This collection of essays discusses the first commercial encounters between a China on the verge of social transformation and a fledgling United States struggling to assert itself globally as a distinct nation after the Revolutionary War with Great Britain. In early accounts of these encounters, commercial activity enabled cross-cultural curiosity, communication and even mutual respect. But it also involved confrontation as ambitious American traders pursued lucrative opportunities, often embracing British-style imperialism in the name of "free trade."
The book begins in the 1780s with the arrival in Canton of the very first American ship The Empress of China and moves through the nineteenth century, with Caleb Cushing negotiating the Treaty of Wangxia in Macao after the First Opium War and, at the century's close, Secretary of State John Hay forging the Open Door Policy (1899). Considering Sino-American relations in their broader context, the nine essays are attuned to the activities of competing European traders, especially the British, in Canton, Macao, and the Pearl River Delta.
Kendall Johnson is director of the American Studies Programme and associate professor at The University of Hong Kong.
"This is an important and necessary book emphasizing the early period of Sino-American interaction. Johnson and his authors reinterpret historical events through the lenses of narrative and literature, showing how the stories people tell about one another become the first drafts of history. This book will change historians' understanding of Chinese- American relations." — James Fichter, author of So Great a Proffit: How the East Indies Trade Transformed Anglo-American Capitalism
"Narratives of Free Trade makes richly imaginative use of documents and images from early US-China relations. There are ledgers and logbooks from maritime trade that pilot our thinking about Company ships, trading factories and diplomacy at the port of Canton. Diaries, letters, and travel journals unveil Canton life as witnessed by Nathan Dunn, Samuel Shaw, 'Pwankeiqua', and Caroline Hyde Butler. Then we join chopstick dinners at the homes of Chinese Hong merchants in Canton. The collection revitalizes our understanding of everyday life in Canton and Macau, and gives us crucial clues to imagining the early stages of urban life on both sides of the Pacific Ocean at the beginning of the modern world in Asia." — Takeshi Hamashita, School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou