“There was China before there was an America, and it is because of China that America came to be.” According to Gordon H. Chang‘s...

“There was China before there was an America, and it is because of China that America came to be.”

According to Gordon H. Chang‘s new book, the idea of “China” became “an ingredient within the developing identity of America itself.” Written for a broad audience, Chang’s Fateful Ties: A History of America’s Preoccupation with China (Harvard University Press, 2015) traces the intertwined relationships of the US and China from their might as world powers in the eighteenth century to today. Moving roughly chronologically, Fateful Ties explores this long history from the point of Americans’ eighteenth century entry into the China trade, paying attention to the contemporary “Chinomania” of Ben Franklin and other prominent Americans as well as the significance of China for America’s westward expansion. The story continues with the travel of American missionaries to China and Chinese students, intellectuals, and laborers to America. Chang looks at the establishment and implications of the Open Door policy, American responses to revolution in China, and the growing interest and appreciation that prominent figures in the American art world had for China in the nineteenth century. As the story moves into the twentieth century and beyond, hot and cold wars raged as prominent US figures clashed over responses to Communist and Nationalist agendas, and the book looks at the commonalities and divergences in the approach to US-China policy of several recent US presidents and the popularity of recent notions of a “Chinese Dream” to rival the American one. Throughout the story, Chang pays special attention to the “sentimentality and emotionalism” that Americans developed toward China, and includes the stories of many fascinating individuals who helped chart the path toward today’s US/China relations.

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