This Controversial Book Has Many Dimensions

"There are three friends of winter: the pine tree, the plum blossom, and bamboo,' Shanghai Papa once told me." – from Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds, by Ping Fu

The above quote exemplifies one of the most poignant lessons from Ping Fu's memoir, Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds. It speaks of strength, dignity and forbearance, and resilience, regardless of exterior conditions.

Ping Fu is a pioneer in the world of 3D technology, which is one of the hottest investing topics right now. In January, 3D Systems Corp. (NYSE: DDD  ) announced that it was acquiring the company she founded, Geomagic. The acquisition will help 3D Systems compete in the 3D content-to-print space, which is obviously growing.

Not only have other 3D printing companies like Stratasys (NASDAQ: SSYS  ) and Proto Labs (NYSE: PRLB  ) been hot, soaring stocks lately, ExOne (NASDAQ: XONE), which specializes in industrial metal applications, has surged by about 45% in its IPO today, as investors pile in.

Ping Fu's story could have been interesting enough given her early participation in this space (not to mention tougher times when the company almost went bankrupt, or why she decided not to sell the company in 2005).

According to her memoir, though, Ping Fu's success isn't simply about being a female immigrant who went on to found a company in a hot industry. Her story is also about starting over with nothing, and achieving success despite a traumatic past. Such stories remind investors of the entrepreneurial spirit that sparks so many exciting investment opportunities.

Hard-learned life lessons
According to Ping Fu's memoir, her happy childhood in China was upended by Chairman Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution. At just eight years old, she was separated from her parents by the Red Guard, and placed in a dormitory to fend for herself and her baby sister. Fu was also subjected to physical and psychological abuse due to her status as one of the "black elements," or the demonized children of wealthy, educated people.

Although the book recounts many horrors during the Cultural Revolution, it also lends sharp relief to the reality that human kindness crops up unexpectedly, even in the worst times and most dangerous circumstances. Meanwhile, even such dire backgrounds can lend one some useful tools for future success.

For example, factory work in China (and waitressing after she arrived in America) gave Fu an idea of how to think efficiently. Fu's work with a kind engineer named Wang making radios and other electronics helped prepare her for her future in America, where she would complete her education, and eventually merge science and creativity in positions at a start-up, Bell Labs, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), and finally start her own company, Geomagic.

A kinder revolution
3D technology seems to have only recently gained ground, given growing interest in the 3D printing space at the moment. Growing strength of the Maker movement, for example, has been bringing the idea of small-scale, customized manufacturing further mainstream.

Companies like 3D Systems are now in the part of the business cycle where the technology is becoming increasingly affordable, much like the evolution of gigantic supercomputers into personal computers that were small and cheap enough for just about every home.

Geomagic has been among the vanguard of companies exploring the usefulness and utility of 3D imaging and design, formed in 1997, when everyone was obsessed with all things dot-com. At one point at NCSA, Fu even hired and worked with undergraduate (and Internet pioneer) Marc Andreessen before he had even dreamed up Netscape .

Geomagic makes software and hardware that allows customers to capture and model 3D content from objects, as well as sculpt shapes and prep products for manufacturing . Basically, these applications work hand-in-hand with Fu's early interest in the idea of "personal factories" that were customized, and yet as efficiently manufactured as mass-produced items.

Read the book and decide for yourself
The memoir business is problematic. Although it may be human nature to be unable to accurately recall all memories, occasionally, some hit the shelves with compelling stories that are actually fraught with falsehoods. A Million Little Pieces was one of the first controversial fictionalized "memoirs" that got the public's blood boiling.

Along those lines, some controversy has erupted regarding Fu's book. Amazon.com's review page currently has hundreds of reviews claiming that Fu has fabricated many of the anecdotes in the book, gaming the book's rating to two-star status. Fu has responded to many of the criticisms for Forbes, available here. The Daily Beast also touched upon something that those familiar with China's oppressive regime would point out: that these were likely paid bloggers who virulently defend China's reputation against anything close to criticism of the country, past or present.

