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

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Brilliantly illuminating one of the least-understood areas of American history, best-selling author Eric Jay Dolin now traces our fraught relationship with China back to its roots: the unforgiving nineteenth-century seas that separated a brash, rising naval power from a battered ancient empire. It is a prescient fable for our time, one that surprisingly continues to shed light on our modern relationship with China. Indeed, the furious trade in furs, opium, and b che-de-mer a rare sea cucumber delicacy might have catalyzed America 's emerging economy, but it also sparked an ecological and human rights catastrophe of such epic proportions that the reverberations can still be felt today. Peopled with fascinating characters from the Financier of the Revolution Robert Morris to the Chinese emperor Qianlong, who considered foreigners inferior beings this page-turning saga of pirates and politicians, coolies and concubines.

416 pages, Hardcover

First published September 10, 2012

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About the author

Eric Jay Dolin

18 books315 followers
I grew up near the coasts of New York and Connecticut, and since an early age I was fascinated by the natural world, especially the ocean. I spent many days wandering the beaches on the edge of Long Island Sound and the Atlantic, collecting seashells and exploring tidepools. When I left for college I wanted to become a marine biologist or more specifically a malacologist (seashell scientist). At Brown University I quickly realized that although I loved learning about science, I wasn't cut out for a career in science, mainly because I wasn't very good in the lab, and I didn't particularly enjoy reading or writing scientific research papers. So, after taking a year off and exploring a range of career options, I shifted course turning toward the field of environmental policy, first earning a double-major in biology and environmental studies, then getting a masters degree in environmental management from Yale, and a Ph.D. in environmental policy and planning from MIT, where my dissertation focused on the role of the courts in the cleanup of Boston Harbor.

I have held a variety of jobs, including stints as a fisheries policy analyst at the National Marine Fisheries Service, a program manager at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an environmental consultant stateside and in London, an American Association for the Advancement of Science writing fellow at Business Week, a curatorial assistant in the Mollusk Department at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology, and an intern at the National Wildlife Federation, the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management, and the U.S. Senate.

Throughout my career, one thing remained constant--I enjoyed writing and telling stories. And that's why I started writing books--to share the stories that I find most intriguing (I have also published more than 60 articles for magazines, newspapers, and professional journals). My most recent books include:

***A Furious Sky: The Five-Hundred-Year History of America's Hurricanes (Liveright, 2020), which was chosen by:

The Washington Post -- One of 50 Notable works of Nonfiction for 2020

Library Journal -- One of the Best Science & Technology Books of 2020

Kirkus Reviews -- One of the top 100 nonfiction books of 2020 (it was also a finalist for the Kirkus Prize)

Booklist -- 10 Top Sci-Tech Books of 2020

Amazon.com -- One of the Best Science Books of 2020

And also was an Editor's Choice by the New York Times Book Review.

New York Times -- Editor's Choice

***Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America's Most Notorious Pirates (Liveright, 2018), which was chosen as a "Must-Read" book for 2019 by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, and was a finalist for the 2019 Julia Ward Howe Award given by the Boston Author's Club.

***Brilliant Beacons: A History of the American Lighthouse (Liveright, 2016), which was chosen by gCaptain and Classic Boat as one of the best nautical books of 2016.

***When America First Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail (Liveright, September 2012), which was chosen by Kirkus Reviews as one of the ten best non-fiction books of Fall 2012.

***Fur, Fortune, and Empire: the Epic History of the Fur Trade in America (W. W. Norton, 2010), a national bestseller, which was chosen by New West, The Seattle Times, and The Rocky Mountain Land Library as one of the top non-fiction books of 2010. It also won the 2011 James P. Hanlan Book Award, given by the New England Historical Association, and was awarded first place in the Outdoor Writers Association of America, Excellence in Craft Contest.

***Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America (W. W. Norton, 2007), which was selected as one of the best nonfiction books of 2007 by The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, and The Providence Journal. Leviathan was also chosen by Amazon.com's editors as one of the 10 best history books of 2007. Leviathan garnered the the 23rd annual (2007) L. Byrne Waterman

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 85 reviews
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,646 reviews434 followers
August 21, 2018
An American ship first sailed into a Chinese port in 1784. The Chinese would allow very regulated foreign trade only in the Southern port city of Canton. The people believed China was the "Middle Kingdom" between heaven and the other countries of the world. They considered foreigners to be barbarians. The foreigners especially valued Chinese tea, silk, and porcelain.

