1. China – 1800’s
Still the Middle Kingdom
In the middle of the 19th century, when the Chinese first started immigrating to America, China was among the richest countries in the world. It was a leader in agricultural technology, medicine, the culinary arts and the production of consumer products. In 1850, China produced 33% of the world’s gross domestic product.
Many of America’s early leaders, among them, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson admired the achievements of the Chinese civilization. In particular, they though the Chinese examination system, a system that was open to everyone and rewarded merit, was worthy of emulation.
Chinese tea was almost universally enjoyed by the founding fathers and almost all used china (porcelain) and silk in their households.
Though China was still wealthy at that time, monumental change was rapidly developing.
For centuries, trade between the West and China was overland along the Silk Road. The Europeans were never happy about this state of affairs. The road was long, dangerous and expensive due to the high tariffs imposed on trade by tribal leaders along the Silk Road.
A new way had to be found to more directly secure the riches of the “Indies”, (the lands that lay east of the Indus River, China being the most important). The European “age of exploration” was set off by a search for a sea route to the Indies.