When The Eagle Met the Dragon: The History of Early Sino-American Trade

Why We Recommend it

Coinciding with today’s Sino-U.S. trade war, Hong Kong Maritime Museum’s new special exhibition  offers visitors a comprehensive look at the commercial and political ties from 1784 to 1900 between these two superpowers.


Since the Empress of China—the first American trading ship which is about the same size as the Star Ferry—sailed 18,000 miles from New York to Canton on Washington’s Birthday (22 February 1784), China, the oldest empire in the world, and the United States, the then youngest republic, initiated what would become one of the most influential trade relationships in the world.

This more-than-a-century-long story will come to life in The Dragon and the Eagle: American Traders in China, A Century of Trade from 1784 to 1900, which comprises five sections: ‘Dreaming of the East’, ‘Treaty Ports’, ‘Speeding up the Trade’, ‘Exotic Tastes’ and ‘Building a Community’. Together, these sections showcase the origin and developments of the economic, social and cultural trades between China and the United States. The exhibition covers significant topics such as women in the China trade and tells intriguing stories of why wealthy Americans aspired to purchase ‘made-in-China’ goods.

To put together the in-depth and rich exhibition, artworks and artefacts from prominent collections—ranging from paintings and documents to silver items and wooden furniture—are borrowed from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Peabody Essex Museum, the baker Library, Harvard Business School, Independence Seaport Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Kelton Foundation, Winterthur Museum and a number of independent local and US-based collectors.

The exhibition is companioned by a series of public programmes. Highlights include a talk on 2 March 2019, entitled ‘Gold Mountain Dream, the California Trade and the Making of Hong Kong’; a workshop on 16 March 2019, entitled ‘The Rise and Fall of Augustine Heard and Co.: The Shift in Sino-US Trade Relations Amid Socioeconomic and Technological Changes in the Mid-19th Century‘ (please register here); a historic walk on 30 March 2019 entitled ‘From the Shore of a Young Republic to the Edge of an Ancient Empire: Trekking in the Footsteps of Early American Traders in Hong Kong’ (please register here).

Please note that the mentioned public programmes will be conducted in Cantonese, and are free with museum admission.


When: 14 Dec 2018 - 14 Apr 2019 Where: Hong Kong Maritime Museum – Central Pier No. 8 – Central