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China was once romantic to me. Back in 1994, when I decided that I wanted to travel overseas, I had two reasons. First, I possessed the sort of wanderlust that seizes many recent college graduates; I desired to break out of the comfortable sphere I had inhabited for more than two decades, see part of the world, and enjoy an adventure. Second, I had decided I wanted to teach for a living, and I thought that a temporary position at an overseas university would provide me with much-needed experience in front of a classroom. As I surveyed the wide array of possible countries, something peculiar took place. All the candidate nations quickly fell away—all except China, that is, which rose before me as the only real choice. Why did China alone beckon? I was not exactly sure, but I believe its attraction had something to do with the challenge afforded by its epic size, with my perception that its culture was intriguingly different and exotic, and with the aura of mystery that hovered over a once-closed communist country now opening up to the world. In sum, I chose China because it was, in a word, romantic.

Though I enjoyed living and teaching in the People’s Republic of China for many reasons, the country’s romance turned out not to be among them. In truth, shortly after I had arrived in Tianjin, the romantic aura that had lured me evaporated into thin air. China, I discovered, was not romantic at all; it had only seemed so from my vantage point in the United States. Instead, China was a country like any other where the people quietly went about their own business. In this way, I learned what a lot of dreamers learn when they visit a place previously viewed from afar. The romance of China had resided entirely in my own mind.

Later, in graduate school, faculty members and fellow students occasionally asked me about my experiences in China. From their line of questioning, I could gather that they also considered China to be a romantic place. And as I was casting about for a dissertation topic, I began to contemplate China’s attractive force. What, I asked myself, was the source of China’s ability to enjoy a powerful hold over the collective imagination of Americans? To answer this question, I began to trek backward in time, reading the popular works of literature and journalism in which China had been presented to Americans: John Hersey’s novels set in China, Henry Luce’s coverage of China in Time and Life magazines, Edgar Snow’s Red Star over China, Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth, and Carl Crow’s 400 Million Customers. Working backward in time, I eventually reached the start of the twentieth century. Though I was greatly pleased to have read so many influential works, I had not located to my satisfaction the source of China’s romance. And so I delved further into the past, where, at last, I found the object of my search.

Later, in graduate school, faculty members and fellow students occasionally asked me about my experiences in China. From their line of questioning, I could gather that they also considered China to be a romantic place. And as I was casting about for a dissertation topic, I began to contemplate China’s attractive force. What, I asked myself, was the source of China’s ability to enjoy a powerful hold over the collective imagination of Americans? To answer this question, I began to trek backward in time, reading the popular works of literature and journalism in which China had been presented to Americans: John Hersey’s novels set in China, Henry Luce’s coverage of China in Time and Life magazines, Edgar Snow’s Red Star over China, Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth, and Carl Crow’s 400 Million Customers. Working backward in time, I eventually reached the start of the twentieth century. Though I was greatly pleased to have read so many influential works, I had not located to my satisfaction the source of China’s romance. And so I delved further into the past, where, at last, I found the object of my search.

For Americans alive at the dawn of the nineteenth century, the world beyond the nation’s boundaries seemed intriguing and new. Their era would be one in which Europeans and Americans would fan out across the globe, traversing oceans and enduring inhospitable climes, to reach destinations that were either completely unknown to them or known but largely unexamined. These voyages were launched with different objectives, a mixture of the noble and the morally problematic—to seize colonies, to open up new markets, to slaughter whales and seals, to convert “the heathen” to Christianity, to map uncharted regions, to study unknown civilizations, and to document and record new species. By the latter half of the nineteenth century, this flurry of exploratory activity had succeeded in leaving very little of the globe untouched by Western influence, for good or for ill; the Antarctic continent was discovered, Japan was opened to Western intercourse, much of the interior of Africa was explored, and North America was mapped, conquered, and settled. Taken collectively, these efforts generated an astounding amount of contact between the different cultures of the world. 1

