When America First Met China

Friday, October 12, 2012

Eric Jay Dolin traces the United States’ fraught relationship with China back to its roots in the 19th-century. In When America First Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail, Dolin tells an epic tale of opium smugglers, sea pirates, and dueling clipper ships.


Eric Jay Dolin
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Comments [6]

Peter Talbot from Harrison, NJ

Just finished Mr. Dolin's book: fills in a bit on the mercantile side of American specialization in the China trade, but leaves a bit untouched regarding the discussions in Government regarding the development of the merchant marine it spawned, and the relationship that the big investors had to the unfolding political schism exemplified in the Sedition Acts. The US investment in some of these issues was more contentious than Dolin covers in the volume. Also wish he had fleshed out the failure of Morris as a counterpoint to the successful long shots taken by Astor, Girard, Forbes and others. There were two bets: real estate and trade. Morris had the right idea, but moved to early and committed too much to maintain profitability. Same with Washington. Much more interesting: the role of the banks in financing these ventures: a subject relatively untouched in the book.

Good interview: worthy book. The next on Boston should be interesting, too.

Oct. 12 2012 03:42 PM
Tom from Manhattan Plaza

Much of the capital that was shifted to railroad building originated in slave, opium, cotton, rum, whaling, and the other formerly profitable enterprises whose profit margins had narrowed by the 1860's and 70's. That includes fortunes like the Delanos, the Forbeses, and the Walkers (the "W" in George W).

As the great man said, "Follow the money!"

Oct. 12 2012 01:34 PM

In American Pluralism I was taught that the British demoralized the Chinese with opium. It's a complex issue but how true is this?

Oct. 12 2012 12:31 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

The Roman treasury almost went bankrupt because of all the silks Roman women were importing from China.


Pliny the Elder wrote about the large value of the trade between Rome and Eastern countries:[29]:

"By the lowest reckoning, India, Seres and the Arabian peninsula take from our Empire 100 millions of sesterces every year: that is how much our luxuries and women cost us."

—Pliny the Elder, Natural History 12.84.[30]

Oct. 12 2012 12:29 PM
Tom from Manhattan Plaze

Thank you for mentioning the involvement of FDR's Delano ancestor in the China opium trade.

Also worth mentioning in the context of working as middlemen for the English opium traders is the Franco-American Forbes family from Boston, ancestors of John Forbes Kerry.

Oct. 12 2012 12:27 PM
Anonymous from Brooklyn

Is this before of after they were working on the rail into the west?

Oct. 12 2012 12:18 PM

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