If Miller took unknowing liberties with the facts of his own era, he also played fast and loose with the historical record. The general outline of events in The Crucible corresponds to what happened in Salem of 1692, but Miller’s characters are often composites. Furthermore, his central plot device—the affair between Abigail Williams and John Proctor—has no grounding in fact (Proctor was over sixty at the time of the trials, while Abigail was only eleven). Thus, Miller’s decision to set sexual jealousy at the root of the hysteria constitutes a dramatic contrivance.
It is not just that seeking to placate the public at home with braggadocio overseas will make it harder still for China to garner allies and respect. There is a deeper problem. Many countries around the world admire, and would like to emulate, the undemocratic but effective way that China has managed its decades of growth. If China’s domestic politics look less stable, some of that admiration will wane. And even if things can be held together, for the time being, admiration for China does not translate into affection for it, or into a sense of common cause. Economically and militarily, China has come a long way towards regaining the centrality in Asia it enjoyed through much of history. Intellectually and morally, it has not. In the old days it held a “soft power” so strong, according to William Kirby of Harvard University, that “neighbours converted themselves” to it. Now, Mr Xi may know how to assert himself and how to be feared, at home and abroad. But without the ability to exert a greater power of attraction, too, such strength will always tend to destabilise.