Though explorers and merchants had been plying the seas for centuries, ordinary men and women could not easily follow their peregrinations and share in their discoveries until the first half of the nineteenth century. In the United States, several factors combined to provide Americans with access to newly acquired information about distant lands and cultures. The federal government sponsored exploring expeditions, to the American West and other parts of the globe, that seized the nation’s attention. A revolution in transportation resulted in a network of roads, turnpikes, canals, and railroads that reconfigured the natural landscape while it accelerated the flow of people, machines, commodities, and information. In the 1830s, penny newspapers and other print media proliferated as a result of innovations in printing, including the steam-driven cylinder press. Furthermore, the advent of lithography, by facilitating the mass reproduction of images, to a great extent democratized the visual image itself. Working synergistically with these technological breakthroughs, advances in literacy further increased the demand for information, as did the emergence and expansion of a middle class possessing enough disposable income to purchase books and newspapers and other periodicals. By the antebellum era, Americans’ fascination with the outside world was generating a vogue for travel writing. 2

What was the effect of these works on the individuals who read them? For some impressionable readers, accounts of expeditions proved so irresistible as to prompt action. In the mid 1850s, Samuel Clemens, twenty-one years old and living in Keokuk, Iowa, read Lieutenant Lewis Herndon’s account of his exploration of the Amazon River for the U.S. Navy. As Clemens recalled later in life, when he was better known as Mark Twain, the effect of this narrative on his youthful mind was profound:

Among the books that interested me in those days was one about the Amazon. The traveler told an alluring tale of his long voyage up the great river . . . through the heart of an enchanted land, a land wastefully rich in tropical wonders, a romantic land where all the birds and flowers and animals were of the museum varieties. . . . I was fired with a longing to ascend the Amazon. . . . During months I dreamed that dream, and tried to contrive ways to get to Para. . . .

Herndon’s account not only piqued Clemens’s intellectual curiosity but also captivated his imagination. He was enthralled by the possibility that the Amazon region was an “enchanted land” full of “tropical wonders.” Not content with his fantasies, Clemens yearned to see this “romantic land” with his own eyes. He traveled by riverboat to New Orleans, where he hoped to board a vessel bound for Para, Brazil. Discovering that no such ship existed, he instead sought out the riverboat pilot he had met on his journey from Iowa and implored the man “to teach me the river.” Rather than ascending the Amazon River, Clemens turned to the Mississippi, which would prove to be central to his writing career. 3

Inspired by the literature of exploration, Samuel Clemens “dreamed that dream” of seeing exotic locales for himself. Though his desire to travel was common, his ability to act on this impulse was exceptional, as most Americans could not extricate themselves from their obligations to family, community, and place of work. Indeed, for them the new availability of information was not without one concomitant frustration: Reading about the exploits of others in faraway places, though pleasurable, only served to intensify their sense of their own stasis. For this reason, their reading tantalized them by providing them with a second-hand view of a fascinating world they could never expect to see for themselves.

Clemens also notes, interestingly, that “the birds and flowers and animals” described in Herndon’s work “were of the museum varieties.” In other words, he had seen exotic flora and fauna on exhibit and, somewhat paradoxically, writes as if the real South American specimens were mere imitations of originals found in American museums. From this comment, we see that Clemens regarded museum exhibits as legitimate portals to the outside world. And he was not alone. Many Americans firmly believed that a museum stocked with artifacts, pictures, and stuffed wildlife could generate a pleasing illusion of travel and therefore serve as a surrogate for real sightseeing.

In the 1830s, a young girl named Caroline Howard King made numerous visits to the East India Marine Society in Salem, Massachusetts. Salem was a thriving center of maritime commerce and ships departed from it daily for destinations all over the world. When sea captains returned home bearing artifacts, they deposited them in the Society’s museum, East India Marine Hall. The collection was especially strong in artifacts from China, India, the East Indies, and the Pacific Islands, and so the Hall provided visitors with a new and intriguing way to experience Asia without venturing far from home.

