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  • Chinese and Americans: A Shared History by Xu Guoqi
  • Dongyoun Hwang (bio)
Xu Guoqi. Chinese and Americans: A Shared History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014. xiv, 332 pp. Hardcover $39.95, isbn 978-0-674-05253-6.

This book by Xu Guoqi examines various encounters between Chinese and Americans since the mid-nineteenth century, which Xu argues are indicative of their “surprising shared history” (p. 1) that demonstrates that the history of Sino-American relations comprises not only the “usual negative or confrontational episodes” but “the positive aspects” (p. 16) and “a constructive sharing” (p. 259) of “cooperation and shared excitement or frustration” (p. 17). The “largely forgotten” (p. 14) and “ignored” (p. 16) cases of the individuals, “carefully selected” (p. 17) from “the viewpoints of both sides” (p. 16), are, Xu believes, conducive to overcoming “a negative or skeptical perspective” and understanding a complete picture of Sino-American relations.

There is no doubt that individuals are the most important historical players in the history of Sino-American relations, and Xu accordingly delineates the life and activities of those who, he thinks, joined the “shared journey” of the two peoples in the past. Xu begins the book with those he calls “messengers” in part 1, which is composed of 3 chapters. In chapter 1, Xu introduces Anson Burlingame who, on behalf of the Qing dynasty, signed the [End Page 199] first equal treaty with the United States, despite the fact that he had neither the ability to speak Chinese nor knowledge and understanding of Chinese history and culture. The treaty, called “Burlingame Treaty” (p. 58), in turn served as a legal base to protect the Chinese in America at the time from any discrimination and played a part in delaying American exclusion of Chinese immigrants at the end of the nineteenth century. To Xu, Burlingame’s appointment as the Qing’s envoy with a diplomatic mission to visit and negotiate the treaty terms with European countries was “an extraordinary event” in the history of China’s “modernization and internationalization” (p. 49), since Burlingame “provided a great service to both the Chinese and the Americans given the fact that American and Chinese interests overlapped and interlinked” (p. 72). And Xu believes that Burlingame was truly qualified to be called “China’s friend” (p. 72), particularly since he “laid the foundation” (p. 76) for the Chinese Education Mission in the following year, to which Xu turns in chapter 2.

Chapter 2 describes the Chinese Education Mission to America that started in 1872 with its first group of 32 Chinese students arriving in Hartford, Connecticut, for their planned 15-year long education in America. Although America was chosen as the destination for the Chinese Education Mission due to the Chinese “good feelings” about Americans being “friendly and peaceful in their intentions” (p. 91), there also existed both “excitement and anxiety on both sides” (p. 81) about misunderstanding and cultural differences. It abruptly ended in 1881, earlier than its initial plan, due to the Qing government’s recall of the students due mainly to the anti-Chinese sentiment in the country. The Chinese Education Mission brought a total of 120 Chinese students to America, among whom Xu explains a few decided to remain in America while others returned and made some impressive achievements for Chinese military and politics. Although it ended in a fiasco, it left, Xu argues, lessons for a shared journey ahead for the two countries.

Chapter 3 is about Ge Kunhua, the first Chinese language teacher in the United States. A scholar of no major importance from Ningbo, Ge taught a total of five American students learning Chinese at Harvard University from 1879 to 1882. Xu speaks highly of Ge as a “pioneer” of the academic field called Chinese Studies, for Ge not only taught the language but educated Americans about Chinese culture and civilization, and even promoted China. Consequently, Americans around Ge saw him as “a [cultural] bridge between the two peoples” (p. 128). But when Ge died suddenly of pneumonia in 1882, other Americans obviously took his death only for a lost chance to produce “a means of promoting our commercial interests in China” (p. 133...


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pp. 199-203
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