Jeffrey Wasserstrom: Fact, Fiction and the News Out of China

Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Professor of History at UC-Irvine, wrote China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know, published by Oxford University in 2010. He is an Asia Society Associate Fellow.

There have been many reasons lately to think about the sometimes confusing or blurry divide between fact and fiction where things happening in and written about China are concerned. Consider these three incidents from just the last few weeks:

1. Mike Daisey’s disregard of this blurry divide in his storytelling about Foxconn factory conditions. (No more about that here, as I had my say on the incidents in this post for the Los Angeles Review of Books.)

2. The Chinese government’s move to forbid Ai Weiwei, who has been the subject of intense official surveillance, from placing his own surveillance cameras around places he frequents to track and publicize his movements....

3. The fact, which reads like fiction, that there is now talk that the death in China of Neil Heywood — a mysterious Englishman who seems to have had ties to both the British secret service and to Bo Xilai’s family — played a role in the most important PRC purge in recent memory. When CNN invited me to write about Bo’s fall from grace for their website last week, I was tempted to work in a line like the one Epstein used in his tweet. A nod to literary invention would have seemed particularly apt because a press report had noted that one of the Englishman’s friends had described Heywood being “like a character in a Graham Greene novel.”...

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