Today’s post is from Brent at Davis Library:
When America First Met China by Eric Jay Dolin
The author provides a lively, detailed account of the opening of China to commerce with the west. The continual theme is the great promise of expanded trade, but much of the trade was based on two products, the British trading opium for Chinese tea. The futile resistance on the part of the Chinese to prevent the expansion of the opium trade led to a series of small, senseless wars, which allowed the west to force trade concessions from the Chinese. There is much more to this book though, as the competition to get the freshest tea to market in the United State and Britain led to major improvements in sailing and ship building. The constant pressure for a sales advantage on New England merchants led to clipper ships, the push for a transcontinental railroad, and steamships across the Pacific. Always tempting was the promise of the huge Chinese market and how to expand trade with millions of potential customers. I found it interesting that many of the themes for expanding trade with China from the 1800’s are still being echoed today. The author provides a lively narrative and a colorful depiction of the era.