Still, there are a few irrefutable facts that we do know, despite China's reluctance to acknowledge ; during the brutal Cultural Revolution, millions upon millions of Chinese people were killed, maimed, or persecuted . For all the progress China has made since that turbulent time, it is still an oppressive regime with a poor human rights record, and it does not appreciate free speech, much less criticism for current behavior or its past. Penguin, the book's publisher, stands by the content, and calls the Internet excoriation "political attacks ."

I highly recommend Bend Not Break, which merges a study of hardship we are unfamiliar with in America, with the entrepreneurial spirit that carries cultures forward. Mostly, this is a story about the victory and being part of far more positive revolutions, such as the tech revolution that has been taking place over the last several decades. It even includes business and investing lessons. Despite the controversy -- perhaps even partially because of it, and its cultural and historical significance -- it's definitely worth the read.

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Read/Post Comments (15) | Recommend This Article (13)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2013, at 12:33 AM, zjliujie wrote:

    Labeling critics "paid bloggers" won't help Ping Fu in the long term. The evidences put forth by her critics are overwhelming, and they are all available online. Lots of her critics are actually American citizens living in the US in high paying careers. PR piece like this one try to appeal to the pride and prejudice of American public. But none of them dare to show, let alone argue against the evidences of Ping Fu's critics point by point. Ping Fu will win in the short term - her tactics are time tested formulas. But the truth will prevail, because there is freedom of speech in the country and lot of people already show their willingness to speak up.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2013, at 12:43 AM, mateonelson wrote:

    By the xone became available to the public, the stock was already $24 and it closed in the mix $26, not much of a gain for retail investors.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2013, at 10:03 AM, Corporality wrote:

    Poignant powerful stuff. Thank you for turning me on to this. Congratulations Alyce, it seems you are on the Chinese government's radar. :( By clicking on the first comment I found...

    zjliujie - "Fool Since: February 8 2013" -The date the article was published.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2013, at 11:21 AM, liulu wrote:

    I’m surprised to find Motley Fools jumping into this controversy, but shouldn’t I? Labeling Fu’s critics as “paid bloggers” is cheap, coward, and insulting. Why not refute the critics with evidence and technical analysis, which was none from anybody so far, not even from Fu herself or her publisher. Is this odd? Many critics are from Chinese Americans who happen to know a bit more about China and Chinese than their American fellows. You accuse them, and me, get paid by Chinese government? Should they be put into trial for treason then? Fu is not an ordinary person. She is supposed to be a “role model” for young Americans as being promoted by media, an advisor of the President of the United State of America, and more importantly to our investors, a coming CSO of 3D systems which stock is recommended by Motley Fools. Should her integrity be questioned? Or should Motley Fools defend her integrity technically but find excuses for her inaccuracies in her book and in talks given in interviews? If you know some of her statements were not true, should you give out a balanced story? After all, there is money at stake.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2013, at 11:38 AM, catoismymotor wrote:

    liulu, your words may have more impact if you were not just created solely for casting doubt on Ms. Lomax.

    "Ask not what you can do for your country; ask what your government is doing to you." – Joseph Sobran

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2013, at 1:19 PM, TMFLomax wrote:

    Hi Cato! Long time no see/hear. That's a great quote!

    Best,

    Alyce

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2013, at 1:36 PM, zjliujie wrote:

    haha, I didn't know I suppose to get a pay check from the Chinese government. Thanks for reminding me, Corporality.

    It's pointless to argue with people with ideological mindset and are too lazy to do any fact checking. You are the kind of people who were most susceptible to the Chinese government's propaganda during the Culture Revolution.

    But this is funny because it reminds me of a time when some people were saying I work for the US government when I was clarifying some facts in a Chinese forum online. Looks like people are not so different after all....

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2013, at 3:22 PM, yxz11 wrote:

    This PR piece quote as saying "Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds. It speaks of strength, dignity and forbearance, and resilience, regardless of exterior conditions.". A more appropriate description should be "Bend, And Twisted: A Liar in Two Worlds. It speaks of lies, distortion and doing whatever one can to get fame and money."

    To be frank, I do not get why Alyce Lomax wants to side with the liar Fu Ping and her lies. Any one with their eyes open can immediately see many outlandish claims by Fu Ping cannot be true. Especially, she could get into trouble with USCIS if she filed her political asylum application with fraudulent information (Note: I don't know how did Fu Ping get her green card, in one place Fu Ping said she applied for political asylum, and the same Fu Ping denied political asylum in another place).

