When America First Met China and over one million other books are available for Amazon Kindle. Learn more
Buy New
  • List Price: $27.95
  • Save: $10.95 (39%)
FREE Shipping on orders over $35.
In Stock.
Ships from and sold by Amazon.com.
Gift-wrap available.
Add to Cart
Want it Monday, April 21? Order within and choose Two-Day Shipping at checkout. Details
Have one to sell?
Flip to back Flip to front
Listen Playing... Paused   You're listening to a sample of the Audible audio edition.
Learn more

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

ISBN-13: 978-0871404336 ISBN-10: 0871404338 Edition: 1st

See all 5 formats and editions Hide other formats and editions
Amazon Price New from Used from Collectible from
"Please retry"
Hardcover, Deckle Edge
"Please retry"
$12.75 $6.42 $27.95


Frequently Bought Together

When America First Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail + Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750
Price for both: $34.62

Buy the selected items together


Big Spring Books
Editors' Picks in Spring Releases
Ready for some fresh reads? Browse our picks for Big Spring Books to please all kinds of readers.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Liveright; 1 edition (September 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871404338
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871404336
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.6 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #220,531 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Starred review. A rich, highly readable examination of the seeds of poppies, trade, greed, grandeur and an international partnership that remains uneasy and perilous.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Eric Jay Dolin's engagingly paced narrative of the early years in the China-America relationship made me smile as I recognized the modern reality in this old tale of the odd couple of statecraft. When America First Met China, in fascinating ways tells us much about who we are today.” (Mark Kurlansky, author Cod)

“A smart, riveting history of what has become the most important bilateral relationship in the world.... An all-around outstanding work of maritime history.” (Douglas Brinkley, author of Cronkite)

“Master storyteller Eric Jay Dolin brings to life the American genius for commerce and its essential connection to how the nation grew... this is a timely and well-told tale.” (Kenneth C. Davis, author of Don't Know Much About®History)

“I had not known about the exploits described in Eric Jay Dolin's fascinating book, but now that I do I am impressed by their importance and see current affairs in a new light. Anyone interested in China's ambitions, memories, and sensitivities will be glad to have read this book.” (James Fallows, author of China Airborne)

“Eric Jay Dolin has a special talent for unearthing the fascinating but forgotten origins of our current cultural obsessions and now hes done it again. This fast-paced and deeply researched book is a must-read for anyone interested in Americas long history of competition and cooperation with China.” (Debby Applegate, author of The Most Famous Man in America)

“A tantalizing high-sea yarn of fast-running clippers and murderous pirates and a profound meditation on an international relationship that still absorbs our attention today. Fresh, gripping, pelagically capacious.” (Yunte Huang, author of Charlie Chan)

“Eric Jay Dolin is one of our very finest popular historians, a formidable scholar and stylist of uncommon grace. It's all here: tea, opium, raffish characters galore. Not only has Dolin filled a yawning gap in the historical literature; he has initiated a dramatic conversation about perhaps the most significant transcontinental contest of the twenty-first century.” (Kirk Davis Swinehart, author of This Broken House: A Family Undone by the American Revolution)

“Fascinating, compelling, and engrossing.” (Joan Druett, author of Island of the Lost )

“Fast-moving... focuses on intriguing anecdotes and personal vignettes, featuring colorful subjects such as pirates, drug runners, and slave traders, as well as those engaged in more salubrious pursuits. ...[E]ntertaining.” (Publishers Weekly)

“This sweeping popular history... brews up a rich and satisfying narrative of the exotic intersection of the silk, tea, and opium trade and the missionary zeal that characterized America’s engagement with the still mysterious ‘Middle Kingdom’ in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. With a flair for dramatic and fast-paced storytelling, Dolin provides the reader with nuanced insights into everything from pirates, the world-changing impact of the silk trade, the British-Chinese Opium War of the 1840s, and the fearlessness (and naïveté) of the early missionaries to good old-fashioned tales of adventure on the high seas.” (Booklist)

“[W]onderfully accessible.... An ideal book for general readers in popular history or with a historical interest in China's influence on the American economy and general relations between the two countries—past and present.” (Susan G. Baird, formerly with Oak Lawn P.L., IL - Library Journal)

“A diligent researcher… Dolin has uncovered some fascinating nuggets about the history of US-China trade.” (Matthew Price - Boston Globe)

“Fascinating and entertaining... masterful history... His work is well-researched, rich in illustrations and full of life.” (Tom Zelman - Minneapolis Star and Tribune)

