16 historical events that have shaped U.S.–China relations

By Leslie Yeh
Northwest Asian Weekly

1784: First representatives of the United States land in China

After anchoring in Guangzhou (Canton), the Empress of China became the first ever American vessel to sail from the United States to China.

With the help of experienced foreign traders, the U.S. merchants traded their cargo — mainly ginseng — for Chinese tea, porcelain, silk, and other speciality goods.

1839: Major Chinese exhibition opens

In Philadelphia, merchant Nathan Dunn compiles the first-ever Chinese exhibition of arts, artifacts, botanical samples, and other items gathered over 12 years of trade with China.

After visitations by more than 100,000 people, the exhibit moved to London in 1841.

1848: Chinese Americans enter the Gold Rush

Gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill, Calif. The Chinese represented 22 percent of California’s mining population, making them the highest represented minority.

Through the provision of cheap services and generous purchases of mining equipment, the Chinese made expansive contributions to the American economy during the Gold Rush.

1854: Chinese are denied the right to testify against whites

In People v. Hall, the California Supreme Court ruled that persons of Chinese ancestry cannot testify in court against a white person.

Chief Justice Hugh C. Murray declares that “[the] same rule which would admit them to testify, would admit them to all the equal rights of citizenship, and we might soon see them at the polls, in the jury box, upon the bench, and in our legislative halls.”

1862: First U.S. legation is established in China

Anson Burlingame became the first chief U.S. representative to set up quarters in Beijing, near the Forbidden City.

Having the first American diplomatic representative office in China’s capital was a direct result of the implementation of the Treaties of Tianjin, which marked the end of the Second Opium War.

1872: Chinese students arrive in the United States

Yung Wing, a naturalized U.S. citizen, brought the first ever official delegation of Chinese students (30 teenage males) to the United States to receive a formal American education.

Wing formed the Chinese Education Mission in 1870 with the hopes of training Chinese to work as diplomats and technical advisers to the government.

1882: The Chinese Exclusion Act is created

Following decades of anti-Chinese sentiments, the Chinese Exclusion Act aimed to suspend Chinese immigration into the United States and thereby prevent natural U.S. citizenship.

Made permanent in 1902, the Chinese Exclusion Act was not repealed until 1943.

1899: The first Open Door Note is issued

U.S. Secretary of State John Hay issued the first of two Open Door Notes as a means of defending U.S. interests in China (the second note was issued in 1900). These notes were sent to all foreign powers with interests in China in the hopes of securing equal opportunity for international trade and commerce. This was the first clear, official statement of U.S.–China policy.

1925: United States establishes China Foundation

The United States remitted all of its remaining China payments from the Boxer Rebellion toward establishment of the China Foundation, an organization mandated by the Chinese government. The mission of the China Foundation was to help promote scientific education in China and assist in the development of libraries.

1933: Americans aid in rural reconstruction

China’s first official rural reconstruction program aimed to redevelop areas formerly held by the Communists in order to maintain control over these areas. Political and military leader Chiang Kai-shek enlisted a representative from one of the American missionary organizations to lead the rural development of Jiangxi Province.

1972: Nixon flies to China

Nixon’s visit to China marked a monumental moment in the normalization of United States and China relations. This is the first visit of a U.S. president to China. Nixon’s visit included a meeting with Chairman Mao Zedong, a visit to the Chinese ballet, and the issuance of Shanghai Communiqué, a document of foreign policy that remained influential for many years.

1974: Cargo ship Liu Lin Hai enters the Port of Seattle harbor

Liu Lin Hai was the first Chinese cargo ship in more than 30 years to enter a U.S. port. The Chinese ship docked at Pier 91 in Seattle on April 18, welcomed by a crowd of 300 people. The 42-member crew was greeted by red banners in Chinese characters and a Navy brass band playing the two countries’ national anthems. The ship left with five million dollars worth of Midwest corn to take back to China.

1979: Deng Xiaoping arrives in the United States

The arrival of Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping in the United States marked the first-ever official visit by a senior Chinese Communist leader. The United States and the People’s Republic of China formally established diplomatic relations.

1994: First Washington apples sold to China

The Washington apple industry boomed with its first batch of apples sold directly to China. Washington apple exports to Asia rose exponentially in subsequent years.

2006: Chinese President Hu Jintao visits Washington

Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived in Washington to meet with notable politicians and community business leaders. He was welcomed with a state dinner at the home of Bill and Melinda Gates. Accompanied by Gov. Chris Gregoire, Jintao toured Microsoft and Boeing. He left Seattle with purchases of 80 Boeing planes and $1.2 billion in Microsoft software.

2009: Wu Bangguo meets Nancy Pelosi

Chairman of the National People’s Congress of China Wu Bangguo and U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi met to discuss the economic and cultural implications of U.S.–China relations. This was the first time since 1989 that the two countries’ Congressional leaders met. ♦

Leslie Yeh can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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