ChinaFile Presents: The Scientist and the Spy


Book Launch

The Scientist and the Spy

In September 2011, sheriff’s deputies in Iowa encountered three ethnic Chinese men near a field where a farmer was growing corn seed under contract with Monsanto. What began as a simple trespassing inquiry mushroomed into a two-year FBI operation in which investigators bugged the men’s rental cars, used a warrant intended for foreign terrorists and spies, and flew surveillance planes over corn country—all in the name of protecting trade secrets of corporate giants Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer.

In The Scientist and the Spy, award-winning science reporter Mara Hvistendahl gives a gripping account of this unusually far-reaching investigation. Through previously unreleased FBI files and her reporting from across the United States and China, Hvistendahl describes a long history of shoddy counterintelligence on China, much of it tinged with racism, and questions the role that corporate influence plays in trade secrets theft cases brought by the U.S. government. 

Hvistendahl will discuss science, espionage, paranoia and their role in U.S.-China relations—as well as the book itself—with Kaiser Kuo as part of a special live taping of SupChina’s Sinica Podcast.

A book sale and signing will follow the discussion.


Mara Hvistendahl is a writer, speaker, and commentator. She is the author of the forthcoming book The Scientist and The Spy: A True Story of China, the FBI, and Industrial Espionage, which will be published by Riverhead in February 2020. Her first book, Unnatural Selection, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Hvistendahl’s writing has been published in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Popular Science, Scientific American, WIRED, and other publications. She has been a keynote speaker at conferences, testified before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, and appeared on BBC, CBC, MSNBC, NPR, and other radio and television outlets. 

For eight years, Hvistendahl was based in Shanghai. While there, she worked as China bureau chief for Science, wrote the longform true crime story And The City Swallowed Them, and, thanks to paleobotanist Wang Jun, had a Paleozoic fossil named after her. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.

Kaiser Kuo is host of the Sinica Podcast, a weekly discussion of current affairs in China. He recently repatriated to the United States after 20 years in Beijing, where he worked as Director of International Communications for Baidu. He was previously a technology reporter in China. Kuo was guitarist and co-founder of the band Chunqiu (Spring & Autumn), and was a founder of China’s first heavy metal band, Tang Dynasty. He is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and holds an M.A. from the University of Arizona.

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Event Details

Tue 04 Feb 2020
6:30 - 8 p.m.

Asia Society

725 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10021

Buy Tickets
$8 members; $10 students/seniors; $12 non-members
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