The Americans traded ginseng, furs, sandalwood, cotton, and silver to the Chinese. Seals and otters came close to extinction since so many were killed for their furs. The harvesting of large quantities of sandalwood--used in furniture and incense--left the hills of some Pacific islands deforested.

Opium from India was traded to the Chinese for silver by the Western countries, mostly the British. While some Chinese worked as smugglers, the Chinese government tried to shut down the illegal opium trade. The Chinese and British fought several Opium Wars starting in 1839, and the more advanced Western weapons were overwhelming. Writing about how the past influences current ideas, the author writes, "The Opium Wars continue to affect the way China views and responds to the West. When Western nations take actions that the Chinese perceive to be overbearing, dictatorial, or even imperialistic in nature, China's responses are influenced by this tragic period in its history."

There was an increase in shipbuilding, and fast clipper ships were designed for speed so that the tea would be fresher when it reached its destination. Unfortunately, ships from 19 nations were also used to transport Chinese laborers, coolies who were treated almost like slaves, to Latin American plantations. In the mid 19th Century other Chinese came voluntarily to the United States to participate in the gold rush, or work as paid laborers building the railroads.

"When America First Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail" was written like a micro-history of the trading between the Americans and Chinese in the time of sailing ships. The book used mainly Western sources, and had lots of colorful anecdotes about the dangers faced by the traders. The book keeps to the area around the port in Canton, and does not discuss many issues in interior China. Only about 2% of American foreign trade was with China in the 19th Century, compared to 14% now. It's interesting to learn how it all began.
Profile Image for Ms.pegasus.
687 reviews130 followers
January 21, 2013
The China trade conjures exotic images: Graceful clippers like the Sea Witch and the Flying Cloud; the import of silk, fine porcelain, furniture and artwork; the port of Canton bustling with foreign ships and traders intermingled with Chinese junks and sampans, and Canton's “golden ghetto.” Author Eric Jay Dolin explores the economic underpinnings of that era through an extensive reading of primary sources. His story focuses on America's involvement, which began immediately after the conclusion of the American Revolution.

Freed from the colonial restrictions imposed by Britain, America was eager to establish trade relations. The time marked a fortuitous convergence of circumstances. Wartime privateers needed a peacetime occupation. The country needed sources of wealth and it's new found confidence inspired entrepreneurship. In 1789 the French Revolution sparked European warfare that left an opening for the neutral United States. The Americans' chief rival, the British East India company was fat, lugubrious and bureaucracy-laden. However, a much overlooked impetus was that America was a tea-drinking nation. “By the early 1770's most colonists had become fervent tea drinkers. Estimates of colonial consumption of tea at this time range from 5.7 to 6.5 million pounds per year.” Dolin calculates that this converted to a consumption rate of approximately 1.4 to 1.6 cups per person per day. Throughout the period from 1776 to 1860, tea and silk were the primary Chinese imports. From this seemingly innocent penchant, momentous consequences flowed.

Dolin begins his story with the departure of the Empress of China in 1783, carrying a cargo of lead, beaver fur, ginseng and silver coinage. Finding suitable trade goods became the first problem in supporting America's tea habit. Sea otter fur and seals were the immediate answers. Later, sandalwood and sea cucumber became exploited resources. It is appalling to learn how quickly these resources were depleted. Sea otter and seals were hunted almost to extinction. By 1800 seals were becoming rare. A new source was found in the South Shetland Islands in 1820. Within two short years the seals there were almost completely exterminated. Between 1812 and 1815 the Marquesas were nearly denuded of sandalwood. By 1820 the same fate had befallen Hawaii. The drying process for sea cucumber ravaged the remaining timber of the South Seas islands. In addition the cheap native labor in procuring and drying the sea cucumbers was purchased with muskets.

