Sunday, April 10, 2016

442. Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Chinese Civilization

                It is well-known that "for much of their history, Americans defined their society in opposition to Europe."[1] "America, it was argued, was a distinct civilization."[2] George Washington had believed that the new nation would develop a unique American character.[3] Thomas Jefferson alleged American civilization was the part of a form of civilization higher than the polished societies of Europe.[4] US cultures have evolved and absorbed elements from other cultures in the historic process of the formation of American civilization. American civilization drew positive elements from other major civilizations of the world, including Chinese civilization. In contemporary society, American political leaders have also clearly realized the influence of Chinese civilization on the development of American civilization. Bill Clinton pointed out that China as a stronghold of creativity, knowledge and wealth had an impact on American life long before the United States was even born. He told Americans that From the printing China invented to the poetry it produced, from medicine and mathematics to the magnetic compass and humanistic philosophies, many of Chinas earliest gifts still enrich our lives today.[5]

            The founding fathers of the United States were among the main weavers of the fiber of American civilization. Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had positive attitudes towards Chinese civilization and worked hard to borrow from it in their efforts to make a new and flourishing society in North America.[6] Benjamin Franklin studied and promoted Confucian Moral philosophy in his effort to cultivate his own morals as well as to encourage Americans to do the same. George Washington personally conducted an experiment to grow Chinese flowers in his garden. Thomas Jefferson incorporated Chinese architectural elements into his own buildings in Monticello. 

[1]  Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and Remaking of World Order, Simon & Schuster, Rockfeller Center, New York, 1996, P.46.
[2]  Ibid.
[3]  A. J. Langguth, Union 1812: The Americans Who Fought the Second War of Independence, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2006, p.4.
[4]  Robert W. Tuck and David C. Hendrickson, “Thomas Jefferson and American Foreign Policy,” in Foreign Affairs, Spring 1990, Vol. 69, Issue 2, p.135.
[5]  Bill Clinton, Remarks at a state dinner Honoring President Jiang, October 29, 1997, Executive Office of the President, Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, Weekly Ending Friday, October 21, 1997 (Washington, D.C: US. Government Printing Office, 1997), 33: 1685-1686.
[6]  As for more information on the founding fathers connection with Chinese civilization, see Dave Wang, The Founding Fathers of the United States and Chinese Porcelain Ware, in Huaren-E Magazine, January 2008; Benjamin Franklin and Chinese Civilization, U.S China Relation Series, No. 2, New York, Outer Sky Press, August 2006; Benjamin Franklins Attitude toward Chinese Civilization, Social Science Journal of Harbin Institute of Technology, Issue 4, 2006; Benjamin Franklin and China: A Survey of Benjamin Franklins Efforts at Drawing Positive Elements from Chinese Civilization during the Formative Age of the United States, published since 2005 by the Official Website of the Tercentenary Commission. The paper is available at

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