Sir Harold Evans is one of the most revered journalists in the world. He was named one of International Press Institute's 50 World Press Freedom Heroes of the past fifty years in 2000. In 2004, he was knighted by the British Crown for services to journalism.
Therefore it is both shocking and sad to see Sir Harold Evans lose his cool and attack Chinese Americans who had been critical of Ping Fu's memoir. Below is an English translation of an article written by Dr. Shimin Fang (Fang Zhouzi) in response to Harold Evans' attack.
Below is a full English translation of Dr. Fang's article. The original article was written in Chinese and published on Dr. Fang's own blog.
Harold Evans is a famous British journalist. How famous is he? In 2000, he was named one of International Press Institute's 50 World Press Freedom Heroes of the past fifty years. In 2004, he was knighted by the Queen for services to journalism. When he was a young man, he was a well-known British investigative reporter. He was the first to report many of the headline events of the day, and earned his reputation for his sense of justice and his daring reporting. Later he emigrated to the United States, served as editor-in-chief for the Atlantic Monthly, and then for U.S. News and World Report. Currently he is editor-at-large for Reuters. His wife Tina Brown is also a heavyweight of the U.S. press, an editor for both Newsweek and the Daily Beast.
This greatly respected sage of the Western press, recently wrote a commentary on the Daily Beast titled "the persecution of Ping Fu." In this commentary he denounced the criticism of Ping Fu's memoir by world-wide Chinese community as a persecution of her. Evans' wife Tina Brown has been an important supporter of Ping Fu. She had promoted Ping Fu's memoir on the National Public Radio in the United States. Her newspaper, the Daily Beast, has also been heavily promoting the book. This newspaper was among the first to publish a report of the criticism of Ping Fu, but it quoted the criticism out of context in an attempt to label the criticism as an organized smear campaign, in clear violation of journalistic ethics. Evans had himself conducted an interview of Ping Fu on behalf of Reuters, but never questioned the legend-like stories told by Ping Fu. So it is no surprise that he would come out again and continue to speak on behalf of Ping Fu. What is surprising, however, is the horrific writing style and journalistic incompetency displayed by him that is completely at odds with his sagely image in the field of journalism.
Evans focused on the large number of one-star reviews on the Amazon website of Ping Fu's memoir Bend, not Break. Initially, Ping Fu's memoir received mostly five-star (highest) reviews, written by Americans. At the end of last month, hundreds of negative reviews, most apparently written by Chinese Americans, began to appear and pulled the average rating to less than 2 stars. This seemingly unusual phenomenon actually has a very simple explanation: at the end of last month, I began to criticize Ping Fu's memoir (Note by translator: on microblog, a Chinese version of twitter), which attracted attention to this book. Because I have a lot of followers on microblog (Note by translator: Fang Zhouzi has a few million followers on microblog), it is not surprising that a few hundred of them who are also Amazon users would go there and write negative book reviews. But this was not how Evans thought. He intentionally made no mention of my name in the article (Why is it intentionally? Because previous reports about the incident, including the The Daily Beast reports and Ping Fu's response either named me explicitly, or referred to my article implicitly, so it is impossible for Evans to not know), but attributed the emergence of a large number of negative book reviews to two possible reasons:
1. Sockpuppets. Evans claimed that, one only needs an e-mail account to post a book review on the Amazon website. Thus, a person can use multiple mailboxes to register more than one account, posing as two people, 20 people, or even 100 people writing different book reviews. He complained bitterly about Amazon's "openness" and its ineffective handling of complaints. As a former investigative reporter, Evans did not even bother to check the basic requirements set up by Amazon to post book reviews there. It takes more than an email address to post book reviews on Amazon. One must also have purchased something through the Amazon website (not necessarily the book being reviewed). Through the purchase, the user will have already left a real name and address with Amazon. Although book reviews can be posted with a pseudonym, but the identity of the reviewer is real. It is very hard for a user who post comments on Amazon to have two accounts, let alone one hundred accounts.
Lin was the first negative reviewer of Ping Fu's memoir on Amazon, and continued to add the most detailed discussion to her review. Her review had the most comments and was rated most useful by readers, thus was automatically placed at the top of the web page. This brought special attention from Evans, who attacked Lin with the horrible line "Male, female, or hermaphrodite." Lin herself said in her book review that she is a woman, and this can be easily verified by Amazon. Evans also claimed that although the book review written by Lin was negative, she gave a fake five star. There had been some negative reviews that gave five stars for irony, but Lin's review had always been one-star. It is clear that Evans did a very sloppy journalistic work. After repeated complaints from Ping Fu's PR team, Amazon deleted Lin's review on grounds of being "visually disruptive." Lin later posted a new review with an ironic five-star, but this was well after Evans published his article.
