Saturday, October 19, 2013

324. Benjamin Franklin: Yu Yunwen in North America

In 1161, Yu Yunwen 虞允文 (1110-1174), a civilian official of Southern Song Dynasty China (1127-1279), was ordered to defend the southern China and prevent the Jin (Jurchen)’s military forces from across the Yangtze River. With a small force of 18,000 soldiers Yu successfully defeated the Jin (Jurchen)’s huge military forces composed of 170,000 men. Since the victory, Yu became a well-known civilian official who took the commanding position in a critical time and defeated the enemy’s powerful forces and successfully protected the country in Chinese history.

Interestingly enough, it seems that history repeated itself in North America in 1756. Similar to Yu Yunwen, Benjamin Franklin, a civilian official, was appointed to be in charge of defending the colonies in the French Indian War. In 1754, the French and Indian War started in the Ohio River Valley. In the later part of 1755, Pennsylvania was threatened by the French Indians. Facing the threat, the leaders of Pennsylvania were reckoning different opinions on how to protect the colonies. In the arguments, the two approaches gained conspicuous attention. Some leaders considered the best way to keep the colonies safe was to bring the fight into the French Indian’s territory. The others maintained that the frontier could be safeguarded by a “Chain of forts.”

Thursday, October 10, 2013

323. Thomas Jefferson and Chinese Porcelain

The process that Thomas Jefferson transported Chinese porcelain from Europe to North America served as an indicator of demonstrating the value of the Chinese porcelain ware. Interestingly enough, in order to protect Chinese porcelain ware from being broken in the process of transportation, Jefferson bought creamware made by English potters.

Jefferson clearly stated out that the purchase was to protect the Chinese porcelain ware from harm. Then he put them outside of the Chinese porcelain ware as protective layer. Jefferson's action led to the conclusion from an author that the role of English creamware was changing and its "aesthetic and qualitative value was waning."

Later, in 1789, Jefferson ordered more Chinese porcelain from Edward Dowse, a Boston merchant engaging in Chinese trade. In April 1790, Dowse sent the porcelain ordered by Jefferson to New York where Jefferson was serving as the first secretary of state. In the interim, the porcelain wares he ordered in France arrived, including 120 porcelain plates, 58 cups, 39 saucers, 4 tureens, saltcellars, and various platters. He used these in New York and Philadelphia, and what remained was eventually shipped to Monticello. In 1793, Jefferson had all his Chinese porcelain transported to Monticello. With this link you can find more information on Jefferson's Chinese porcelain ware.Thomas Jefferson circa 1790’s China Acquired by The Raleigh De Geer Amyx Collection.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

322. China and the founding of the United States

It seems a historical irony that China, the ancient and far away empire, had an impact on the founding of the United States. Military support from France was one of the key factors in the colonists’ victory of the Revolutionary War. One reason the French royal court fought the British in North America was to prevent the British from monopoly of trade with China. The French court understood that the French needed a victory in order to “destroy British hegemony, not only in North America but in the sugar-rich West Indies and the even richer market of India and China” During the formative age of the United States, China was not unknown to the North American colonies.

Knowledge about China "was almost as widespread and as readily available there as in Europe." During the 18th century only two Chinese literary works of importance were translated into Western languages; "both were available in North America." Certain Chinese products, such as tea, had become deeply involved in the colonies and became an indispensable element of colonists’ daily life. The British control of tea and the colonists’ struggle against this control changed the historical course of the colonies. The tax on tea and the resentment with the tea monopoly by the East India Company was one of the factors that led the colonists to rebel.