The one sustainable resource the traders had to offer to China was opium. The substance was banned in 1729 but the ban was not enforced. The bulk of the trade was conducted by the British, but the United States was also a participant. It's product, Turkish opium, was simply inferior to the British product grown in India. Moral objections held little weight with American trading companies (by 1837 the trade had come to be dominated by larger, better capitalized, companies rather than individuals). “Most American China-trade firms trafficked in opium, one noteworthy exception being New York's Olyphant & Company, which opposed the trade on religious and moral grounds. As a result of this principled stance, other American traders derisively referred to the rooms that Olyphant & Company occupied in the Canton factory as 'Zion's Corner.'”

Along the way, Dolin offers numerous interesting historical asides. A popular import from China was porcelain decorated with European motifs. The artist Gilbert Stuart actually sued one entrepreneur for using his “Atheneum” portrait of George Washington without permission on commissioned sets of chinaware. In the 1830's the Carnes brothers profited from “made in China” silk scarves, perfumes, and gourmet food which they marketed as the genuine French items. They even found a pickled woody plant that they could pass off as rhubarb for a much higher price.

Most surprising to me was the ignoble end of the clipper ship era shortly before the Civil War. Unprofitable in the China trade, some ended their days as transport for Chinese indentured laborers bound for plantations and manual labor in Latin America. A newspaper reporter's description of guano miners in the 1850's is especially chilling. So harsh were the conditions that many of the laborers committed suicide. Dolin writes of the American ships: “Direct involvement didn't begin ... until 1852, when the Ohio sailed with three hundred Chinese from China to Peru. Over the next ten years sixty-two ships flying the American flag engaged in the coolie trade, one estimate claiming that during the first six of those years, American ships carried forty thousand Chinese, earning the shipowners millions of dollars.” One needs only to consider that there are no Chinese descendant populations from these laborers -- they all died.

Dolin has researched his subject carefully. What begins as a seeming paean to capitalism and “trickle down economics” quickly becomes a story much more complex and interesting. In telling his story he displays a talent for presenting quotes that reflect a different time period without slowing his narrative. Unguarded sentiment, and hyperbolic newspaper accounts account for some of this reaction. When the Americans reap windfall profits acting as middlemen between the British and China after the Chinese ban Britain from trading in 1839, one British trader laments: “While we hold the horns, they [the Americans] milk the cow.”

Finally, Dolin urges the reader to look into this historical relationship in order to draw conclusions about the present. Commissioner Lin Zexu who attempted to stop the opium trade and whose efforts precipitated the Opium War is still looked upon as a hero in China. Since Hong Kong was one of the British spoils of war, it is easy to understand China's resentment during its British tenure. WHEN AMERICA FIRST MET CHINA is a thought-provoking middle-ground between historical scholarship and popular nonfiction.
Author 2 books100 followers
July 5, 2021
A very enjoyable, easy-to-read book that traces America's involvement in the China trade that includes useful chapters on the Opium Wars, the impact of the American Revolution on American shipping, tea, etc.--subjects I was already quite comfortable with, but I was looking for more specific information on the American clipper ships, their routes, frequency, etc.

But there's always more, I learned, than one thinks. Despite a fairly strong background in Chinese history, I had never thought about the N. American fur trade in conjunction with Chinese fashions in the 17th and 18th centuries, so it was a true surprise to learn something about the American trade in sealskins, sea otter furs and sandalwood, for example, as a part of the early American-Chinese trade cycles. I knew that Chinese elites were very fond of furs, but to read that "American ships brought 2.5 million sealskins to Canton between 1792-1812" and nearly made sea otters extinct? Dolin called it "carnage"; it was.

Being American by birth and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts (a suburb of Boston) and spending far too many of my childhood weekends being dragged out to the historical sites of Concord and Lexington, I was also surprised to learn how minor a role the Boston Tea Party had actually played in initiating the Revolutionary War. (Turns out that the Act, given other changes at the time, would actually have lowered the price of tea.) I understand why my New England primary school teachers might have felt that sharing the fact that the "Tea Act was basically a government bailout of the British East India Company" (p. 67) because the company was in "economic freefall by the early 1770s" was a bit advanced for a 7th grader, but I have since read several histories of the British East India Company and had never linked the two events.