2. A "hate campaign" by Chinese nationalists in the United States or organized by the Chinese government. Evans cited a large body of data to prove that there are people who are hired to post on internet forums, the so-called wumao (Note by translator: these are the people who are hired by the Chinese government to post comments in support of the government. For each post they receive a payment of 0.5 yuan renminbi. This amount is pronounced wumao in Chinese. Thus these people are called wumao). The existence of wumao is not a secret. But one cannot be like celebrities on Chinese microblogs who accuse anyone disagreeing with them of being wumao. If one is to prove that critics of Ping Fu are all wumao, then at least a few questions need to be answered: Why would the Chinese government go through the trouble of organizing such a multinational campaign? Ping Fu is not the enemy of the Chinese government. Quite the contrary, she frequently visited China in recent years to give speeches (for example, she gave a speech at Nanjing University on July 10, 2009). The company she founded, Geomagic software, has a branch in Shanghai. Chinese media had previously published multiple reports touting her (for example: "MoCho · Wisdom Woman" 2009 10 "U.S. Nouveau Riche Fu Ping: My Success Relied on Chinese Wisdom", "Shenzhen Special Zone Daily" 2012 February 24, "Chinese American Woman Entrepreneur Ping Fu Receives the Title of "Distinguished American", "China Business News" March 14, 2012 "Ping Fu, Chinese Woman Entrepreneur's Wonderful Life"). Ping Fu's memoir wrote about her miseries while in China, but that is not a sensitive topic. There are better known books on Amazon that present much darker descriptions of China. Why did none of those books receive such a treatment? There is simply no motivation for the Chinese government to take any action against Ping Fu or her memoir.
Even if the Chinese government for some strange reason wants to discredit Ping Fu, how can it organize such a thing? Those who wrote negative book reviews on Amazon website were mostly overseas Chinese, in particular Chinese Americans. The website where people can post book reviews is in the United States; reviewers must have bought something from Amazon, and the review must be written in English. Spot checking a few negative book reviews, one can easily see that most of the reviews were written by Chinese Americans who had lived in the United States for many years. The level of English writing in these reviews cannot be reached by someone who have not lived in the United States. How could the Chinese government command so many overseas Chinese, many of whom are already U. S. citizens? These Chinese Americans, regardless of their political ideologies, gave overwhelmingly negative reviews to Ping Fu's memoir, and rebuked her lying. Almost no Chinese Americans supported Ping Fu (not counting one or two "whatever Fang opposes, I support" type of Fang detractors). Since when did the Chinese government have such a strong appeal? In addition, there are also non-Chinese scholars who questioned the truthfulness of Ping Fu's memoir (see the Guardian report). Can the Chinese government command these scholars too? I have not seen any influential person or website to call upon people to post negative reviews. On the other hand, Ping Fu and her team had repeatedly called on supporters to post positive reviews and send complaints to Amazon.
Evans complained that after Penn State professor of Asian history, Erica Brindley, posted a comment in support of Ping Fu on the Amazon website, she was subject to a "human flesh search" (Note by translator: searching for real identity through google). Evans did not tell the reader the result of the "human flesh search": Erica Brindley is the sister-in-law of Ping Fu memoir's co-author MeiMei Fox. Dr. Erica Brindley spoke as a "PhD from Princeton University", and a sinologist. But what she said did not jibe with her position. This inconsistency prompted the suspicion of a conflict of interest. The "human flesh search" proved such a conflict. In this case, "human flesh search" is entirely justified. This would be similar to when Harold Evans was speaking on behalf of thalidomide victims, if someone spoke in support of thalidomide manufacturers, he would have investigated whether these people had conflict of interest. Evans also complained that when someone by the id of Van Harris spoke in support of Ping Fu, he was subject to personal attacks. First of all, it was Van Harris himself who carried out personal attacks against critics of Ping Fu (I have also been personally attacked by him, although I did not even have any exchange with him), and he also threatened critics. This person is a freelance graphic designer in North Carolina, and is possibly connected to Ping Fu's company which is also located in the same state.
Evans said that any memoir would inevitably contain errors, and welcomed people to point out those errors. He said that he could not tolerate critics who were trying to destroy Ping Fu's credibility, and even her life. The problem is, we do not believe that the large number of critical errors in Ping Fu's memoir are just lapses in memory. They are intentional lies. If someone builds her reputation and fortune through lies, shouldn't the justice be to remove her credibility and such life?
By speaking for a liar and abandoning journalistic professionalism, Evans behaved not as a competent journalist, and miles away from the hero of journalism. Such an unusual performance from him, is only possible because of his ignorance of China, his arrogance and prejudice against criticism - prejudice against Chinese in particular. Imagine if another ethnic group, say if Jews exposed those who fabricated their own tragic stories during the Holocaust (such fabrications have happened before), would Evans dare to accuse without basis those critics to have taken payments to engage in a smear campaign? Obviously not. Why did he do this to Chinese? It is racist prejudice at play. To him, Chinese are born without any sense of justice, without independent thinking. They only take orders from the government, and only do things when paid. Even if you have lived in the United States for many years, even if you are already an U.S. citizen, in Evans' eyes, you are still a Chinese nationalist ready to pledge allegiance to the Chinese government - such an accusation by Evans et al., is the real smear campaign in this whole affair.