Saturday, August 17, 2013

319. The Deep-rooted Relationship Between China and the United States

China and the United States have an undeniably strong and deep-rooted trade relationship. In late 1783, the United States of America, which had just won its independence from Great Britain, was in dire economic straits partly because Britain had banned many trade hubs from dealing with the new country. (Dr. Dave Wang, Ginseng: the herb that helped the United States to enter international commerce.

World Huaren Federation website. Available at: Accessed April 23, 2012.) In an effort to establish its own trade routes and rescue the country’s financial system, the United States sent a ship named the Empress of China from New York Harbor to Canton, China (now called Guangzhou) on February 22nd of 1784. It carried 30 tons of wild American ginseng, mostly gathered from southern Appalachia. Dave Wang, PhD — Manager of Queens Library in Laurelton — said the early Americans saw ginseng “as a valuable opportunity to break their economic blockage by Britain” (e-mail, April 23, 2012). Other sources document the Empress as an attempt to establish a new source of tea, which was becoming dearly missed after the United States was banned from trading with the British West Indies.

According to Dr. Wang, American ginseng “was the most important commercial good in the trade between China and the United States during the late 1700s leading into the early 1800s.” Not only was the Empress’s ginseng cargo an economic success, it also tied the countries together on another — and perhaps equally important — level. Instead of becoming competition for Asian ginseng, the American variety was viewed as being complementary, said Dr. Wang. “[The Chinese] discovered that Chinese ginseng is warm and good for people who have recovered from a serious illness and need to regain their strength; on the other hand, American ginseng has cooler properties and is normally used to cool down fevers or summer heat. The Chinese considered it good for people with deficient yin or excessive yang. Therefore, American Ginseng was welcomed all the time.”

Dr. Wang indicated that the Empress and early ginseng trade influenced America more than it did China. Dr. Wang noted that ginseng helped “Americanize” the new country. Among famous early Americans, George Washington, Daniel Boone, and John Jacob Astor were reportedly involved with the ginseng trade. “The search for ginseng, the most important and lucrative export to China, became an important driving force of the westward expansion,” said Dr. Wang. “From the Eastern coast areas all the way out west… searching for Ginseng became a fever.”

In return for ginseng and other goods aboard the Empress and early trading ships to China, the United States imported much tea, which Dr. Wang said helped popularize the beverage, especially for lower classes of society that previously were unable to afford such a luxury item. The United States exported hundreds of thousands of pounds of ginseng in the years after the Empress set sail, over-exploiting many of the country’s wild populations.

When the US Fish and Wildlife Services implemented the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species, or CITES, in 1977, the agency began controlling wild ginseng harvest and trade. The above is from Lindsay Stafford, “First US-China Trade Ship Carried 30 Tons of American Ginseng: Helped Establish American Identity and Roots of International Trade” In HerbalEGram: Volume 9, Number 5, May 2012, published by American Botanical Council

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