Kelly's Reviews > When America First Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail

When America First Met China by Eric Jay Dolin
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Sep 15, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: first-reads
Read from August 20 to September 15, 2012

Dolin has done an admirable job of shedding light on a fascinating aspect of American history about which we do not often hear. We have in this book an engaging cultural and social history, as well as an economic one. Yes, Dolin focuses on the exchange of goods in trade between the China and the West, beginning in the late 18th century and following the thread through to the start of the 20th century, but the stories here are so much broader than that. Dolin works from the perspective gained from our nation's current relationship with China, examining how the myriad interactions between our two peoples have molded the situation in which we find ourselves today.

"When America First Met China" is at times a swashbuckling adventure, with tales of mutiny on the high seas and covert, back-alley deals wrought in the seedy underbelly of port towns on both sides of the world, and at times an unflinching look at the human capacity for cruelty and bigotry in the meeting of two rich cultural perspectives. Dolin's work offers a snapshot of America's emergence on the world stage as a brand new nation, forging its own identity as an international presence and significant factor in the world marketplace. The careful research work illuminates a colorful cast of significant historical personages with ties to the China trade, including the Astors, and strives to paint a detailed picture of the complex and shifting relationships between America, European powers, and China forming half a world away from America's ports. Dolin's canvas is immense, covering not only America's rise and the Opium Wars in the 19th century but also detailing the intricate nature of the production of key items in the trade such as opium, tea, and silk. Dolin convincingly portrays the extent to which these items shaped much of the cultural and social mindset in both Europe and America during this period, and also demonstrates the high cost of cultural insensitivity and disrespect, in the shameful rise of the coolie trade at the end of the 19th century.

In this work, Dolin offers us a wide-ranging, often surprising, history of America's earliest interactions with China. I found myself getting caught up in the adventure as well as the minutiae of day to day life for persons living through this period of history, creating products whose influence is felt to this day. The book's beautiful layout and insightful research made it a joy to read and explore. Thanks to Goodreads and the author for the Advanced Reader's copy!
3 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read When America First Met China.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

08/25/2012 page 91
show 2 hidden updates…

No comments have been added yet.