She's also the author of a book called Bend, Not Break, which recounts her story of oppression as a young girl in Maoist China and how she grew up to be one of the foremost technology leaders in America.
Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of Newsweek, spoke to NPR's "Morning Edition" about the book. The Cultural Revolution's anti-elitist campaign targeted Ping Fu's family, and at the age of nine she was taken from her parents and shipped to a prisonlike facility to degrade her and make an example of her. She was gang-raped and forced to eat "bitter meals" composed of dung and dirt "to humiliate and dehumanize her, to demonstrate her worthlessness as an individual."
For the next 10 years she existed without parents or education. After the end of Mao's regime, she attended university. But after she wrote a bold thesis about infanticide in China, she was forced to leave the country. She arrived in the U.S. with only a few dollars in her pocket, but went on to attend the University of California and the University of Illinois.
It's a moving story, and Ms. Brown remarks about how amazing it is that someone who was so severely oppressed could achieve so much.
Yes, because on the one hand, the abuse could have broken her spirit, sending her down a road of depression, horror and even death.
But this doesn't always happen. For some kids, the "if it doesn't kill you it makes you stronger" axiom applies. They struggle against the oppression; they face the adversity and fight to make a life. They bend, but they don't break.
In fact, I'll state that Ping Fu would never have achieved what she did if she hadn't suffered through all the extreme challenges as a child. Adversity is the only way to build personal strengths. To sharpen the ax, you have to push it against the spinning stone. Forced to deal with the extreme problems in her life as a teenager, she wired her prefrontal cortex for robust problem solving skills. This is how in college many disadvantaged young people, who have been made strong by hardship, catch up to their "soft" peers who came from wealthy families.
Ping Fu's moving story inspires me to encourage adults to coach disadvantaged young people to make use of the challenges in their lives to get stronger, so they bend, not break.
Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2012. Building Personal Strength .