Hey there, I wanna share a book with you today. It’s called “Meeting of China and the U.S.” by Wang Yuanchong. He’s a history professor with a Ph.D. who teaches at the University of Delaware in the U.S.
This book has a fancy subtitle, “Great Power Diplomacy and the Rise and Fall of the late period of Qing Dynasty.” I picked this book up about two months ago because a online friend recommended it.
It’s not a huge book, just around 500 pages. It’s not too tough to read since it’s all about early China-U.S. diplomatic tales. I’m gonna share a couple of interesting stories from it with you today, and I’ll throw a personal story at the end.
I think these stories are very interesting. Maybe you already know them, maybe you don’t know. Let’s go through the outline. The first one is the relationship between the Opium Wars and the United States . The second is an American citizen representing China on a visit to the United States. The third is The Chinese Educational Mission.we can call it “中国留美幼童计划” in chinese.
Before I dive into my stories, I’d like to point out that the PowerPoint slides pictures were captured using my mobile phone. Why, you may ask? Well, it’s because it’s a book - a book I personally purchased. So, I took some snapshots of the book’s pages to share with you, making it easy to read the Chinese text.
The first one is the relationship between the opium wars and the United States.
let’s begin the story from 1773, You might’ve heard about those in school. Remember the Boston Tea Party,we already learn the knowledage in our middle school . the event that kicked off the American Revolutionary War? Have you Ever wondered why they chucked tea into the harbor? Well, it was a protest against British taxes on tea and their monopoly on the tea trade. This tea was definity from China but controlled by the British. It made some people mad, so they tossed it. So, in a way, China had a hand in this event.
China used to be a big exporter back in the day, thanks to tea and porcelain, but things changed when opium entered the picture.
By the way, you know Franklin Roosevelt,”罗斯福总统” in chinese right? He is a very popular america president in china, if without him, maybe china could have become a permanent member of the United Nations. He liked to talk about his grandpa doing business in China. What he didn’t mention was that his grandpa was an opium merchant in Guangzhou. old Franklin’s grandpa was an opium seller to the Chinese. These opium merchants weren’t proud of their trade and often hide it when they went back home, doing good deeds to fix their reputation. There were quite a few like that.
Now, talking about the Second Opium War, the United States was involved from the beginning. After the First Opium War, China and the U.S. signed a treaty(望夏条约) saying they’d make a new deal in 12 years. This let the U.S. change the terms, but other countries like Britain and France, who had special deals with China, could also redo their deals after 12 years, just like the U.S. did.
So, in 1854, Britain proposed amendments to the “Treaty of Nanking,” while France and the U.S. did the same in 1856. However, no agreement was reached between these countries and the Qing government regarding the treaty, which eventually contributed to the outbreak of the Second Opium War.
The second story is about an American named Anson Burlingame. Chinese government call him “蒲安臣” . He was the U.S. minister to China from 1862 to 1867
By the way, back then, it was Ministers, not Ambassadors. Today, China and the U.S. have Ambassador-level diplomats. If you’re curious, look up the difference between the two. you could find Ambassadors are top dogs.
Burlingame nailed it with his diplomacy, and the Qing Dynasty government noticed. When he was about to retire in 1867, the Chinese government appointed him as a special envoy and minister to lead a diplomatic mission to the U.S. and Europe. They had two Chinese ministers, an English and a French secretary, six students from Peking, and a bunch of folks. They landed in the U.S. in March 1868, and Burlingame used his connections to quickly score a sweet treaty. He went around giving speeches, pushing for equal treatment for China and welcoming Chinese immigrants.
On July 28, 1868, they inked the Burlingame Treaty in Washington, D.C. It said that Chinese folks in the U.S. should have the same rights as the “most favored nation,” a legal trick used to expand foreign privileges in China. Burlingame even got a clause allowing Chinese to become citizens, despite American law. This treaty was China’s first equal deal with a Western power after the Opium War.
Now, let’s dive into the third story about The Chinese Educational Mission
In Chinese history, for 2,000 years, China never officially sent kids to study abroad. Chinese government is very confident with their own cluture and education. They believed their culture didn’t need foreign influence. People usually came to China to learn, for example japanese and korean used to came to china to learn knowledge . So, this official student exchange was a big deal.
Two cool things to note: First, you might think the first Chinese kids sent to the U.S. were rich or noble, but nope. They all came from regular farming families. The high and mighty’s kids were too chicken to go abroad.
Second, the Chinese government tried to make sure these students didn’t forget their roots and kept learning Chinese culture to resist American influences. But things didn’t exactly go as planned.From this picture, you can see that Chinese exchange students and American students are having a great time, even participating in rowing competitions together.
A total of 120 kids joined the U.S. study program in four groups. The original 15-year plan got canned in 1881, and everyone was called back to China. Only two Yale students, Zhan Tianyou and Ou Yanggeng. Even though the program didn’t pan out, these students made big contributions back in China.
Many Chinese children who studied in the United States as youngsters later became accomplished individuals. For example, Zhan Tianyou, the railway engineer, who applied the principle of reversing loops to build the Beijing-Zhangjiakou Railway.
Then there’s Tang Shaoyi, who served as the first Prime Minister of the Republic of China and played a key role in the North-South negotiations.
Liang Cheng, who served as the Minister to the United States, successfully negotiated the return of the 15 million indemnity paid by the U.S. after the Boxer Rebellion.
Tang Guo’an, the first president of Tsinghua University.
And Cai Shaoji, who served as the president of Beiyang University.
The reason I bought this book was purely because the title caught my attention, especially given the complexity of current China-U.S. relations. However, after reading the book, I feel that it didn’t really add much to my understanding of the current China-U.S. relationship. Since it is just a history book . however , at most, it provided me with a few additional stories to share.
What stood out to me the most in this book is Burlingame, the guy who I think is pretty amazing. When he was the U.S. envoy to China, he really worked hard to get the best deal for America. But here’s the kicker: when he went to the U.S. representing China, he managed to score a chance for China to have equal talks. This eventually led to the Burlingame Treaty. Oh, and by the way, the Chinese Educational Mission I talked about earlier? Well, that came about because of the Burlingame Treaty.
Lastly, I’ve got a personal story. Sixteen years ago, I was in grade 8.. We had a student teacher from Hebei Normal University. She was in her 3rd year at the time.
This intern teacher taught us Chinese, and she was very serious and responsible. Sometimes, she did some unusual things. Once, she assigned us a task where each of us had to take turns giving a speech in front of the whole class, talking about our thoughts after reading a book. Because I was the class monitor, I was the first student to do this task.
At that time, I had a book called “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,” so later on, I prepared a one-page book review. Then, one day, just before the class was about to end, the teacher announced that this activity was about to begin. So, I walked to the front of the classroom and, in front of all my classmates, I read my book review.I read my book review one word by one word according to the script.
I was a bit nervous at the begining of ther speech, but when I finished reading my book review, the teacher applauded my speech..Later, as I walked back to my seat, the classmate next to me asked, “Where did you get that book?” Hearing that made me really happy, and I felt it was the best kind of praise. So, even now, 16 years have passed, and I still vividly recall that scene.So, today, I’m reminded of my teenage years. The only difference from 16 years ago is that I’m doing this speech in English. It brings to mind that old song lyric: “I’m still that same young person from before, not a single bit has changed.”