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When America First Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail 1st Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 52 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0871404336
ISBN-10: 0871404338
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Editorial Reviews

Review

“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)

“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)

“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)

“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)

“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)

“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)

“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.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Liveright; 1 edition (September 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871404338
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871404336
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #660,237 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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.
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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.
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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?!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book tells the absolutely fascinating story of America's early relations with China. The overall scheme is excellent, but I found myself frustrated by poor phrasing, missing pieces and intrusive editorializing. With respect to the editorializing: If a moral conclusion is inescapable, trust the reader to reach that conclusion on his own. If it is not inescapable, then let the reader reach his own conclusion. Don't force your opinion on him. Either way, don't tell the reader what moral judgments he must reach. It is unnecessary and obnoxious to constantly state one's own moral opinions in any written piece. If you can't trust the reader's innate moral sense maybe you should not sell books to him.

As to missing pieces, I would think that any book about maritime commerce in the period after the American Revolution, might want to mention the role that concern about the safety of this commerce, and the resultant need for a powerful navy, played in the adoption of the Constitution. One thing I wonder about, even after finishing the book: Did much of the traffic go around Cape Horn? Did any of it?? Was there traffic between China and the U.S. West Coast. I also think it might have been helpful to include a brief description of Chinese history leading up to the beginning of the period treated, and a brief description of the workings of the Chinese government. A very interesting history of the trade between China and Europe is included, and that's great.
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