Today on The Cycle: Ping Fu

Updated
Bend Not Break jacket
Bend Not Break jacket

Imagine being eight years old and being ripped from the only family you have ever known. You are relocated to a new city and you become the sole care giver for your younger sister. After enduring an awful life you are finally able to start all over again only to have your government exile you to a country where you don’t speak the language and you have no money. With $8 in her pocket, Ping Fu came to America and started again. She worked her way up and became a pioneering software programmer and innovator. She is the founder and CEO of Geomagic, advises woman aspiring to be in a position similar to hers, a member of President Obama’s National Advisory Council on innovation and Entrepreneurships, and Author of Bend, not Break: A Life in Two Worlds.

In Bend, not Break: A Life in Two Worlds Ping Fu shares her inspirational and remarkable story of how she got to where she is today. Her story teaches others that they can learn from the lessons of their past and take them to make an inspiring future.

Be sure to tune in for the full conversation today at 3:40pm and check out an excerpt from her book below.

To help us reform, we children of black elements were ushered into a large public auditorium jam-packed with people to learn from an adult “struggle session.” I felt like a chicken with its feathers stuck in the wire coop, trapped and terrified. The crowd included many people now occupying the campus, as well as hundreds of peasants and workers from nearby communes who had come to see the show.

A smell of rot from the Red Guards’ heavy boots triggered my first onset of a migraine headache, which would continue to plague me for life. We kids sat watching people walk onstage one at a time to “verbally struggle” with their pasts. They would criticize professors, administrators, students—anyone who represented Mao’s black elements. I was reminded of Shanghai Papa’s talk in our home when someone had shouted, “Revisionist!”

The struggle session grew more and more abusive and intimidating. People denounced their ancestors in the worst possible language, and then made vows to reform in front of Mao’s portrait. If they didn’t behave to the Red Guards’ standards, they were struck.

One day, it was the children’s turn. My legs began to tremble as I listened to the endless taunts and jeers from the crowd, the repeated chants of “Black element!” I was the third or fourth person to be called onstage. Before me was a sea of angry, curious, and frightened faces. Red Guards hung a sign around my neck made from a piece of chalkboard they’d taken from one of the classrooms at the university. It had my name and the crimes of my bourgeois family printed on it. The chalkboard was so heavy that the wires cut into my neck. I was forced to assume the “airplane position”: arms held out straight on either side of my body like wings. My limbs shook so uncontrollably that I felt as though I were standing on a plank floating in a tank of water. I could not think of what to say. For that, I received a heavy blow to the head from a tall Red Guard. Blood flowed from my nose and from my neck where the chain was cutting into my flesh.

I had to think on my feet. I repeated some of the same sentences the black elements who had gone before me had used. “My parents are bad people,” I said. Then I took my criticism further: “No, they are not people; they are animals. They take money from the poor.

They should be punished and I should be punished.” My voice was flat and mechanical. The Red Guard slapped me again, knocking me to the floor this time. I heard Hong yelp from somewhere offstage. The tall man then wiped his hand on his pants. “You are not sincere!” he bellowed. 

“You must dig deeper into your crimes.”

I managed to stand up. Suddenly, I recalled something I’d seen one of the adults do during his struggle session: I started slapping my own face with my hands, left and then right, harder and harder, until I tasted blood in my mouth.

“I am nobody!” I shouted out as loud as I could. “I don’t deserve even to live. Anybody can step on me and squash me like a bug. I am nobody—I am not worth the dirt beneath your feet!”

They let me go.

That was not the first or the last time I was forced to publically humiliate my family and myself. Eventually, I started to believe what I said onstage. I was nobody. I became unquestioningly submissive  to the abuse I received. I gave up on craving affection, such as what I had received from Shanghai Mama. I became indifferent to suffering, to the sunrise and sunset.

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Today on The Cycle: Ping Fu

Updated