This book gathers together nine essays originally presented at a 2008 conference held at the University of Macau. Each essay aims for an “interweaving of the global, the local, and the personal” (p. 5) to illuminate “the importance of China in the minds of Americans, and the role Macao played in…Sino-American exchanges” (pp. 4-5). In his essay “Revolutions and Divergences: The Macao Vortex in a Transforming World,” John E. Wills, Jr. deftly recasts Macao and “the Pearl River Delta as a vortex where Asians were active competitors with Europeans and others,” such that “the rise of European hegemony was not a foregone conclusion and much more a development of interactions between, and inputs from, Eastern and Western players alike” (p. 17).
Jonathan Goldstein’s essay, “A Clash of Civilizations in the Pearl River Delta: Stephen Girard’s Trade with China, 1787-1824,” explores early Sino-American trade through the microcosm of one leading merchant’s ambiguous experience in the opium trade. In an essay entitled“American Ships, Macao, and the Bombay Marine, 1806-1817: Delicate Lines for a Junior Officer to Tread-The Role of Daniel Ross in the Charting of the China Seas,” Stephen Davies presents Daniel Ross - a man who by parentage, marriage, and business was betwixt and between distinct nationalities - as an “exemplar of historical relations, interactions, and connections linking America, Macao, and China from 1807 until 1820” (p. 48).
Paul Van Dyke, volume editor and a professor at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, explores“Smuggling Networks of the Pearl River Delta before 1842: Implications for Macao and the American China Trade.” Van Dyke is expert and lucid in laying out the sequence of events and push-pull factors that generated a succession of smuggling networks in the South China region. Van Dyke’s essay is followed by “The April 1820 Debt Settlement Between Conseequa and Benjamin Chew Wilcocks,” by Frederic D. Grant Jr., a Boston attorney and author of previous work on the intricate business and legal dimensions of early Sino-American trade. Drawing from important documentation that came to light in late 2008, Grant “provides a vivid glimpse of parties acting in multiple, changing, and conflicting roles” (p. 91) in “a legal netherworld” (p. 73).
In his contribution, “The Importance of the China Trade in American Exploration and Conquest in the Pacific, 1830-1850,” Michael D. Block argues that previous scholars have missed the importance of the China trade in American expansion into California. However, Block seems to err in the opposite direction by insisting that: “…the trade with China was not only central to the proposed American explorations in the Pacific, but was also central to Americans taking California by force from Mexico during the 1840s (p. 100).
In her contribution, “Henrietta Hall Shuck: Engendering Faith, Education, and Culture in Nineteenth-Century Macao.” Isabel Moraisskillfully constructs a nuanced portrait of Henrietta Shuck(1817-1844),the first female missionary in China. Morais endeavors to be both fair-minded and correct, and the essay consequently oscillates between praise and reproach, ending in ambivalence: “As has been pointed out, American Protestants’ religious zeal and prejudices of superiority often blinded them to their own faults, hypocrisies, and double standards. But they nonetheless contributed to the betterment of women’s lives in Macao and China” (p. 123).
An essay by Susan E. Schopp, entitled “American Women’s Perceptions of China 1829-1941: ‘A Yard-stick of Our Own Construction,’” presents a longitudinal group portrait of five notable American women involved in Macao and China. The women’s China-related experiences are roughly chronological, running from 1829 to 1941. This timeline turns out to be a yard-stick of Schopp’s own construction, as the five women are introduced, summarized, and then assessedas more or less cosmopolitan: Harriett Low (1809-1877) “had no compelling interest in other cultures and customs, nor was she driven to question her own beliefs” (pp. 140-141). Rebecca Chase Kinsman (1810-1882) “demonstrated a greater open-mindedness…and was more willing…to accept racial and cultural differences…” (p. 141). Sarah Pike Conger (c.1843-1932), who arrived in China in 1898 as wife to the newly appointed U.S. Minister, “was conscious of the values and beliefs she entertained from her birth culture, yet simultaneously committed to acquiring a broader world view” (p. 141). Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973), the daughter of missionaries in China, was steeped in bilingualism and biculturalism, and this opened her up to a profound “appreciation for cultural differences” (p. 142). Dr. RuthHemenway (1894-1974) who arrived in China in 1924, “questioned the value of both organized religion and religious missionary activity but was unwavering in her conviction of the superiority of Western medicine” (p. 142).
Taken together, the essays by Schopp and Morais vividly illustrate the continuing quandary as to what today’s feminist scholars should or might say about long-ago, progressive, white, Euro-American women. The final essay, by Vincent Wai-kit Ho, explores “Duties and Limitations: The Role of United States Consuls in Macao, 1849-1869,” as “a window into the marginal status of the enclave in the wider arena of international politics” (p. 144). The essay is informative but does not present a clear picture of the larger American diplomatic and consular establishment in China during this period. This becomes especially relevant because up through the early 1860s America’s top diplomatic envoy maintained a distinct presence in Macao. How did this work in practice? What authority did U.S. Commissioners (and later, Ministers) have over the U.S. consulate in Macao. A wider aperture that takes up these larger questions would helpfully complicate Ho’s assessment of Macao, and of American consuls stationed there during the 1850s and 1860s.
The volume as a whole is well grounded with scrupulous citations and an impressive bibliography. The essays are uneven in length and depth, but few readers will doubt at the close that Macao was and is far more important and interesting than most of us previously understood or imagined.
 A note on Macao/Macau. I follow the authors, who use Macao, except when noting contributors’ affiliation to the University of Macau.