Douglas Todd: Vancouver authors pour out books on China’s impact

Opinion: They’re digging into how China is influencing Western politics, academia, media, business and culture and distorting the concept of human rights.

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Many local authors are currently producing hard-hitting books about China’s sway on Canada and the world.

As Ottawa finally debates launching an inquiry into China’s interference in Canadian elections, three Vancouver-based journalists have been at the forefront of getting Canadians and others up to speed on the global impact of China’s increasingly authoritarian leaders.

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They have all written best-selling books about it. So have the city’s fiction writers. Local academics are also on the job.

And the list keeps growing, with at least two more books this year out of Vancouver analyzing China’s political and financial leverage. One is based on eyewitness accounts from around the planet, while another is a work of fiction by a real-estate developer, replete with multi-billion-dollar intrigue.

It was 2019 when former Vancouver Sun columnist Jonathan Manthorpe first took his comprehensive aim at China with the book Claws of the Panda: Beijing’s Campaign of Influence and Intimidation in Canada.

HIs book gained widespread attention for telling of Ottawa’s failure to confront efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to infiltrate and influence Canadian politics, academia, and media, and to exert control over some members of Canada’s population of people of Chinese heritage.

Then, in 2021, former Province and Vancouver Sun reporter Sam Cooper garnered praise for his ongoing investigative work in the book Wilful Blindness: How a Network of Narcos, Tycoons and CCP Agents Infiltrated the West.

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A retired top official with Canadian Security Intelligence Service lauded Cooper for being “probably the most well-informed and researched journalist in Canada on the topic of Chinese organized crime and spying activities.”

Last year, The Toronto Star’s Vancouver-based journalist Joanna Chiu produced China Unbound: A New World Disorder. Through on-the-ground research in China, Hong Kong, Turkey and elsewhere, Chiu’s book won the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for political writing, with judges saying it provides “brisk, smart analysis of China’s creeping influence in Canada and around the world.”

In addition to these three journalists, the city’s fiction writers have also probed the influence of fast-growing China on Canada and the world.

Perhaps the best-known fiction example is Madeleine Thien’s multiple-award-winning novel from 2016, Do Not Say We Have Nothing.

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Beginning with a family in Vancouver that takes in a refugee from China, Do Not Say We Have Nothing explores China’s history from the beginning of Mao Zedong’s violent reign to the fallout from the brutally crushed Tiananmen Square protests.

China Unbound
China Unbound: A New World Disorder by journalist Joanna Chiu is one of many powerful books by Vancouver journalists, novelists and scholars. Photo by Photo credit: Courtesy of House /PNG

Meanwhile, the latest Vancouver journalist to take on China is Michael McCarthy, a prolific travel writer and newspaper commentator who also founded Spare Change, the publication that gave a voice to the city’s homeless.

McCarthy says his new book, Follow The Money: How China Bought the World, is a narrative built upon the investigative work of both Manthorpe and Cooper. In addition to McCarthy’s observations about changing Canada, a good deal of his book is based on eyewitness accounts of China’s influence in some of the 50 countries he has visited, including India, Taiwan, Switzerland and parts of the South Seas and Africa.

Wide-ranging to the extreme, Follow The Money argues that China is taking over the planet in large part with Western wealth, often from complicit U.S. corporations, and to some extent Canadian ones. While some of McCarthy’s anti-capitalist theories will go too far for many, the book is packed with rousing provocations.

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A much different kind of book about China comes from prominent West Vancouver real-estate insider John D’Eathe, who spent his early decades in Asia and Hong Kong and who has served as an executive for development companies like Grosvenor, Bentall and Freehold.

Titled Laundering The Dragon: Black Renminbi, D’Eathe’s novel is billed as a “cynical, financial crime novel that follows young Canadian developer Ron Leyland’s romantic encounter with the alluring Mai Xi in Hong Kong, which entices him into dubious big money from Macau and China.”

The novel’s characters, in both Canada and China, become embroiled in the illegal movement of capital (the Renminbi is the name of China’s currency), drug-dealing, nightclubs, unchecked money laundering, casinos, ostentatious mansions and vast property schemes. The novel includes timely references to COVID, Wuhan and the kidnapping of Canada’s Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.

It’s not possible to list all the academic books on China that have come out of the city’s universities, some relatively uncritical. But it’s worth mentioning how University of B.C. law professor emeritus Pitman Potter challenges Chinese president Xi Jinping’s efforts to distort global human rights law.

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Potter’s book, Exporting Virtue? China’s International Human Rights Activism in the Age of Xi Jinping, exposes the alarming way China, through its economic might and vehicles such as the United Nations, is trying to prod Canada and other countries to lower their standards on human rights.

With its massive Belt and Road Initiative in Asia, Africa and elsewhere, Potter says, “China has focused on suppressing labour rights and marginalizing environmental rights. Those sorts of things resonate with local authoritarian governments. They’re not unhappy about it.”

Potter, who has been to China countless times, says, “When people are brutalized for their religious beliefs, when people are put in concentration camps due to their ethnicity, when professional lawyers are imprisoned and abused because they have taken on unpopular causes — it doesn’t matter where it happens — I think people have a moral duty to be aware of it or speak up about it.”

That, in effect, is what all the Vancouver-based authors of these recent books believe about taking a stand on China’s expanding machinations. For them, it’s not all right to be naïve.

[email protected]

Twitter: @douglastodd


John D'Eathe
The author of this financial crime novel, John D’Eathe, has been a major developer in Metro Vancouver and beyond.

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