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China and 19th Century American Romanticism

Portrait of an American Clipper Ship.jpeg
Portrait of an American Clipper Ship, by Lai Fong (Lai Fong of Calcutta, fl. 1870-1910) – Childs Gallery, Public Domain.

My latest at the Diplomat was inspired by a review of Kendall Johnson’s new book on China in the US literary imagination:

How did 19th century Americans think about their contact with Qing China? And how is that still important for U.S. policy towards China today?

China has long occupied a large space in the American worldview. Kendall A. Johnson’s new book The New Middle Kingdom: China and the Early American Romance of Free Trade (reviewed extensively by Dael Norwood at H-Net) suggests that Americans understood their roles in China in literary terms; specifically, they framed their activities in self-consciously romantic language, a framing that helped them associate individual heroism with empire, the spread of free markets, and the expansion of Christianity.


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