For centuries, China has remained as a place in many Americans' shadowy dreams where fortunes and careers could be made through commerce, industry, religion, education, and adventure. American businessmen and their domestic backers appreciated China's richly endowed natural resources and its untapped market of 400 million customers, looking forward to making immense profits from business investment and commercial establishments. Since the arrival of the first American merchant ship, Empress of China, in Canton in 1784, generation after generation of American businessmen and adventurers landed in the Middle Kingdom to begin their enterprises by foreseeing a promising future for mercantile advantage. In this China drive, individual businessmen outside the U.S. government played a significant role in linking the two countries and peoples through a variety of activities. Some of them were particularly responsible for conveying their ideas, directly or indirectly, to government policy makers in Washington, exerting profound influence on the U.S. foreign policy toward East Asia. Some of them made great efforts to assist in the modernization of China by devoting their lives and resources, turning themselves into friends of China. Some of them, however, played games as adventurers seeking power and wealth in a fraudulent way and creating unexpected occasions for political confrontations and diplomatic conflicts in Sino-American relations. In all of these multi-dimensional interactions, China, a country too weak to control its own affairs in the nineteenth-century and the first half of the twentieth-century, provided a fantastic place for Americans to range freely, exercising their talents for good or evil to the fullest.
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