- Pacific Crossing: California Gold, Chinese Migration, and the Making of Hong Kong by Elizabeth Sinn, and: America’s First Adventure in China: Trade, Treaties, Opium, and Salvation by John R. Haddad
The fields of migration history and the history of American foreign relations have been turning incrementally toward each other in the last decade. The former, once thought the domain of domestic and social history, has reached out to include diplomatic engagement and transnational networks. The latter, once the very epitome of the top-down model of government treaties and high-level negotiations, has rediscovered the people at all levels of society who both experience and affect bilateral relations. The result is that these two books, Pacific Crossing by Elizabeth Sinn and America’s First Adventure in China by John R. Haddad, speak more directly to each other than they would have had they been written even ten years earlier. Moreover, this newfound ability to connect makes two fascinating narratives into foundation [End Page 217] stones for building stronger bridges between human migration and state-to-state relations.
Pacific Crossing examines how Hong Kong emerged as an “in-between place” for new migration between south China and California starting in the 1850s. As both the last “Chinese” place emigrants leave and the first place they arrive upon return, Hong Kong became a secondary, even tertiary home for many migrants and developed into a major port for trade in goods and, occasionally, people. Sinn ably demonstrates that Hong Kong owed a great deal of its economic development to the California trade, and that the transnational lives of migrants helped to shape economic activities everywhere they traveled. Through chapters that painstakingly and thoroughly document the rise of transpacific shipping and trade, the development of Hong Kong as a port of departure for emigration, the impact of the opium trade on Hong Kong, the free and unfree migration of Chinese women, and the shipment of bones from the New World back to the homeland, Sinn demonstrates both her command of the material and her facility with quantitative data.
In America’s First Adventure in China, Haddad explores the early years of Sino-American contact through the eyes of Americans who helped to make it. In the process, he explores three different kinds of “China dreams”: that of merchants hoping to make their fortune on the China trade, that of missionaries determined to win China for Christ, and that of diplomats breaking free of the prior two groups to build a cooperative relationship between Washington and Beijing. In each case, Haddad explores these dreams through the eyes of the men who envisioned them, offering a fascinating glimpse into the assumptions and considerations of such famed figures as John Perkins Cushing, Peter Parker, and Anson Burlingame, among many others.
These two works, with one focused more on Chinese movements to and from the United States and the other on American movements in and out of China, overlap only briefly in their chronological focus but share a great deal in how they approach their subjects. Most fundamentally, both works sketch the development of major systems, patterns, and interactions that helped to shape the future of U.S.–Hong Kong–China relations. What is new here, however, is the way both authors seek to establish this foundation.
Pacific Crossing shows that Hong Kong, as both a developing port and a way station for increasing movement between China and California, had a significant but largely understudied role to play in transpacific interactions. That these interactions also helped create the unique characteristics of Hong Kong as a colony only serves to reinforce the [End Page 218] importance of the decades following the California gold rush. Instead of dealing in broad strokes, Sinn plays close attention to processes: how trade developed and occurred, what was traded, how profits accumulated, and who funded these ventures...