“Lively biographical sketches, intriguing anecdotes and accounts of curious incidents… Dolin wrings so much drama, interest and humor out of this early period of U.S.-China relations. And what makes his achievement more notable still is that he makes the period come alive without turning the book into one devoted exclusively to opium, the topic that has the clearest dramatic potential and has gotten the most attention in works on the era.” (Jeffrey Wasserstrom - Chicago Tribune)

“Entertaining, informative and highly readable book... This remarkably complex story involving trade, ecology, ship design, international politics and cultural conflict, not to mention captains, merchants, naval architects, Chinese mandarins and generals is remarkably well told by Mr. Dolin, who is in complete command of the material. If a major purpose of history is to help us understand the present, the history of the early China trade is essential to understanding today's China as it resumes its place among the foremost nations of the world. You couldn't find a better place to start than When America First Met China.” (John Steele Gordon - Wall Street Journal)

“Eric Jay Dolin... has produced another in a series of accessible, highly readable histories detailing the early adventures and impassioned drive that characterized early enterprise in America and set a path for what was to follow... Interesting, informative and entertaining.” (Rae Padilla Francoeur - GateHouse Media)

“Dolan's new work strives to show that the long forgotten record of early Sino-American relations impacts the international relations of the two countries today. In a few hundred pages, Dolin unfolds a story of the trade between the most recent country in America, trying to emerge onto the world stage shortly after birth, and the ancient society of the Middle Kingdom.” (Marc Parrish - Barnes & Noble Review)

“Authoritative… Considering that the US has long held a highly positive opinion of itself, it's a delight to read to that it had company in China, which believed it was the ‘Middle Kingdom,’ below heaven but above all the other parts of the world.” (Randy Dotinga - Christian Science Monitor)

“Timely…Readers of Dolin’s award-winning books—Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America (2007) and Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America (2010)—will recognize in this newest work his distinctive style and his eye for iconic figures and vivid anecdotes…. Dolin is fully in his element when taking readers through an expert, richly anecdotal discussion of various intertwined China-related trades—whaling, sea skins, fur, tea, and opium.” (Eileen Scully - The New England Quarterly)

About the Author

Eric Jay Dolin is the author of the bestselling Leviathan: The History of Whaling In America, which was chosen as one of the best nonfiction books of 2007 by The Los Angeles TimesThe Boston Globe, and The Providence Journal, and was chosen by Amazon.com's editors as one of the top ten history books of 2007. Leviathan also won the 2007 John Lyman Award for U. S. Maritime History, and the 23rd Annual L. Byrne Waterman Award, given by the New Bedford Whaling Museum, for outstanding contributions to whaling research and history. His last book, Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America, was chosen by New West, The Seattle Times, and the Rocky Mountain Land Library as one of the best nonfiction books of 2010, and it also won the 2011 James P. Hanlan Book Award, given by the New England Historical Association. A graduate of Brown, Yale, and MIT, where he received his Ph.D. in environmental policy, he lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts, with his wife and two children.

More About the Author

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. Throughout my career, which included jobs as an environmental consultant and an environmental policy analyst, one thing remained constant--I enjoyed writing and telling stories, many of which have a connection to the natural world. And that's why I started writing books--to share the stories that I find most intriguing. If you read my books, even if you know a lot about history, I think you will be surprised by the interesting and dramatic things you will learn.

My most recent book, When America First Met China: An Exotic Tale of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail (Liveright, 2012), was the winner for history, in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards; received a Gold Medal, History, in the Independent Publisher Book Awards; and was chosen as a Highly Recommended Book by the Boston Authors Club, and as a finalist for the New England Society Book Award. My last book, Fur, Fortune, and Empire: the Epic History of the Fur Trade in America (W. W. Norton, 2010), a national bestseller, 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. The book before that, Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America (W. W. Norton, 2007), 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 Award, given by the New Bedford Whaling Museum, for outstanding contributions to whaling research and history. Leviathan also received the 2007 John Lyman Award for U. S. Maritime History, given by the North American Society for Oceanic History, was named an Honors Book in nonfiction for the 8th annual Massachusetts Book Awards (2008-2009), and was awarded a silver medal for history in the Independent Publisher Book Awards (2008).

If you want to learn more about me and my books, please visit my website, at www.ericjaydolin.com. Thanks for reading.

