to Ford Library and Museum homepage
an Empire: U. S. Relations with China
was a new nation when Captain John Green sailed from New York in his merchant
ship the Empress of China. Her hull was stuffed with lead, lumber, and ginseng,
and her investors were eager to fill markets and coffers left empty by a
post-war depression. The Empress weighed anchor in February 1784 to the
cheers of those crowding the harbor. She would be the first ship to show
the young country’s flag in Canton, then one of China’s few
international ports. When she returned in triumph fifteen months later,
laden with exotic teas, silks, and porcelain, her success caught the nation’s
attention and stoked the imaginations of those who pondered this new but
ancient and mysterious trading partner.
(206 BC-AD 220)
to the world’s newest nation, China was indeed an old country. It
was, in fact, the oldest of countries. From one ruling dynasty to the next,
China could trace back a social structure whose endurance and scope eclipsed
all others. Before there was Greece, there was China. The great civilizations
of Babylon, Assyria, Persia, Judea, Athens, Rome, Venice, and Spain came
and went, and still there was China.
the Door (1844-1911)
Period of Revolution (1912-1949)
the Bamboo Curtain (1972-1979)
little was known about so old a land. And this was what the Chinese intended.
To them the Emperor’s realm was “Under the Heavens” (Tienhua),
and his land was known as “The Middle Kingdom” (Zhongguo). Each
term sustained the belief that rather than seeking out the rest of the world,
the rest of the world would come to China.
the Next Millennium (1979-)
were so impressed with the kingdom that they did come, just as European
traders had been coming to China’s ports for over a century and as
Asian traders had been traveling China’s Silk Road for almost two
thousand years. American sailors returned to the states with glowing reports
about economic opportunities. Still, events would conspire over the next
two hundred years, both within China and the United States, causing this
relationship to be less than the “increasing and profitable branch
of our commerce” that Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton and others
hoped it would become in the closing years of the 18th century.
An Empire explores China’s
role in the world, its cultural depths, dynastic traditions, and its reemergence
onto the world stage. China had proclaimed itself to be the center of
the world, yet for so long it chose to remain mysterious, even hidden,
to so much of that world. At times China would be conquered by the military
might of foreign powers, yet such was its cultural strength that in time
the conquerors would become like the conquered. When in the nineteenth
and twentieth centuries it appeared China was collapsing in the face of
Western might and Japanese aggression, it instead turned insular and drew
upon its great reserves to rebuild itself. Afterward, when the moment
was right, this ancient empire seized upon the invitation of the United
States to rejoin the community of nations, emerging as a global force.