This book proved to me that even though you may know a lot about a subject, it can be very rewarding to pick up a book you might skip over thinking you know it all already. And if you don't, when it comes to early China-America trade, this is a very good place to start.
Profile Image for Kelly Buchanan.
442 reviews5 followers
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!
561 reviews
May 23, 2014
Interesting as far as it goes, but it's padded with off- topic information (like stories about the short history of clipper ships that didn't figure in the Chinese-American trade). We can see from this book how Americans saw China but not how the Chinese viewed America. The most interesting parts of the book are about the Opium Wars and the Chinese Coolie trade, where Americans were not among the protagonists.
Profile Image for Martin.
484 reviews29 followers
November 28, 2014
The author is enthusiastic about his subject, but I did not find it infectious. He goes in several different directions, giving a brief history of China's maritime trade, explaining why trade was restricted to Canton, and finally getting into the British and American trade. He tackles each trade subject thoroughly and sequentially, moving from one major trade item to the next, starting with seal and otter pelts, along with sandalwood (all nearly depleted within a generation), tea, sea cucumber, and porcelain. We then take an even darker turn with the Opium Wars and the Coolie trade, which the US was more tangential to, but still benefitted from. The experience of reading the book was like going down the wikipedia wormhole, starting with one subject and then moving on to one after another. The book was therefore informative but somewhat shapeless other than its chronological structure. However, it did make me think about what we are seeing today with China's economic needs: if China wants a certain item, the rest of the world is willing to cause great environmental devastation trying to sell it to China.
Profile Image for Tony Taylor.
329 reviews16 followers
November 15, 2012
Very, very interesting overview of America's early relations with China from the American Revolutionary period through most of the19th century. This book offers a very informative history lesson that offers an insight as to how China reponded to the rush in trade between, not only America, but also much of Europe.The feudal methods employed by the Chinses including the way they "looked down" on Westerners and peoples from other Asian nations. America got a late start in trading with the Chinese, but within time became a powerful trading partner even though for the most part we had a trade deficit with the Chinese just as we do today... they were not that much interested in Western produce and products, with some exceptions, whereas the West had a great appetite for much that came from China including tea and later opium. If you ever studied in school about the Opium Wars in China, but never were all that clear as to how they happened or were resolved, this book lays it out in great detail that is fascinating to read.
Profile Image for Jordan.
17 reviews
July 8, 2016
Interesting chronology but no central thesis or point to this book. I didn't realize that America always had a trade deficit with China.
Profile Image for Daniel Kukwa.
3,894 reviews86 followers
January 10, 2022
My kind of history book: a concise, very easy-to-read examination of a slice of history that doesn't get much exploration...though it should. This examination of the first 150 years of American trade with China holds the key to much of the animosity that exists between the two countries in the present day...and shows both the power of initiative and the ugliness of exploitation in equal measure.
74 reviews4 followers
August 9, 2013
Even though I told myself I was taking a break from non-fiction, I couldn't resist this one. When America First Met China is probably one of the most fascinating analyses and discussions about the global economy involving China in the late 18th century, and throughout most of the 19th century. I had no idea what a huge part the China trade played in the development of the US both before and after independence.

The strongest part of this book is that Dolin writes in a non-academic manner, but has a massive amount of research backing up his writing. The style made it feel more like a national geographic magazine interest story rather than a historical account, which in my opinion, made it more effective. In a sense, the book feels like a journey exploring multiple topics and themes all related to doing business with China.

He starts with discussing the key players in the early American economy, including Robert Morris, the American financier who played a key role in financing the revolutionary war; Stephen Girard, the Philadelphia businessman who was one of America's wealthiest businessmen and key player in the China trade; John Jacob Astor; and a host of other players who left a lasting impact on the American economy.

Other areas where Dolin takes us on this journey is an exploration of the politics behind the trade, including the impact of the American revolution (how the Boston tea party was connected to the China trade), the war of 1812, the impact of the Napoleonic Wars on the America's role in the China trade, the politics related to the British East India Company, and the politics of Qing Dynasty China, and how fascinating the old and complex system of how foreigners did business in China. One of the most interesting discussions is how the Americans and British were frenemies during this time, with oddly friendly relations after American independence, which quickly turned into rivalry and fierce competition.