King relished her encounters with Asia. In fact, in memoirs composed later in life, she reminisced about the magical attraction these exhibits held:

. . . the Museum had a mysterious attraction for me and indeed it was an experience for an imaginative child to step from the prosaic streets . . . into that atmosphere redolent with the perfumes from the east, warm and fragrant and silent, with a touch of the dear old Arabian Nights. . . . I . . . was greeted by the solemn group of Orientals [referring to several life-size statues] who, draped in eastern stuffs and camel’s hair shawls, stood opposite the entrance. . . . the hours were full of enchantment, and I think I came as near fairyland as one can in this workaday world. . . . And in those days the Spice Islands seemed to lie very near our coast. 4

Like Clemens, King used the exhibits to contemplate an escape from everyday life—the “prosaic streets” and the “workaday world” of Salem. She enjoyed a flight of fancy that liberated her, albeit briefly, from the dullness of the quotidian world and allowed her to experience wonder and “enchantment.” Yet unlike Twain, who planned to escape to a real destination (the Amazon), King used her imagination to fashion a new world. The museum’s arrangers intended the exhibits to offer an object lesson in the customs, arts, costumes, and religious practices of Asian cultures, but Caroline happily defied their wishes. For she knew that, once the sights and scents of Asia entered her mind, she was free to do with them as she pleased. With this license, she chose to invent her own personal Asia. This Asia was exactly the sort of place one might expect “an imaginative child” to create: It was “fairyland,” and it was all her own.

For dreamers like Caroline, China existed as perhaps the most alluring of all destinations in the world because it was enshrouded in mystery. China is “the great unknown,” wrote an American missionary in 1843, because “foreigners know but little more of it than they do of the moon.” 5 This remoteness resulted largely from the Qing government’s restrictive policy regarding the West. In 1760, Emperor Qianlong, desiring to control the empire’s foreign intercourse, confined all Westerns to the southern port of Canton; they were strictly forbidden from visiting any other part of the country. In this way, China afforded foreigners only a glimpse, as if through a keyhole, of the vast and intriguing land that lay beyond Canton. Rather than squelching Westerners’ nascent interest in China, this containment strategy only fanned the flames of their curiosity, compelling them to yearn for more information. 6 In 1830, William Wood, a merchant who had lived in Canton, wrote that any traveler returning home from China suffered “considerable annoyance at the multitude of questions” from the lips of curious Americans. A “romantic illusion,” he said, had enveloped China in the minds of Americans. 7

Wood was correct. During much of the nineteenth century, mystery lent China a romantic aura in the West. In trying to engage the mystery, the Western mind split into two and proceeded to engage China on separate intellectual planes. At one level, the Western imagination used the absence of information as a license to spin wonderful Oriental fantasies (as Caroline Howard King had done) which could then be projected onto China’s geographic blankness. At a second level, the mystery provoked restless discomfort for the more rationally minded side of the West; it sought (like Clemens considering the Amazon) to see China for itself so as to inscribe empirical knowledge into the intolerable empty space. Thus, in the Western mind, China existed in a state of tension caused by the presence of two contrary impulses: the imagination’s need to create fictional lands and the rational mind’s inexorable quest to demystify the real world.

In the United States and Europe, that fictional land was known as Cathay. Hugh Honour, in his study on European Chinoiserie, offers a vivid description of Cathay: “Of this mysterious and charming land, poets are the only historians and porcelain painters the most reliable topographers. They alone can give an adequate impression of the beauty of the landscape with its craggy snow-capped mountain ranges, . . . cities of dreaming pagodas,” and “meandering rivers whose limpid waters bear delicately wrought junks.” It is a landscape of “perpetual spring” filled with “weeping willows,” “bamboo,” “chrysanthemums,” and “forests of gnarled trees.” On branches “gaudy birds with rainbow-hued plumage” perch; “butterflies the size of puffins” flutter through gardens; and in murky ponds “diaphanous-tailed goldfish” swim about “amidst the water lilies.” As for the denizens of Cathay, they are a serene, contemplative people who possess long curling fingernails and wear robes embroidered with gold. In short, Cathay was a wholly unrealistic, yet wonderfully kaleidoscopic, vision of a country. 8

In 1873, Gideon Nye, a retired China trader, offered an insight that is helpful in explaining exactly why China, as a subject of Western contemplation, could deliver so much romantic pleasure. Looking back wistfully on the first half of the nineteenth century, Nye wrote: “The very name of China—the distant Cathay,—was, at that day, pregnant of the Romance of History; and suggested imaginative dreams. . . . ” 9 With these words, Nye had made a critical observation: Americans failed to draw a clear distinction between real China and dreamy Cathay, choosing instead to leave the two in a state of splendid conflation. In other words, much of China’s romance flowed out of the imagination’s ability to take the early lead on the rational mind: A fantasy world had been invented but had not been discredited. As a result, dreamers could justifiably enjoy believing that their imagined ideal was real.

