THE CHINA PLOT
Anthony Sciascia arrives in Beijing as a person of interest to a beautiful Chinese spy. CIA and China’s Ministry of State Security intend to play this unknown writer and his wife, Professor Riva Klein, as pawns in a Cold War-style propaganda gambit. Zhang Ailing, consummate double-agent and mistress of aliases, is the operative both agencies tap to execute their strangely complementary schemes.
Ailing’s English-language fluency and personal beauty lure Anthony in. She makes sure he sees her reading one of his novels, then praises the book to his face. This “coincidence” occurs while Anthony is imagining a new novel set in China. His minute of fame seems to have arrived and his prospective “China novel” seems destined for success.
Greater outcomes, however, are at stake. Only Ailing’s defiance of her MSS puppet-master — and some timely critical thinking by the Americans — can save Anthony and Riva from a catastrophic error no novel can redeem.
John Lauricella is the author of 2094 and other novels, all of which have been produced without the assistance of Artificial Intelligence.
"The genesis of The China Plot was my visit to China in the before-time: before the COVID-19 pandemic and deteriorating relations between the U.S. and the People's Republic made such a trip impossible or problematic. Risa and I were fortunate to be able to see a bit of China when we did. At this point, it seems unlikely that we will ever return. My admiration of China, its ancient culture and its incredibly hardworking people, is completely apart from the Chinese Communist Party, which I neither admire nor support. In forming your attitude towards the PRC, it's helpful to keep in mind that ordinary Chinese are not just essentially powerless to defy the CCP and Ministry of State Security, but at risk of arrest, imprisonment, torture, and death if they do. Quiet resistence is about the loudest voice that most Chinese can use to speak truth to power. CCP members and MSS agents and functionaries inevitably have deep professional and personal stakes in perpetuating the system they have collaborated to build. They are unsentimental about ordinary Chinese and have no compunctions whatsoever about exploiting them to serve the greater good of China. That attitude is a cultural legacy that reaches back several thousand years. I do not expect anything will change it.
"Another point worth remembering: the long memory of Chinese people for the Century of Humiliation. Facts and figures about that period are readily accessible online. In brief: China's Century of Humiliation began in 1839 with the First Opium War and lasted until Mao and the Red Army won the Chinese civil war and took power in 1949. During that "long century," foreign colonial regimes -- mainly the English, the French, the Russian, and the Japanese -- effectively displaced the Qing Dynasty, subjugated the Chinese people, and established governance of large portions of the country. That experience of degradation, exploitation, abuse, and loss of national sovereignty "has become part of the PRC's founding narrative, in the same way that colonial Americans' chafing under British taxation and their subsequent battle for independence is part of ours" (Alison A. Kaufman, China Analyst; read her complete testimony here). The lessons that the Chinese people, and especially China's leaders, draw from the Century of Humiliation affect China's posture toward the West and account to a considerable degree for China's defiance of certain points of international law, e.g., intellectual property rights; human rights; maritime law; arms control; and, most especially, the status of Taiwan. Restrictions in these areas and others, imposed by the Western democracies and called "norms," are generally viewed by China as ongoing evidence that "'Western hostile forces have not yet given up the wild ambition of trying to subjugate us'" (President Hu Jintao, 2004; quoted by Kaufman, p. 4). I note this history and its presence in contemporary thinking because it looms powerfully in the background (and sometimes in the foreground) of The China Plot. The novel's Chinese characters are perfectly knowledgeable of it and are motivated by that knowledge.
"As for the American duo, the "token Americans" who encounter so many unforeseeable surprises in China, the novel recounts innumerable details more or less directly from so-called "real" life. Inventions and embellishments of fact, on which most fiction depends for moving the story in interesting directions, also are "real," albeit imaginatively, and have an equal presence in the author's mind -- in my mind, that is, as I was writing the novel. If the story is well-told, what "actually" happened -- events that occurred, let's say, "on the ground" in China -- should be indistinguishable from what happened in the writer's imagination. The novel's epigraph proposes, Se non è vero, è ben trovato" -- If it is not true, it is well-found (in the sense of well-conceived). More simply: It is all real to me. I hope it becomes so to you."
-- John Lauricella