The discussion of people and politics climaxes with the discussion of the Opium Wars, and the moral, ethical, and financial decisions that went into the Opium trade and how that all exploded. Although the Chinese were badly beaten and forced to sign lopsided concessions to end the war, you can see how unfair and morally repugnant the drug trade was, which was heavily dominated by the British. However, the Americans did not play an insignificant role in the drug trade at that time.

A third area which Dolin describes in detail is the ship building industry. He spends a few chapters describing American Clipper ships, and how they came about to make runs to China in record time.

A great strength of this book is that Dolin doesn't idealize the trade. He is very fair in how he talks about human costs of this trade. He discusses how in China, the condescending attitude of the government toward the foreigners had an impact on Britain's decision to start the Opium War, but how the Chinese were suffering immensely because of the opium trade. He explores the absolute horrors of the "Coolie" trade, in which Chinese laborers were effectively kidnapped or sold into slavery, and forced to work the sugar plantations of Cuba or to mind for guano in Peru.

Overall, a fascinating and highly recommended read. This book gives you a wonderful background of how trade ties with China go back centuries, and have had a massive impact not only on the development of our own nation, but has also set the groundwork for US and China relations today. In a sense, this is not really a book about a particular time in the history of the US and China, but rather an account of the journey that got us to where we are today.
Profile Image for DW.
474 reviews5 followers
December 13, 2013
This book was readable, and it covers a time and place that I knew little about, so I learned a lot of cool stuff. I feel like this book is good background knowledge for books written or set in Britain or America in the 19th century. I never understood quite what the Opium Wars were or what the British East India Company was before I read this book.

Here are some random facts I learned that I'm writing down so I don't forget them once I return the book to the library:
Originally China required foreign merchants to stay in Canton so they wouldn't pollute the population. China's biggest exports were tea and silk. The British quickly became obsessed with tea (and still are). Silk comes from the cocoon of the silkworm, which must be plunged into boiling water to kill the caterpillar and then the silk unrolled. Americans sold seal skins to the Chinese until there weren't any more seals to kill (why are people such idiots about unsustainable resources?). So "clubbing baby seals" actually happened.

Opium was originally used to lace smoking tobacco, then the Chinese started smoking it by itself. It is more addictive smoked than ingested orally. The Opium Wars (1842-44, 1856-60) basically happened because the Chinese outlawed opium, but corrupt officials let it in anyway, and then finally the Chinese government got upset and dumped a shipload of opium in a ditch. The British were sick of having to kowtow (literally) to the emperor, and being treated like savages, and having their men strangled every time they accidentally killed a Chinaman. So they fought the Chinese, and won handily because China was not doing so hot then, and they dictated the terms of the treaty to the Chinese at the point of a gun. China would pay for the destroyed opium, Brits get to judge their own citizens (extraterritoriality) except if caught with opium. Brits were equal to the Chinese, could go more places, learn Chinese, etc. And get everything another country got.

1845-1860 was the high time for American clipper ships (beat the British in the first America's Cup). They could do China to New York in ~80 days (going all the way around South America). They were eventually superseded by steamships going to Panama, sending cargo across by rail, and then other steamships going to China. Coolies were generally shanghai'd into service, with conditions about as bad as African slaves had it. They were technically indentured servants, but they were overworked, brutally treated, and committed suicide and mutinied and died of disease and ill-treatment in very high numbers. Technically "coolies" were the ones shipped to Latin America to work on plantations or harvest guano; the fortune hunters who went to the "Gold Mountain" in California were not treated as slaves. America has basically always had a trade deficit to China.
Profile Image for Kris.
911 reviews10 followers
March 22, 2013
Someone please tell me Dolin did NOT just defend foot binding after giving a graphic and nauseating description of the process.