But China could also be romantic in that it attracted a second kind of dreamer—Americans possessing ambitions of epic proportions. For these individuals, China beckoned in the same way that Mt. Everest calls to mountain climbers. Viewing China as one of the great challenges of their age, these bold individuals hoped to demystify it by penetrating into the heart of China’s vast unknown territory and becoming the first to return to the United States with accurate descriptions of the country and its people. That the Qing government had erected obstacles to block their efforts only served to increase the challenge and, therefore, augment the significance of the quest. Indeed, this was no task for either the small-minded or the fainthearted. Thus, the large-scale project of describing China often attracted romantic individuals with grandiose ambitions.

In the nineteenth century, these two different kinds of dreamers would frequently meet. During this time period, merchants, missionaries, diplomats, engineers, painters, and travel writers journeyed to China. While there, they recorded their observations, gathered artifacts, collected specimens, met inhabitants, and sketched scenes. On returning home, they reconstituted their experiences overseas into cohesive cultural productions—re-creations of China that were designed to educate, amaze, and amuse American audiences. Because of these cultural productions, ordinary people could do more than merely visit Cathay in their minds; they could confront China through the various acts of reading texts, inspecting objects, viewing pictures, attending lectures, and meeting actual Chinese people.

In fact, many Americans went so far as to claim that their experience with virtual China was tantamount to visiting China itself. Of course, these virtual tourists were not seeing China so much as a construction of China. Though nearly all of the individuals who created these cultural productions aspired for accuracy and sincerely believed they had attained it, their manner of perceiving China was in fact shaped by their personal background, the times in which they lived, their systems of belief, and the demands of the fickle marketplace. Indeed, when we penetrate to the core of these constructions, we see the great extent to which they were colored by religious faith, views on technology, scientific paradigms, sexual orientation, financial issues, personal anxieties, or pseudoscientific theories. And so in each case a unique combination of biographical, ideological, historical, and commercial factors circumscribed the attempt to describe China truthfully.

However, though the truth on China proved elusive, these individuals did impart their knowledge of China to American audiences. Knowledge, which is distinct from truth, refers to the coherent set of ideas, observations, and images that results when the factors listed above merge with the individual’s attempt to understand China. Since the factors necessarily varied from one individual to the next, knowledge of China was (and still is) far from being fixed and stable. In fact, constructions of China were as diverse as the people who created them.

In the nineteenth century, this diversity helped make China the topic of a rich national debate. Each American who journeyed to China understood the country in his own way. After returning to the United States, he would fashion a unique construction of China and, perfectly convinced of his own accuracy, would often identify serious flaws both in the portrayals by his rivals and in the American public’s understanding of China. And so Americans vied with one another for influence in the marketplace of ideas. Of course, a few merely duplicated prevalent stereotypes for commercial gain, yet most chose not to act in complicity with their lesser-informed audiences because they were too ambitious to sacrifice originality for profit. In fact, some were inexorably driven by an overweening pride that approached hubris. They sought to add to world knowledge and to make a name for themselves in the process, both by disabusing their audiences of erroneous stereotypes and by actively dissenting against whatever the accepted view on China was. After all, what was the point of traveling all the way to China only to repeat what others have already said? Not surprisingly, when we look at constructions of China we find that, as a group, they are characterized by an exciting amount of conflict, competition, and contestation—not by a dull consensus.

It will also come as no surprise that we also find ample evidence of racism. The individuals who described the Chinese sometimes understood the latter as being inferior. And even when an individual’s portrayal was informative and respectful, audience members proved capable of overriding a positive message by choosing to see only what they wanted to see (as Caroline Howard King did in Salem). Indeed, a large portion of the ordinary Americans who took virtual journeys to China exhibited neither a salutary curiosity nor a spirit of open-mindedness; instead, we find manifest in their reactions only a smug belief in the preeminence of their own civilization and a disappointing intolerance for a way of life that differed from their own. Some Americans would attend a virtual China only to subject Chinese people and customs to the basest forms of mockery and ridicule.

