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America’s First Adventure in ChinaAmerica’s First Adventure in China

Trade, Treaties, Opium and Salvation

John R. Haddad

Narrated by Kirk O. Winkler

Available from Audible

Book published by Temple University Press

In 1784, when Americans first voyaged to China, they confronted Chinese authorities who were unaware that the United States even existed. Nevertheless, a long, complicated, and fruitful trade relationship was born after American traders, missionaries, diplomats, and others sailed to China with lofty ambitions: to acquire fabulous wealth, convert China to Christianity, and even command a Chinese army.

In America's First Adventure in China,John Haddad provides a colorful history of the evolving cultural exchange and interactions between these countries. He recounts how American expatriates adopted a pragmatic attitude—as well as an entrepreneurial spirit and improvisational approach—to their dealings with the Chinese. Haddad shows how opium played a potent role in the dreams of Americans who either smuggled it or opposed its importation, and he considers the missionary movement that compelled individuals to accept a hard life in an alien culture.

As a result of their efforts, Americans achieved a favorable outcome—they established a unique presence in China—and cultivated a relationship whose complexities continue to grow.

John R. Haddad is an Associate Professor of American Studies and Popular Culture at Penn State Harrisburg. He was awarded the Gutenberg-e Prize in 2002 for his dissertation, which was published as The Romance of China: Excursions to China in U.S. Culture, 1776-1876.


“Haddad has again struck the right note with this well-researched work on the first hundred years or so of the U.S. relationship with China. He conveys his narrative with humor...[and] reveals the fascinating story of men such as Anson Burlingame. There are many such informative topics that Haddad shares with readers. Excellent for scholars of Chinese history and ideal for those who desire more than a cursory view of the subject.”

Library Journal

“Haddad tells a powerful story of the first epoch of Sino-American relations.... He bases his important synthesis on a wide range of English-language materials, journals, memoirs, and scholarly accounts that focus on more specific details.... Summing Up: Highly recommended.”


“Haddad's biographical approach provides for lively reading and colorful anecdotes of America's early encounters with China. Haddad argues that this first era of American-Chinese encounters from 1784 to 1870 succeeded not only in shaping the American imagination and its varied 'China dreams' but also created potential within China for a more sustained relationship.... Scholars, diplomats, policymakers, and businesspeople will find this compact history a useful read, as echoes of this early relationship, at the very least in its ability to inspire the imagination and dreams of both Americans and Chinese, continue unto the present.”

Asian Affairs

“Haddad has produced a remarkably comprehensive and informed study of various aspects of early American relations with China..... Very few scholars have attempted to produce the sort of broadly synthesized overview that Haddad presents here. Citing knowledgeably from the considerable body of secondary literature on the topic, while also mining interesting gems from the rich trove of primary source materials still awaiting scholarly evaluation, Haddad has contributed significantly to our understanding of this particularly momentous and colorful period in the early American experience in East Asia. Written in a style easily accessible to the general public, this book provides an excellent introduction to the stimulating range of subjects that constitute the history of America's first adventure in China”

The Review of Politics

“John Haddad has written a subtle and spirited book, which takes America's first experiences in China as a means to explore the early years of the United States as an independent nation. This is a book about the magic of money and the ingenious ways that American business grandees reacted to the ever-shifting promises and disappointments of an emerging Asian market. It is also a book about religion, diplomacy, financial systems, arms manufacture, families under stress, ship-building, and opium. It is an absorbing tale, with many contemporary echoes.”

—Jonathan Spence, author of The Search for Modern China

“Haddad masterfully tells of early American dreams of striking it rich in China.... America’s First Adventure in China is erudite yet delightful to read. Haddad gives the reader dozens of well-told historical vignettes linked around central themes, most notably the connections between Americans’ actions in China and intellectual currents at home.”

American Studies Journal

“John R. Haddad is to be congratulated for taking a large and long view of American relations with China, 1784–1870.... The analysis of the intricacies of U.S. diplomacy through this period is quite good.”

Pacific Historical Review

America’s First Adventure in China is an impressive accomplishment. Haddad has crafted an engaging, historically grounded narrative that skillfully bridges the neighboring domains of American cultural studies and U.S. diplomatic history… The chronological signposts in Haddad’s story are familiar to many, but in his retelling, the familiar becomes intriguing.… Haddad is a skillful narrator…. His coverage is brisk, clear and engaging. America’s First Adventure in China is a valuable contribution to the literature on Sino-American relations, and a promising exemplar of postmodern narrative history.”

Diplomatic History

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University Press Audiobooks