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
5 star
4 star
3 star
2 star
1 star
See all 41 customer reviews
The book is very interesting and well written.
Eric Jay Dolin has written a splendid book, overflowing with the beauties and horrors of America's fascinating history of trade with China.
The result is a valuable foundation to better understand the potential and the challenge of today's China trade.
Peter M. Herford

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By lixing sun on September 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The Opium War of 1840-42 demarcated the ancient and the modern for China; it was arguably the most important turning point and defining moment in Chinese history. However, if you, like most Chinese who learn this part of history in middle school, believe that the Chinese were completely innocent victims and the British the heinous aggressors, your knowledge about the war is simplistic at best. You have missed the crucial details that played a key role in leading to the war. Fortunately, they have come to light in Eric Jay Dolin's new (and so far his best) historical narrative, When America First Met China.

Dolin's book unveils a major fault line between China and the West in the legal system and cultural tradition in addition to diplomatic awkwardness for the Qing officials and ethnic and cultural centralism for both the Qing and the British governments (they both viewed themselves the civilized peoples whereas their opponents the barbarians) before the 19th century. This is best illustrated in the detailed account of the Lady Hughes incident on the eve of November 24, 1784, when one Chinese was accidentally killed and three injured by a ceremonial cannon fire. In retributive justice, the British deemed the tragedy accidental and the gunner innocent, whereas the Chinese, holding the tradition of "Life for Life," insisted the gunner be executed. In legal procedure, the principle "innocent unless proven guilty" for the British was turned on its head for the Chinese ("guilty unless proven innocent") who saw no professional lawyer much less knew the concepts of jury and legal defense. When the British refused to turn in the gunner, the Chinese abducted George Smith, the supercargo of the Lady Hughes, forcing the British to their knees.
Read more ›
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Greg Polansky on October 15, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Eric Jay Dolin's, 'When America First China' aims to detail the interactions that the early United States had with China so that today's Americans can better understand the long history that has connected the two nations. The book is written well, is succinct and includes some excellent use of material history - paintings, etc. The book compares nicely to another book about the United States' interactions with another Asian nation, The Great Wave: Gilded Age Misfits, Japanese Eccentrics, and the Opening of Old Japan, which is more of a cultural history than an economic one.

Beginning with the time when the US was a part of Great Britain, Dolin narrates an intriguing tale of just what brought the US to China's shores - profit. The title of the book tells you what are the main focuses of the book. First we begin with tea, that product that we Americans don't drink as much anymore, but that once fueled faster and faster Clipper ships across the world, seeking to bring the leaves of tea to the cups of Americans. But tea gave out to more lucrative goods. And the center of the book focuses on that one good that led to conflict and misery for many in China- Opium. It is in this section of the book that Dolin truly shines as he describes the Opium trade and the two wars that resulted from Chinese efforts to block its importation. But this section is more of a history of China and Great Britain, rather than China and the US (and the reason this review is only giving this work four stars rather than five). As Dolin states later, the Opium Wars are largely forgotten today in the US, but in China they are remembered and are a source of resentment against the West.
Read more ›
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By George Cotkin on September 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I am not particularly interested in the topic of this book, but I am a fan of Eric Jay Dolin. And the skills that he brings to his earlier books, is more than apparent in this volume. One of the reviews goes into some detail about the subject matter, so I will let that rest on already established ground. I will say, however, that Dolin made me intrigued to learn about tea, opium, international relations, shipping and much more. He draws readers into his work without any tricks. Rather, he succinctly, and sometimes elegantly, synthesizes existing scholarship, with subtlety and elan. He also has a talent for making sharp characterizations, for making the actors in his story come alive. And when he presents various asides, he does so in a manner that only adds to the strength of the overall narrative. Students of this material will find much that is familiar but packaged in a fashion that will prove invaluable. For others, such as myself, you will find history as it should be written: with an eye for the larger picture and an appreciation of detail. All done with assurance and in a graceful and compelling style. He makes his subject live. What more can any of us wish from an historical work?!
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Sabres Fan on August 31, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Eric Jay Dolin's books (such as Leviathan and Fur, Fortune & Empire) are so well-researched and elegantly written that I eagerly pre-ordered When America First Met China several months ago. I could hardly wait to read the book when it arrived, and I wasn't disappointed. What a delightful book! Dolin offers a lively narrative of America's little-known early interactions with China through first-rate storytelling. Who can resist opium smugglers, pirates, and the perils of high seas? Peopled with familiar and not-so-familiar faces, When America Met China also exposes the roots of anthropogenic environmental issues still in play without ignoring the very human side of this clash of cultures. A great read, and I heartily recommend it.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again

Product Images from Customers

Most Recent Customer Reviews