A lively account of the brash men who chased their American Dreams all the way to China
America's First Adventure in China
Trade, Treaties, Opium, and Salvation
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John R. Haddad
In 1784, when Americans first voyaged to China, they confronted Chinese authorities who were unaware that the United States even existed. Nevertheless, a long, complicated, and fruitful trade relationship was born after American traders, missionaries, diplomats, and others sailed to China with lofty ambitions: to acquire fabulous wealth, convert China to Christianity, and even command a Chinese army.
In America's First Adventure in China, John Haddad provides a colorful history of the evolving cultural exchange and interactions between these countries. He recounts how American expatriates adopted a pragmatic attitude—as well as an entrepreneurial spirit and improvisational approach—to their dealings with the Chinese. Haddad shows how opium played a potent role in the dreams of Americans who either smuggled it or opposed its importation, and he considers the missionary movement that compelled individuals to accept a hard life in an alien culture.
As a result of their efforts, Americans achieved a favorable outcome—they established a unique presence in China—and cultivated a relationship whose complexities continue to grow.
"America's First Adventure in China is a well written, succinct, and elegant book. Haddad brings a fresh approach to—and makes a convincing case for his characterization of—the American presence in China. He describes how the Americans were isolated individuals acting pretty much on their own and with nothing in the way of state, military, or other institutional support. Their experience—operating in a fog of ignorance about a world to which they had only the most limited access—is significant, and he explains why the American experience diverged from rather than followed on the British model."
"Haddad has again struck the right note with this well-researched work on the first hundred years or so of the U.S. relationship with China. He conveys his narrative with humor...[and] reveals the fascinating story of men such as Anson Burlingame. There are many such informative topics that Haddad shares with readers. His notes and bibliography are rich, while illustrations are few but first-rate. VERDICT Excellent for scholars of Chinese history and ideal for those who desire more than a cursory view of the subject."
"Haddad looks at the development of the relationship between China and the United States beginning in 1784. An intensely detailed story.... it provides some interesting descriptions about the beginnings of American trade with China in the late 18th century, when George Washington's aide-de-camp set off for Canton (modern-day Guangzhou).... Informative."
"Haddad tells a powerful story of the first epoch of Sino-American relations.... [He] bases his important synthesis on a wide range of English-language materials, journals, memoirs, and scholarly accounts that focus on more specific details.... Summing Up: Highly recommended."
"Haddad's biographical approach provides for lively reading and colorful anecdotes of America's early encounters with China. Haddad argues that this first era of American-Chinese encounters from 1784 to 1870 succeeded not only in shaping the American imagination and its varied 'China dreams' but also created potential within China for a more sustained relationship.... Scholars, diplomats, policymakers, and businesspeople will find this compact history a useful read, as echoes of this early relationship, at the very least in its ability to inspire the imagination and dreams of both Americans and Chinese, continue unto the present."
"Haddad's engaging narrative is interspersed with vivid descriptions of the ups and downs of early Sino-American relations.... With careful nuance, Haddad analyzes the careers of Americans who smuggled opium into China as well as the minority who abstained on moral grounds.... Haddad and Temple University Press, a relative newcomer to the field of China studies, should be congratulated for producing a detailed history of the formative years of Sino-American relations."
John R. Haddad is an Associate Professor of American Studies and Popular Culture at Penn State Harrisburg. He was awarded the Gutenberg-e Prize in 2002 for his dissertation, which was published as The Romance of China: Excursions to China in U.S. Culture, 1776-1876. In 2010, he was awarded a Fulbright Scholar grant to teach and research at the University of Hong Kong.