaper and later then by People's Daily, resulting in condemnation from around the world, sanctions imposed by the UN, and you getting tossed into prison. People's Daily archives for the period when your research would've been published have nothing regarding female infanticide in rural China.

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 (pp. 253-255). 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. People who have not read my book made assumptions that I submitted the research to the newspaper, or I published the thesis, but that was not how I described it in the book.

Why does nobody else in China know that the UN placed sanctions on China in 1981? And how do you know that?

A: I heard about the sanctions in China while awaiting my passport. I was told that the UN was unhappy about this issue. A quick web search shows that the American-based journalist Steven W. Mosher wrote about female infanticide in China in 1981. His book, called Broken Earth, was published in 1983 -- the same year I was waiting for my passport. Knowing this, it makes sense that I was asked to leave quietly. Anything else would have drawn more attention to the issue. According to the Los Angeles Times, Mosher successfully lobbied George W. Bush to cut UN funding for China. His story and the timeline are consistent with my experience.

You say you were walking on campus when a black bag was suddenly thrown over your head and you were stuffed into a car before being arrested?

Yes, this is how it happened. I never returned to classes and I did not graduate. My classmates were told that I had a mental breakdown. After my release, I did what I was told and laid low at home (book, p. 255, pp. 258-259). I originally had been planning to go to graduate school to study comparative literature in Nanjing, but that could not happen due to the circumstances.

You said you were held three days and narrowly avoided being sentenced to reform through labor when authorities decided instead to send you into exile.

A: I was asked to leave quietly and never come back again (book p. 258).

Why would you, an unknown, be deported/expelled to study in the U.S., a treatment reserved for very prominent dissidents?

As I describe in the book (pp. 257-261), I was told that I had to leave China, but not given a specific destination. I got a student visa, which was secured through a family friend at the University of New Mexico. On pages 258-259, I detail my application process to live abroad and how I ended up in America.

Chinese international students had many ways of being able to stay in the United States. One of those was to fabricate bizarre tales of having faced persecution in China and apply for political asylum. It didn't matter how fantastic you made your experiences, Americans would still believe them to be true.

I didn't apply for political asylum; I was explicitly told not to attract attention.

According to Inc., you arrived at Suzhou University wanting to study engineering or business, but the Party assigned you to study English.

When the acceptance letter came in the fall of 1978 (this is a typo in the book, where it reads 1977 on p 232), it said that I had been assigned to study literature at Suzhou University. Inc.magazine made an editorial error on my major in China; I majored in Chinese literature, not in English literature. (p. 99)

Forbes said you arrived in the United States knowing only three words of English, yet there are different sets of those first three words: Inc.: Please, thank you, help; Bend, Not Break: Thank you, hello, help; NPR: Thank you, help, excuse me.

In college, English language classes were offered, but not required. I had "level zero" English, just like most Americans know a few words of Spanish or French. I tried to learn more English when I knew I was going to the U.S., but when I arrived, I only remembered a few.

In the Fast Company story image, you and other kids are wearing Red Guard armbands under the Red Guard flag, yet you claim you were not a Red Guard.

If you zoom into that picture, you only need to look closely to see I have no red band on my arm. The image was taken in front of a Red Guard flag at the school that I attended in the late 70s. I wrote in the book that the situation got better after 1972. Still, I was never a Red Guard.

One of my classmates also responded to Fang's article on his blog. What he says is consistent with what I wrote in the book, so he must be a classmate. He made comments based on Fang, assuming that what Fang said was in the book, however it was not. I would like to respond.

You weren't in a labor camp.

A: True, I did not say I was in a labor camp in the book, or ever.

You did not go to college in 1977.

True, I went in 1978; that is a typo in the book.

How can the labor camp be 10 years long for you?

He asked this question based on Mr. Fang Zhouzi's blog, which was an incorrect choice of words. I never said that I was at a labor camp. Forbes corrected this error.

You did not publish your research and it was never published.

Correct; I did not publish my research and it was never published. I left school; my mother and I went to the school and declared I had a mental breakdown so I would not be sent to remote China (page 258). You just didn't know the true reason I left.

I want to say that I respect Mr. Fang Zhouzi, Forbes, and the classmate (sorry, I do not know the name since he used a pen name). Democracy means everyone is entitled to freedom of expression. Criticism is not a form of defamation; it is a form of speaking or seeking truth. I welcome constructive criticism.