Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012
When America First Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail (Liveright), by Eric Jay Dolin
Well before it became a political football, China made headlines with tales of economic growth in the face of a global downturn and reports of poor conditions in its factories. Eric Jay Dolin’s well-crafted account of chapter one in America’s long and often fraught history with China is a revealing study of the merchant ships that sailed to Canton from the East Coast in the early years of the republic, bringing back tea, porcelain and great wealth. Trade with China produced America’s first millionaires and spurred economic growth and federal revenue. Even so, Dolin concludes that the relationship is considerably different in the 21st century than in the 18th and 19th. In those years, the United States would have prospered if China had fallen off the map. Nowadays, “it is virtually impossible to imagine contemporary America without Chinese products”; many jobs have been lost, and the United States is floating on Chinese loans. What a difference a century makes.