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Anderson's book focuses on the actions of American diplomats in China from 1861 and 1898. This is an interesting time to focus on, due to the political situations within each of the states. For the United States, it was a time when most of the states used forced to keep eleven other states within the nation, and then had to deal with the bitterness caused by the war. In China the Imperial government was forced to allow Western powers, seen as barbaric by the Chinese, wide access and de facto ownership of several Chinese ports. This would have been bad enough for the Chinese, but they also had to finally allow foreign diplomats into Beijing on a permanent basis, when originally all such diplomats could go no further than Canton in the southernmost part of China.
Anderson sees America has having to deal with a dichotomy between self-interest and self-sacrifice, and sees this dichotomy in America's initial dealings with China. Should the United States join with the other Western powers in dividing up China, or should it aid China in its moment of weakness? Anderson states that the eight American envoys to China between 1861 and 1898 dealt with the failing empire with varying mixtures of selfish imperialism and selfless idealism. As he focused on th American envoys, almost all of his sources were American in origin
After reading Anderson's first two chapters, there is no reason to read others. It goes in excruciating detail over the most boring and trivial of matters. Most of these American diplomats had no real impact that any other American could accomplish. After all, Americans were simply following the European's leads, so American envoys did not lead, therefore they did not have anything to add. Why would anyone feel the need to belabor on this? Sadly for Anderson's readers, he felt this necessary. I spent an hour searching for anything worthy of note that Anderson said, but I could find nothing. Anderson tried, but he simply could not fill the book with anything but the most boring of minutia.
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