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Reading for Contexts of American Orientalism from the Far East to the Far West
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President John Adams's grandson, Joseph Harrod Adams, is buried in the sleepy calm of Macao's Old Protestant Cemetery, an easy stroll from the neon glitz of the Grand Lisboa, the MGM Grand, and the Sands hotels and casinos. To quote from the tombstone, Lieutenant Joseph H. Adams "[d]ied on board the U.S. Steam Frigate Powhatan, October 4, 1853, Aged 36 years, Erected to his memory by his brother officers of the East India and Japan Squadron."

Figure 1, "Protestant Grave Yard—Macao," is a picture of Adam's grave attended by three of these "brother officers." Engraved from a drawing by William Heine, the picture appears in the first volume of Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan, Performed in the Years 1852, 1853, and 1854, under the Command of Commodore M. C. Perry, United States Navy, by Order of the Government of the United States (1856) by Francis L. Hawkes. Lieutenant Adams is buried in Macao because Commodore Perry gathered his East India and Japan squadron in the South China Sea before proceeding to Japan's Edo Bay to deliver an ultimatum in July 1853. Afterwards, Perry returned to Macao to wait for six months. Thanks to the American trading firm Russell and Company, his residence was the former headquarters of the British East India Company, on the edge of the famous Camoes Garden and adjacent to this graveyard. During this interval, Adams passed away on board of a ship anchored not far from Macao. Perry returned to Japan with this squadron in February 1854 to continue his offer of a deal that could not be refused.


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Fig. 1. 

Protestant Grave Yard—Macao. William Heine (artist); W. Roberts (engraver). From Francis L. Hawkes, narrative of the expedition of an American squadron to the China Seas and Japan, performed in the years 1852, 1853, and 1854, under the command of Commodore M. C. Perry, United States Navy, by Order of the Government of the United States, Vol. 1 (1856), 141.

In Heine's picture, a Chinese fruit vendor rests nearby with his shoulder pole leaning against a basket. In the middle ground, a bereaved woman kneels at the grave of another US naval officer and a man in Western dress stands behind her. Rising above the cemetery wall in the background are the outlines of Guia Fortress and the ruins of St. Paul's Cathedral, nearly destroyed by fire after a typhoon in 1835. Both serve as picturesque reminders of a faded Portuguese empire whose melancholic legacy contrasts with the vigorous rise of American power in the Pacific. Figure 2 is a photograph of the same grave today. The representation of Lieutenant Adams's gravestone echoes the themes of "the East" in two engaging and informative new books: Jim Egan's Oriental Shadows: The Presence of the East in Early America (2011) and David Weir's American Orient: Imagining the East from the Colonial Era through the Twentieth Century (2011). For Egan and Weir, the Orient matters fundamentally to the development of US literature and culture in ways that have yet to be fully appreciated. In Egan's pithy formula: "America's value derived from relation to the East" (3). Adams's memorial suggests ways of extending these books' presentations of the East by suggesting a fuller picture of the early national imagination that includes the missionaries, commercial traders, and diplomats for whom Far Eastern commerce was linked to the frontier expansion on the Far West.


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Fig. 2. 

Gravesite of Joseph H. Adams, Protestant cemetery, Macao. Photograph by Kendall Johnson.

Egan's and Weir's assessments of the East begin with Edward Said's paradigmatic Orientalism (1978) to highlight the crucial role of imagining the Other in experiencing a sense of oneself and one's own culture in the West. Their accounts have different definitions of the East, but for both there is something distinctively American relative to British or European orientalist modes. Echoing the ambivalences of Said's rubric, Egan explains that the "first Anglo-Americans came into being by establishing their value in terms of what they were not...



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