The Dragon and the Eagle: The Presence of China in the American Enlightenment
Previous scholarship held that the image of China did not penetrate North America until after trade was established between Canton and the East Coast in 1784. In The Dragon and the Eagle, A. Owen Aldridge reveals that a lively curiosity about oriental culture existed before the middle of the eighteenth century, and that a good deal of information about it was available even during the War for Independence.
Aldridge surveys attitudes and opinions about all aspects of Chinese life and culture expressed in American fiction, history, travel accounts, sermons, poetry, essays, correspondence, memoirs, and references in periodicals. He indicates that between 1760 and 1825 several entire books about China were published in America, together with a host of short pieces in newspapers and magazines. By the end of the eighteenth century, practically every idea or element of concrete information about China in print in London or Paris had reappeared in some form or another in the United States.
The history of these initial dealings shows in many ways a clash of contrasting cultures. This book uncovers some extraordinary instances of the relationship: Benjamin Franklin at the age of thirty-two publishing in his Philadelphia newspaper an analysis of the thought of Confucius; Thomas Jefferson including a Chinese novel on a reading list of 200 books for his brother-in-law; Thomas Paine comparing Confucius and Christ as great moral teachers; Philip Freneau composing a poem hailing the first voyage of an American vessel to the Far East; the American Philosophical Society enquiring into the contents of a Chinese book unearthed in the midst of a camp of American Indians in Pennsylvania; and a shocked American sea captain viewing the corpses of Eurasian babies floating down the river in Canton.
Aldridge confines his remarks to literary and intellectual texts before the eighteenth century and emphasizes authors in English who have been previously neglected. A bibliography of American imprints referring to China, 1760 to 1826, appears in the appendix.
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