That said, there was one factor that often worked to mitigate racism—the Chinese themselves. The historian Arif Dirlik has argued that, in Western representations of Easterners, power was seldom concentrated exclusively in Western hands; rather, it tended to be dispersed, with much of it in the possession of Easterners. By locating both power and a voice in the East, Dirlik’s theory represents a significant departure from one previously articulated by Edward Said. In Orientalism, Said had argued that the West possessed all of the power and the only voice. He defined Orientalism as “a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.” In Said’s formulation, the Easterners who were being represented came across as passive and silent. 10

The findings from my research fall more in line with Dirlik’s model of representations than with Said’s. The evidence suggests that constructions of China did not emanate solely from a white American consciousness and reflect only the views, needs, and prejudices of white people; instead, they were generated by the cultural, commercial, and diplomatic interactions that took place in what Mary Louise Pratt has called “contact zones”—loci of Eastern and Western encounters and relationships. 11 Out of these contact zones, constructions of China emerged that reflected the input of both parties. Not only did Americans in China rely heavily on the Chinese. Sometimes their constructions were actually made possible by the latter’s assistance. The Chinese served as tour guides and translators, executed paintings of Chinese life, acted as cultural interpreters, and even worked as collecting agents by traversing their own country in search of artifacts. And on at least one occasion the Chinese even assembled their own exhibit, which they transported to the United States.

Sometimes, China’s participation amounted to what Dirlik has called “self-orientalization.” That is, the Chinese constructed themselves, accurately or otherwise, in a manner intended to advance their own interests. They viewed self-description for an overseas audience as a beneficial way to increase exports, improve relations with other nations, or refute damaging stereotypes. In sum, the Chinese are far from being passive or silent in this story. Rather, in overt or subtle ways, they exerted real control over their own representation in the United States and, in doing so, often provided a countervailing force that could hold anti-Chinese sentiment somewhat in check.

At least two other scholarly works have explored American representations of China and the Chinese, though these mostly cover different sources from those included in the present study. Both agree that the chief historical relevance of these representations is their ability to elucidate an unfortunate event in American history: the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. This act, which prohibited the entry of Chinese laborers into the United States, was the first federal law designed to block the immigration of individuals of a specific nationality.

Stuart Creighton Miller was the first to treat this topic, in The Unwelcome Immigrant: The American Image of the Chinese, 1785–1882. Miller’s project, as stated in his own words, was “to trace systematically the evolution of the unfavorable image of the Chinese in nineteenth-century America and to examine the role of this image in the national decision to exclude the Chinese from the melting pot.” To accomplish this objective, Miller read extensively from a wide variety of American writers—missionaries, traders, diplomats, journalists—who were responsible for generating images of the Chinese. In his view, anti-Chinese sentiment in America resulted from the gradual accretion of disparate and unrelated negative images. For instance, he claims that the China trader and the missionary both cast the Chinese in an unflattering light but did so for entirely different reasons. After computing the aggregate of these images, Miller concluded that, by 1882, Americans had received an overall impression of the Chinese that was decidedly negative. 12

My purpose is not so much to refute Miller as to present new sources which show that representations of China were not as uniformly negative as he claims. Anti-Chinese views, though common, were always contested and failed to monopolize the marketplace of ideas. With the sole purpose of his research being to locate the cause for the Exclusion Act, Miller was quite possibly drawn to negative representations to the point of overlooking the many that were positive, innocent, admirable, hopeful, and even comical. With this work, I hope to present many of these lost narratives, stories of Sino-American cultural contact, so as to broaden our understanding of how Americans interacted intellectually and creatively with China.

The next historian, John Kuo Wei Tchen, used New York as his case study in New York Before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture, 1776—1882. Like Miller, Tchen conferred vast importance on the role played by representations of the Chinese, going so far as to state that they were “intrinsic to American social, economic, and political life.” Unlike Miller, Tchen understood representations not as disparate and unrelated but rather as unified by a consistent and disturbing theme permeating mainstream American culture—the need of white Americans to define themselves in opposition to an Oriental “other.” In his attempt to “adapt Said’s concept [of Orientalism] to the United States,” Tchen argued that the Chinese provided white Americans with the “otherness” they needed to define “who they were and were not.” “The formulators of U.S. identity,” Tchen asserted, “sought to advance a unique form of American nationalism that often used China and the Chinese symbolically and materially.” At times, the Chinese were “mimicked, simulated, and reproduced,” for the purpose of “provoking laughter, assuaging fear, and forging solidarity between members of a paying audience by formulating a pan-European occidental identity in juxtaposition to the stereotype of yellow face.” The Exclusion Act was the inevitable consequence of this nationwide fixation on self-definition. 13