The book is highly readable and written in a very non scholarly fashion even though it is footnoted and sources listed in the back. Dolin's style is chatty and laconic with just a touch of humor. The title is a little misleading since the POV switches to the British when he approaches the Opium War of 1844. Dolin also talks about the human trafficking that went on between China and Latin America after the importation of Blacks became illegal. He doesn't go into extreme depth on the topic but he pulls no punches over the inhumanness and horrors of the peoples involved.

Overall he does paint a fair image of the people on either side of the issue and makes no attempts to paint the Americans in an unrealistically flattering light. They may not have participated in the opium trade as much as the British but their hands were far from clean.

If I were to lodge any criticism of the book it is that the POV is entirely from the American and Britsh perspective. Don't go into this book expecting to learn anything about China, it's history, civilization or culture. What little Chinese perspective there is, revolves entirely around Canton and the trading "factories" there and a couple paragraphs in the part about coolie export. There are hundreds of American and British men referred to by name but only a handful of Chinese. This may, of course, be a reflection of the availability of source materials, but it does flatten the book somewhat.
Profile Image for Scott Kardel.
315 reviews15 followers
September 29, 2012
Eric Jay Dolin's book When America First Met China is an important look back at U.S. China relations. The book, complete with detailed end notes, spans the years from the American Revolution to just after the U.S. Civil War and recounts the story of U.S. trade relations with the Middle Kingdom.

There can be no question that relations with China will take special focus in the years to come and will be influenced by our past dealings.

While America was not the central player in dealing with China in this period of time, it was often moving in step with England and the other nations of the west. Dolin's book expertly takes the reader through the era, and its many changes, providing insights to how and why things happened. He doesn't hold any punches when it comes to recounting sorrowful tales of the troubles that were generated in finding suitable trade goods to export to China. Environmental damage from over hunting and deforestation, brutal relations with Pacific Islanders, drug dealing and human trafficking are all part of the tale as America and others dealt furs, sandalwood and opium to China. There were profits to be made, but at great costs to others.

I should note that I won this book as part of a Goodreads giveaway. I am glad that I did. It was a worthy read that I recommend to anyone that enjoys reading history.


79 reviews
September 10, 2014
The author is clear that part of his intent in writing this book is to help readers to understand the history of US-China relations and trade relations in particular to inform our understanding of current issues in US-Sino relations. I definitely walked away with a better grasp of that history and how it might inform contemporary Chinese perceptions. While focused on telling the tale of the development of trade relations between the two countries, he manages to tell a tale of greed and its overwhelming influence on national policy, the degradation of the environment and decimation of animal populations and the disregard of the rights and humanity of other people. The books was thoroughly researched and a quick read but was not the most enjoyable book to read.
106 reviews7 followers
August 24, 2015
An easy and engaging read; heavy on the small US-centric stories rather than the global trends of the times, as advertised. A braver title would've been "When Boston met Canton..."

