When America First Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail

. September 2012. 384p. 978-0-87140-433-6. 27.95.
This highly accessible book takes readers to 1784 when one of the newest countries in the world met one of the oldest. The ship Empress of China sailed from ­post-revolutionary New York to Guangzhou, thus becoming the first American ship to trade with China, beginning a relationship that helped strengthen America’s emerging economy. Dolin (Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America) reveals how those early dealings still echo in American-Chinese relations. He pointedly suggests that Americans today generally don’t understand Chinese culture, much as those first American merchants did not. Dolin presents many colorful stories of the rapidly growing China trade that followed that first commercial encounter, of the tremendous popularity of Chinese decorative arts (think of the word “china” as coming to mean porcelain) in American households, and the tremendous consequences of the opium trade with the West. He closes by summarizing China’s continued role as a trading partner whose products significantly influence American life.
VERDICT An ideal book for general readers in popular history or with a historical interest in China’s influence on the U.S. economy and general relations between the two countries—past and present.
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