    By writing this article when so many evidences have already come out against Fu Ping, Alyce Lomax is really putting her credibility on the line. I'm not sure if this is a wise decision.

    As this is a forum for investment advice, and this article indeed mentioned many companies' name, Alyce Lomax owes her readers an explanation why did she write this piece and how did reach the conclusion "It speaks of strength, dignity and forbearance, and resilience, regardless of exterior conditions" when there are evidences say otherwise.

    If Alyce Lomax will not or cannot come up with reasonable explanation, I strongly urge her readers to think really hard before putting their hard earned money down to follow her investment advices.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2013, at 3:59 PM, catoismymotor wrote:

    Alyce,

    It is good to see that you are still stirring the pot. I think it is funny how zjliujie, liulu and yxz11 are either following the same script or are all one and the same.

    I hope you are well and that you're letting the boys win occasionally. You know we males have fragile egos and are prone to sulking.

    Keep up the good work. Even though I don't chime in like I used to I still enjoy reading your thoughts.

    - Cato

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2013, at 4:26 PM, yxz11 wrote:

    Cato,

    I read Alyce Lomax article, I had questions, so I asked. I'm not sure how and where did you get the idea that I'm following a script. What script?

    I actually have the same question for you. Why did you write the comment? Care to explain?

    I have read enough on this topic, One thing I cannot understand for those still defending Ping Fu is why?! Will anyone of they defend Lance Armstrong?! I really want to know.

  • Report this Comment On February 09, 2013, at 1:07 PM, liulu wrote:

    Cato,

    Same as yxz11, I also hope you could clarify your words. Having lived thru Chinese Culture Revolution and being discriminated because of having higher educated parents, I do not want to live that experience again on this free land.

    Further, and at least on this website, it does not matter what the motives the critics have or where they are from. What matters are: 1) whether those statements, not every statement, of Fu, which are being said false by critics, are really false? 2) If they were pure personal memories without facts to back up or can’t stand for scrutiny, should they be used as facts by media to carve out a “role model”? Motley Fools as an investment advisory service should be the last place putting political correctness above facts, credibility and other traits we use for making investment decisions. May not be on this websites but on other places, I look forward Fu and her defenders using facts and logic deductions to prove at least one major controversial issue to be true. Stop using political implications to fend off critics and/or dodging the questions by arguing those are memories that do not have to be true. I would have no arguments with Fu if she had a disclaimer about it in her book. Did she have it?

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2013, at 1:13 AM, ZYF wrote:

    I am so surprised and disappointed that fool.com would run a such one sided report. From what I read on Amazon, a lot of Ping Fu's accusers pointed out many specific problems of the book, whereas nearly all supporters have been posting comments that are vague and non-specific. If you compare Ping's clarification on huffingtonpost and what she said (from her own mouth) in multiple interviews, the inconsistencies are as obvious as night and day. Please see for yourself.

    I do not like to argue. I will not respond to comments.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2013, at 2:00 PM, zjliujie wrote:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/feb/13/ping-fu-controve...

    Perry Link is still in Chinese government's blacklist due to relationship with Wei Jingshen. So Corporality and Cato is going to call him a spy planted in the western world by the Chinese government now?

  • Report this Comment On February 15, 2013, at 10:21 AM, yxz11 wrote:

    I thought I ran out of things to say. Another one just came up.

    http://www.citronresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/DDD...

    No wonder Ping Fu received so many pumps. No wonder Alyce Lomax on fools.com eagerly jumped out to defend her. After all, she has "become a press darling and a mascot for the whole 3D printing industry". Let's wait and see how this will end.

    For your record, I put my money on where my mouth is, I just shorted DDD today.

  • Report this Comment On May 02, 2013, at 6:45 PM, LarryT7 wrote:

    This couple has many similarity to Ping Fu.

    For example:

    "Du and Qin entered the United States in 1984. They have master's degrees and have nearly completed the requirements for doctorate degrees."

    "Du ... She told a mental health expert that the FBI search at her suburban Detroit home in 2006 had rekindled awful memories of oppression by the Chinese government during her childhood."

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2013/05/01/gm-engin...

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