Tchen offered an intriguing theory: that representations of China were actually indirect forms of self-representation. In other words, the curiosity for China that prompted Americans’ outward-looking gaze masked what was really an ugly and narcissistic exercise in defining the national character in an exclusionary fashion. I do not disagree entirely with this conclusion; some Americans clearly did use the perceived difference of Chinese culture as a means either to attain self-understanding or, much worse, to assert self-superiority. Yet I do not think a nation’s obsession with itself can account for the abundance of intellectual and imaginative energy that Americans spent on China. In other words, there truly was a vast reservoir of American curiosity about China in the nineteenth century, and not all of it was vile.

Instead, a variety of needs and desires motivated Americans to turn their collective gaze toward China—not just one. Many were motivated by a healthy and laudable yearning to know more about the outside world. They were capable of demonstrating an exciting open-mindedness to the cultural offerings of the Chinese and enthusiastically sought to spread their discoveries to others. Others journeyed to China only after failing to build a career in the United States. Since China had provided them with a fresh opportunity to start anew, they chose to view it with tolerance and even respect. For another group, who never left the United States, China offered a chance to exercise a fertile imagination. Using the multiple images of China that were adrift in American culture, American women and children constructed their own Oriental wonderlands, which they could visit while daydreaming. For them, China served as a kind of mental theme park, an imagined destination where bored but creative people could romp with childlike delight as they escaped the monotony of their domestic setting. Though they clearly described China erroneously, they were not consumed by a nationalistic fervor to assert the superiority of their own culture. Instead, they harbored a desire that stands as the polar opposite of the chauvinistic and narcissistic impulse: escapism or the desire to temporarily flee one’s own life and society.

In sum, I see neither a high degree of unity among those who constructed China nor the presence of a consistently anti-Chinese message in their cultural productions. For this reason, I contend that the United States was not headed all along on a misguided course that would lead inevitably to the Exclusion Act of 1882. Instead, I see Americans as being engaged in a rich and lively debate in which presenters of China, their audiences, and the Chinese themselves each possessed a strong voice. Even when Americans seemed to collectively turn against China at the end of the Opium War in 1842, the Chinese were never without their defenders and were never completely silenced. Because of that debate, I do not believe that the Exclusion Act was inevitable.

Yet, sadly, that debate, though fertile, did not evolve into a wise and benevolent immigration policy. Starting in the 1870s, the economic and political landscape shifted in a profound way. The massive industrialization that followed the Civil War brought about an epic clash between two titans—labor and capital—and Chinese immigrants experienced the extreme misfortune of becoming a political football in this confrontation. However, prior to this unfortunate chapter in Chinese-American history, the contested nature of China in the public discourse meant that multiple trajectories were at least possible.

The period under study encompasses the first one hundred years of the United States, from 1776 to 1876. Before 1776, British merchants and officials handled all intercourse with China. Thus, we cannot really speak of a construction of China in Colonial times that was distinctly “American.” Yet just months after the signing of the Treaty of Paris, American independence began to express itself through commerce as traders sought to establish their own relationship with the Chinese. The first American trading vessel bound for China, the Empress of China, embarked in 1784. The success of this business venture inaugurated a commercial exchange that would alter the American landscape, both materially and intellectually. By directing a flood of Chinese goods into the American market, the China trade caused a concomitant stream of images to flow into the American mind at a time when China loomed as a colossal mystery.

This book proceeds chronologically. In each chapter I examine either a single construction of China or a small cluster of related ones. As a quick scan of the table of contents suggests, the subjects of the chapters reflect the central argument that these constructions were shaped by a rich diversity in perspectives: an eccentric diplomat, women and children at home interacting creatively with their porcelain, tea merchants advertising their product on the market, a China trader with grand dreams, an enterprising sea captain, a missionary, an engineer, a painter, a showman, and a famous travel writer. I have chosen to conclude the study at 1876 for a handful of reasons. This date allows me to explore China’s large contribution at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and to gauge American reaction to it, just six years prior to the passage of the Exclusion Act in 1882. The inclusion of this event is important also because the Chinese become the primary architects of a Chinese exhibit intended for American audiences. Thus, to our set of representative voices, we add one that is distinctly Chinese.

