The twelve essays in this collection focus on the first commercial encounters between an ancient China on the verge of systemic social transformations, and a fledgling United States, struggling to assert itself globally as a distinct nation after the Revolutionary War with Great Britain. In early accounts of these encounters, commercial activity enabled cross-cultural curiosity, communication and even mutual respect but also occasioned confrontation as ambitious traders in early American companies pursued lucrative opportunities, often embracing a British mode of imperialism in the name of “free trade.” The book begins in the 1780s with the arrival in Canton of the very first American ship The Empress of China and moves through the nineteenth century, with Caleb Cushing negotiating the Treaty of Wangxia (1844) in Macau after the First Opium War and, at the century’s close, Secretary of State John Hay forging the Open Door Policy (1899). Because it is not possible to consider Sino-American relations in a vacuum, the essays remain attuned to the contemporaneous involvement of competing European trading partners, especially the British, in Canton, Macao, and the general region of Pearl River Delta. All of the essays address the history of American-Chinese commerce to recover a prescient dialogue or scene of exchange that resonates in the current tensions and promises of world financial reform. The interdisciplinary essays anchor big ideas in the careful analysis of specific literary, diplomatic, and epistolary writings, and the collection as a whole develops a rich visual dimension to the historical record. The result is an engaging and qualitatively collaborative book that brings to life a fascinating story of antagonism and collaboration between two countries that followed very different paths on route to becoming economic superpowers of the early twenty first century.
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