Alex Berenson, in his New York Times article a few weeks ago about writing thriller novels that center around fictitious conflicts between China and the United States (, explains, “For novelists, China’s rise is pure gold. The Communist Party’s opacity and its passion to control China’s image…feed Western fears of China’s intentions, and dare Western thriller writers to invent disaster.”

Tavis Coburn

Tavis Coburn

Writing shortly after Obama held a Western-style Town Hall in Shanghai where, according to Berenson, ”the students were mainly members of the Communist Youth League, hand-picked by the Chinese Communist Party,” he rails tongue-in-cheek against the Chinese government condemning “the sort of stagecraft that the Chinese seem to specialize in — managed in a way that is so obvious as to be condescending, but still successful at stifling dissent.”

It’s an excellent point, and Berenson puts his finger right on a valid criticism of the Chinese government’s communications strategy and policies: If the Chinese were more transparent about issues at home, and how the government interprets and responds to them, the world would have a better understanding and more appreciation of China’s challenges, not to mention more patience and insight into the world’s largest nation and how we might fruitfully interact with her.

On the other hand, is it really much better elsewhere in the world, even here at home? Is the U.S. any less “staged?” Has the U.S. had any fewer cover-ups and scandals (the Iran-Contra Affair, just to name one, which involved nefarious dealings around conflicts such as those made up by novelists who exploit China’s current policy of opacity)?

Berenson concludes: “Bad for the world, I suppose. Lucky for us [novelists].”

Is Berenson’s acknowledgment enough? Is his conclusion acceptable?

© John Dila 2009

To be continued.