Haddad’s book details adventurous first meeting between China and America

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- John Haddad explores the 1784 first voyage to China by Americans who were seeking wealth, to convert China to Christianity and even to command a Chinese army in his new book, "America’s First Adventure in China."

Haddad, associate professor of American studies and popular culture at Penn State Harrisburg, provides a colorful narrative history of how China and America first met, focusing on the lives and experiences of American traders, missionaries and adventurers as they traveled to a foreign land unaware that the United States even existed. What followed this meeting was a long, complicated, fruitful trade relationship and a history of cultural exchange and interactions between these two dominant countries.

The book is a culmination of the research Haddad conducted during his 2010-11 Fulbright grant experience in China. It's his second book about the relationship between China and the United States.

Using special collections, 19th century travel accounts and missionary accounts of southern China, Haddad was able to trace the steps that these Americans followed to recreate the American experience in China.

He recounts how American expatriates used savvy business skills, religion and opium to establish a unique presence in China. He shows how those adventurous men built their own American dreams in this completely alien culture.

“I wanted to explore what America was doing on the ground in China and how we met the Chinese for the first time in the years spanning 1784-1870,” Haddad said.

As a part of his Fulbright, Haddad also taught American studies, pop culture and literature at the University of Hong Kong. He said that it was interesting to teach American studies in a city that received most of its information about American culture from the media.

“While the students were more interested in Apple computers, movies, television and video games,” he said, “I wanted to show them the rest of America – the Amish, Gettysburg – they didn’t know rural America at all.”

He said his teaching experience also proved to be a learning experience for him as he worked to overcome cultural barriers and adapt to the contrasting learning styles of the students.

“These were high caliber students,” Haddad said. “The students from Hong Kong were quiet and reticent in class; in contrast, the Chinese students were very outspoken and vocal. I had to be more sensitive to the backgrounds of the students and develop classroom strategies to engage them to participate.”

He added that he had to not take their reticence as disinterest in the topics that he was teaching.

“These students came from a different educational model than what I was used to,” Haddad said. “I thought that I was failing at first until I saw how outstanding their papers were. I knew then that I had to develop a strategy to get them to talk.”

He did so by providing visual imagery and working in small groups, adding, “There was always something going on in their minds.”

"America’s First Adventure in China" was published by Temple University Press. The book complements Haddad’s first book, "The Romance of China: Excursions to China in U.S. Culture, 1776-1876," published by Columbia University Press in 2006.

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Last Updated November 08, 2013