Monday, May 30, 2011

225. The First American Millionaire and China

Before Bill Gates (born 1955 , Donald Trump (born in 1946), the Rockefellers , Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) and Henry Ford (1863-1947)there was a gentleman, John Jacob Astor (1763-1848). Astor was the first American millionaire. I write this essay because he made himself the first millionaire based on the profits he earned from the China Trade initiated by the founders of the United States.

John came into the United States in 1784, the year when the founders of this country sent the first American trade ship, the Empress of China to Canton, China. Sixteen years later, the history saw Astor sent his first ship to China. He loaded his ship with 30,573 sealskins, and other animal skins, and North American ginseng. From 1800 on, Astor expanded his trade with China greatly. Three years later, he focused his attention on the fur trade in the Pacific Northwest. He established the American Fur Company. His fleet of ships would collect the furs and sell them in China. By 1820, he became a leader of American trade with China.

How much money he made from the China trade, we don't know. However, we know that he owned one-fifteenth of all personal wealth of the entire United States. Between 1803 and 1806, he invested $300,000 of his profits from China in Manhattan real estate. The land he bought would "pour millions into the coffers his descendants." In addition, he also exerted great influence on the relations between China and the United States. President Thomas Jefferson even gave green lights for Astor to send the latter’s commercial ship to China in a time when no ships were allowed to leave the American coast.

Friday, May 20, 2011

224. The First Five Presidents and China

As a reader of Dr. Dave Wang's papers in the field of US founders and China I have found the very interesting historical fact between the United States and China.

The first five presidents of the United States from George Washington (1789-1797) to John Adams (1797-1801), Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809), James Madison (1809-1817) and James Monroe (1817-1825) were all interested in building relations with China.

From Dr. Wang's paper,"With China We Trade," we have learned that George Washington strongly supported the fledgling United States to establish direct economic relationship with China. Dr. Wang's paper, "All Posterity Would Remember My Legacy: Thomas Jefferson and a Legendary Chinese Prince" tells its readers that Thomas Jefferson, who enormously concerned about his reputation and honor, regarded the well-loved and respected Chinese Prince WEI, featured in the Great Learning, one of the cantons of Confucianism as an exemplary role model for other leaders.

James Madison, the father of the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights, hung a portrait of Confucius at his home. He also owned a copy of the Great Learning, one of the four classics of Confucianism.

James Monroe became the first president that started the direct communication between a president of the United States and a Chinese emperor. In 1822 he wrote a letter to Chinese emperor. Interestingly enough, Monroe’s 179 year old letter was bought by an absentee bidder at a New York Auction in 2001. The bidder paid about $20,000. It will be great if the bidder can release the content of the letter to researchers, students and general readers. This letter will no doubt deepen our knowledge on the founders who were interested in building relations with China.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

223. Marco Polo was the Man

Marco Polo (1254-1324)was not the only European who lived and worked in China. However, he was the first one that published a book based on his personal experiences. His book, The Description of the World or the Travels of Marco Polo, presented a detailed narrative about China. Marco Polo was very impressed by China’s prosperity.

 In Polo’s eyes, Chinese Emperor concerned his people’s well-being. Hangzhou (Kinsai) was “without doubt the finest and most splendid city in the world.” Polo found that coal had been used in China. In history, coal wasn’t used in his hometown at the time. Interestingly enough, he showed his admiration for Buddhists. He marveled at the ‘huge monasteries and abbeys.” One has to be careful when reading Polo’s book. In addition to be a traveler, a merchant, Polo was the servant of the Mongol government. Therefore, one should read his description on the relationship between the ruler and the ruled critically.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

222. Did the Founders Believe U.S. Will Decline?

In the posting, "American Power after bin Laden," at CNN on May 6, 2011 you will find the following statement from Dr. Joseph S. Nye , "The Founding Fathers worried about comparisons to the decline of the Roman republic." I think that Professor Nye stretched a little bit too much in order to find foundation for supporting his cultural pessimism. Actually, the founders were very confident when they made the new nation. Do you believe that the founders wanted to build a nation where they were unsure of its stability?

On September 1787 at the signing of the United States Constitution, looking towards George Washington’s chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, Benjamin Franklin made the following speech, “I have often and often in the course of the Session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting Sun.” Journal of the Constitutional Convention (17 September 1787) Franklin's above statement demonstrates that the founding fathers' confidence for the future of the United States.

The task the founders faced was not easy. The British Empire used all its ingenuity to nip at the fledgling republic. However, the economic disorder created by the British blockades didn’t stop the founders’ determination to build the new nation into a beacon for the rest of the world. The founders decided to open trade with China as soon as the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783. President Ronald Reagan expressed his apreciation on April 27, 1984, for China's help to bring US to world commerce. He told his audience, "Back in 1784, when the first American trading ship, the Empress of China, entered your waters, my country was unknown to you. We were a new republic, eager to win a place in international commerce." (Ronald Reagan, Remarks to Chinese Community Leaders in Beijing, China, April 27, 1984). Reagan demonstrated that he was great president by showing his appreciation to the friend who helped the US in its most difficult time. The trade with China helped the United States overcome the economic difficult during its formative age.