An in-depth look at the historically deep and mutually influential relationship between the United States and China.
Since the American Revolution, the Middle Kingdom (China) and Meiguo, the “Beautiful Country” (America), have enjoyed both a rich exchange of culture and trade and bitter enmity, especially during the early communist era. In this thoroughgoing study that moves from the revolutionary era to the present, former Washington Post foreign correspondent Pomfret (Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the New China, 2006), who was recently a Fulbright Senior Scholar in Beijing, delves into the historical relations between the two and offers a fresh appraisal of each nation’s contributions to the other. The author asserts that the U.S. has had a significant role in China’s rise, reaching back to when the U.S. provided China an early market for its coveted “china,” tea, and drapery. On the other hand, in China, many Americans, such as John Perkins Cushing and Franklin Roosevelt’s grandfather Warren Delano, made their fortunes in pelts, silks, tea, opium, and other commodities. By the mid-19th century, missionaries had a huge influence on the Chinese, as China represented the big prize in missionary work during the series of Great Awakenings that swept America. Pomfret credits the early missionaries, especially women like Adele Fielde, with bringing Western medicine, education, and law to China and helping to outlaw infanticide and foot binding. The building of the First Transcontinental Railroad required enormous labor, and the Chinese stepped in where Americans would not; however, after the Civil War and the demobilization of soldiers moving West in search of work, the tables turned on the Chinese in the form of pogroms and anti-Chinese immigration legislation. In this highly detailed narrative, Pomfret moves chronologically through these developments, ably fleshing out the characters involved. Regarding recent events, he is not uncritical of China’s cyberspying and aggression in the South China Sea.
An occasionally too-dense but impressively wide-ranging history demonstrating that the U.S.–China relationship began decades before Richard Nixon arrived on the scene.