Ultimately disappointing that he chose to stop in the 1860s, just when things were getting interesting. The ending felt abrupt, and without the remaining story of the US-Qing relationship the reader can't fully apply history's lessons to today's G2. Would it have been so hard to go up to 1912? Fifty more pages could've done it.
58 reviews4 followers
June 10, 2012
A good description of the initial phases America's trade with China. After the Revolutionary War China was one country that was open to American traders, with enormous profits to be made on successful voyages. Even in these days, however, the world ran an account deficit with China, which continues to this day. The book ends with the Opium Wars of the mid 19th century, which are still much in the minds of the Chinese today when they negotiate with the West. A good summary of the subject.
663 reviews8 followers
September 9, 2012
I got this book as a Goodreads giveaway. I don't usually read this type of historical book, but, being a recent resident of Salem, I thought it would give me some insight into the cities' history. At one time, Salem was the wealthiest city in America, due to the China trade. I did not learn much about Salem, but did learn a great deal about China and its history. I really enjoyed the book. The maps and illustrations helped.
Profile Image for Art.
736 reviews8 followers
January 4, 2014
I heard a lot about this time period on The China History Podcast (well worth listening to if you are interested in the subject)I thought this book was very interesting and covered the China U.S. trade very well. I have to admit that I really had not thought of it in 18 and 19th century terms but it was eye opening when I did. It's gotten me the urge to maybe read a little more on the subject, and that's the mark of a good book.
Profile Image for Trina.
85 reviews3 followers
January 25, 2013
Fascinating and well-written account of trade relations between China and the United States from post-Revolutionary War through the 1800s. Loving history and economics as I do, this didn't disappoint.
Profile Image for Catherine.
1,139 reviews65 followers
June 10, 2013
This book did not live up to its intriguing title. While there were interesting stories sprinkled throughout, mostly it felt like a chore to read.
Profile Image for Sarah.
382 reviews13 followers
February 21, 2013
Really good information, wasn't a huge fan of the last two chapters, but the rest of the book was awesome, didn't know a lot of it, they don't really teach the opium wars in American schools
Profile Image for Duffy.
66 reviews6 followers
November 10, 2018
Overall I thought it was just ok.
There was a moderate amount of redundency in information and themes presented.
Profile Image for Joelle.
410 reviews6 followers
January 12, 2023
I've read a lot about the Opium Wars, but it was always from the perspective of Great Britain and the East India Company. I knew America was never an innocent spectator, but I was unaware of just how much American merchants prospered from it. And while America's role was actually minor in response to the role of Britain, any role was too much. One thing I appreciate about Dolin is that he records all the horrific details, without comment, or judgment. This in turn makes the details even more startling in their barbarity. The systematic destruction of populations of seals, the whole sale removal of ecosystems for the sake of sandal wood - in a disinterested and disaffected tone, Dolin lays out the facts, and lets them speak for themselves. (This was also his writing style in Leviathan, a book about the whaling industry.) The only time his tone changes is when he discusses the "Coolie" trade: the strategic enslavement of primarily Chinese men in South America and the Dutch Indies, which included the Philippines, the Spice Islands, and also was propagated in Spanish Cuba. We tend to relegate the 18th and 19th centuries to the history books: we discuss them in the past tense, and gloss over the atrocities. But the truth is that we are still paying the price of what happened back then - monetarily and physically. We clearly didn't learn from history, and as both the whole sale destruction of the environment, eradication of species, and slave trade continue, we are past being doomed.
Profile Image for Michael Dean Edwards.
32 reviews2 followers
July 21, 2022
Eric Jay DOLIN does not disappoint his readers. As with his overview of the fur trade and its relationship to the China trade, the reader completes a journey in this 2012 release about the evolution of the trade between China and the United States. And, once again, we rediscover history often ignored with consequences that have important implications for today. Only criticism regarding what is misssing is a bibliography. Goodreads can help with that though. I highly recommend this and can point people to the Epilogue for non-spoiler information worthy of reading to understand why Westrners should be mindful of past injustices and callous behavior.
128 reviews
January 25, 2023
Another good and interesting book by Dolin. Where he again brings us the history not typically known. His coverage of early relations of the countries, there attitudes and how this created the behaviors and developments and therefore the history comes alive in the book. The parts where the author describes the opium trade and war were very interesting to learn. the info. on coolies and the info on clipper ships was also an area where much was written about with much more depth and understanding.
Profile Image for Alexander Hult.
3 reviews4 followers
March 31, 2019
Dolin has a captivating writing style for history, and offers a great balance between facts and stories. I came away with an incredible amount of knowledge about the history of trade and much more. I can't think of an author I consistently enjoy more. Also, the amount of effort that goes into his books really warrants five stars. So much thorough research went into this book, and it shows.
Profile Image for melissa.
8 reviews
July 8, 2022
Wow. Seriously, why do more Americans not know about America’s “trade” history with China. Current MSM outlets talk about trade with China as if it’s a new thing. America has a pitiful recitation of history with China in the “American education” system. Read this book if you want the real history of American trade with China that goes back to the 16-1700’s.
Profile Image for Cynthia Moore.
260 reviews1 follower
February 1, 2022
Excellent read! Enjoyed every minute of it and never wanted it to end! The photos too!
A real eye opener for many things but mostly helps non Chinese understand whatever bitterness may be felt by them with the rude treatment and bullying of other countries.
I would recommend this to everyone!
16 reviews5 followers
June 6, 2017
Great perspective on the US-China relationship and how far back it goes - right to the beginning of the US.
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