VOYAGING TO CATHAY: Americans in the China Trade by Alfred & Shirley Glubok Tamarin

VOYAGING TO CATHAY: Americans in the China Trade

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Kitty McAllister's excursion to Canton (see the Porcelain Pagoda, p. 406, J-140) seems to have been the advance guard for a reopening of the China trade. Here in one fell swoop we have two able non-fiction studies, and two so similar in content that one is not surprised to see Francis Ross Carpenter, associate director of the Museum of the American China Trade and author of the first, credited on the acknowledgement page of the second. Tamarin and Glubok's Voyage to Cathay is far and away the more elegant: its pages are studded with reproductions--of China trade porcelain, 1843 engravings of life in Canton, Chinese genre paintings showing seri-culture and ceramics making--and its text is an articulate introduction to the careers of Yankee captains and merchants as well as the origins of the luxury goods they traded in. Carpenter's book is less imposing despite Demi Hitz's crisp, elegant black and white drawings, and his prose if far less fluent (sentences seem, unaccountably, to skip a beat here and there). Yet for all Carpenter's overt moralizing, he gives us a more focused outline of the trade's social costs--in the extermination of otters and seals for fur and the corrupting influence of the opium trade--and of the shifting power balance reflected in trading practices from the Emperor-controlled Hongs to the beginnings of European economic domination. There's no easy way to choose between the two treatments; one would have to go to Tamarin and Glubok for aesthetic polish and visual documentation of the trade's cultural impact and to Carpenter's somewhat easier essay for a solid grasp of the era's economic and historical import.

Pub Date: April 26th, 1976
Page count: 202pp
Publisher: Viking