I would like to emphasize the term representative voices because I do not pretend to offer a comprehensive study. For if one attempted to cover all the books, magazine articles, and newspaper stories devoted to China, the project would swell to unmanageable proportions. Rather, this work has taken a large temporal swath, isolated a handful of fertile and influential constructions of China, and attempted to show the remarkable diversity in thought that animated both the creators and their audiences. That we find in the United States not one construction but many different ones is in fact fitting for a country that has never been homogeneous. And though none of the individuals could be said to have “gotten China right,” their efforts show that most did possess integrity: They tried to do more than dip into pools of accepted stereotypes and please audiences. Rather, equipped with their own systems of belief, they confronted China and proceeded to construct the country as they saw it and as they hoped truly curious Americans would see it too.


Note 1: William H. Goetzmann, New Lands, New Men: America and the Second Great Age of Discovery (New York: Penguin, 1986), 1.  Back.

Note 2: Carl Bode, The Anatomy of American Popular Culture, 1840–1861 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1959), 223; Michael Schudson, Discovering the News: A Social History of American Newspapers (New York: Basic Books, 1978), 31–39; Goetzmann, 1–2.  Back.

Note 3: Mark Twain, “The Turning Point in My Life,” Harper’s Bazaar (February 1910), 118–19.  Back.

Note 4: Caroline Howard King, When I Lived in Salem, 1822–1866 (Brattleboro, Vt.: Stephen Daye Press, 1937), 28-30; and Walter Muir Whitehill, The East India Marine Society and the Peabody Museum of Salem: A Sesquicentennial History (Salem, Mass.: Peabody Museum, 1949), 37–38, 45–46.  Back.

Note 5: Chinese Repository (January 1843), 6. According to the historian Kenneth Latourette, China in the early part of the nineteenth century “was almost as remote from ordinary American life as the planet Mars.” Kenneth Scott Latourette, The History of Early Relations between the United States and China, 1784–1844 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1917), 124.  Back.

Note 6: Jonathan D. Spence, The Search for Modern China (New York: Norton, 1990), 121.  Back.

Note 7: William Wood, Sketches of China: With Illustrations from Original Drawings (Philadelphia: Carey and Lea, 1830), vii, x–xi.  Back.

Note 8: Hugh Honour, Chinoiserie: The Vision of Cathay (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1961), 1–7.  Back.

Note 9: Gideon Nye, The Morning of My Life in China: Comprising an Outline of the History of Foreign Intercourse from the Last Year of the Regime of Honorable East India Company, 1833, to the Imprisonment of the Foreign Community in 1839 (Canton, 1873), 4. Nye delivered these words during a lecture on the evening of 31 January 1873  Back.

Note 10: Arif Dirlik, “Chinese History and the Question of Orientalism,” in “Chinese Historiography in Comparative Perspective,” ed. Axel Schneider and Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik, special issue, History and Theory 35 (December 1996), 96–118; and Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon, 1978), 3.  Back.

Note 11: Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (London: Routledge, 1992), 6.  Back.

Note 12: Stuart Creighton Miller, The Unwelcome Immigrant: The American Image of the Chinese, 1785–1882 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), ix.  Back.

Note 13: John Kuo Wei Tchen, New York before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture, 1776–1882 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), xvi, 125, 292–295. Robert Lee has also published a study in the area of representations, though he has not limited his study to the treatment of the Chinese. Lee’s work is sweeping in scope, examining all groups of Asian descent and covering the entire history of the United States. However, like Tchen, Lee makes the argument that the mainstream used depictions of Asians in popular culture to “define American nationality” and decide “who ‘real Americans’ are.” Robert G. Lee, Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999), 6.  Back.


The Romance of China: Excursions to China in U.S. Culture: 1776-1876




1. Xanadu
2. Romantic Domesticity
3. The China Effect
4. China in Miniature
5. Floating Ethnology
6. God's China
7. Fruits of Diplomacy
8. Bayard Taylor's Asia
9. Exposition of 1876