On February 21, 1972, Richard M. Nixon arrived in China for an historic eight-day official visit. He was the first U.S. president to visit the People’s Republic of China since its founding in 1949.
The meeting between Nixon and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai resulted in the Shanghai Communique, a pledge to set aside differences, especially on Taiwan, and to begin the process of the normalization of relations.
The United States began to take an active interest in establishing political and economic ties with China in the nineteenth century. After Japan attempted to invade China in 1894-95, Russia, France, Germany, and Great Britain sought to protect their interests in that country by carving the nation into spheres of influence. The U.S., an important power in the Pacific as a consequence of its 1898 victory, in the Spanish-American War, attempted to prevent this division with the formulation, in 1899 and 1900, of what came to be known as the Open Door policy. This policy proposed both to ensure all nations equal trading privileges in China and to protect Chinese sovereignty.
For an overview of Sino-American relations, as well as information about many other aspects of Chinese history, see China: a country study, part of a continuing series of books prepared by the Federal Research Division (FRD) of the Library of Congress. See also FRD’s Country Profile: China (PDF, 253 KB), summarized information on that country’s historical background, society, government and politics, and more.
- In 1895, the World’s Transportation Commission, a private venture organized by American businessman Joseph Gladding Pangborn visited China to gather information about that country’s transportation systems and to promote U.S. trade. The American Memory collection Around the World in the 1890s: Photographs from the World’s Transportation Commission, 1894-1896 contains more than 100 photographs of China taken by Commission photographer William Henry Jackson. To see these images, search across the collection on China, or select “China” from the Trip Itinerary.
- In the mid-1800s, large numbers of Chinese came to the U.S. to build the transcontinental railroad and to work in the gold fields. Visit The Chinese in California, 1850-1925 External collection to learn more about Chinese immigration to that state and the immigrants’ contributions to various industries as well as to culture and society.
- Search on Chinese in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1836-1940 and “California As I Saw It”: First Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849-1900 to learn more about the lives of these workers.
- Also, be sure to read the Today in History feature for September 2, and see the William Henry Jackson photographs of Chinese-Americans, located in Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920.