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The Empress of China

Canton Witnesses the 226th Anniversary of The Empress of China’s Arrival and US-China Trade Relations Kickoff

This month - August 2010 - is the 226th anniversary of the successful arrival of the Empress of China, the first American ship to sail in China’s waters. The ship landed in Canton (known as Guangzhou today) in 1784 to establish US-China trade relations.

Built in Boston in 1783, the Empress of China was the first American ship to sail from the newly independent United States to China. Financed by several wealthy American merchants, the merchant vessel left New York harbor on the birthday of the first U.S. President George Washington, February 22, 1784, with a trade delegation. It arrived in Canton on August 28, 1784, after a long journey of some 18,000 miles.

The ship and the delegation stayed in Canton until December 28, 1784, and returned triumphantly to New York with about 25% profit on May 11, 1785, after a round trip voyage of fourteen months and twenty-four days.

During the vessel’s stay in Canton, Chinese and American people traded amicably and exchanged goodwill and understanding.  With commerce growing between us, the U.S. government dispatched its first diplomat to Guangzhou some three years later in 1787. 

The ship's captain John Green was a former U.S. Naval officer. Its two business agents Samuel Shaw and Thomas Randall were former officers in the U.S. Continental Army, and its syndicate of owners included some of the richest men in the new nation, such as Robert Morris.

The Empress of China’s historical voyage of courage, vision, and effort was the cornerstone for beginning US-China relations that would last for more than two centuries in a bond between two different and great civilizations. Trade and exchange have helped American people understand and appreciate ancient China, and have helped Chinese people get to know a young USA. 

The Empress’ months-long journey also revealed American appreciation of China since the founding of the USA just eight years earlier in 1776. The American pioneering spirit is just as strong as the admirable Chinese cross-ocean fleet led by Zheng He some 600 years ago.

It is amazing that Guangzhou was the original destination of the Empress of China and the starting point of our centuries-long bilateral ties. The city has had a substantial role in the opening of China and was a pivotal location for China’s thriving Marine Silk Road for trade and exchanges. Additionally, we are very honored to work here centuries after this original contact and to extend our contacts into a new era.  Guangzhou and other parts of south China have been very important in US-China relations.

Against all odds, entrepreneurship and open-mindedness transcended the distance and cross-culture barriers to help make the Empress of China’s voyage a success. Driven first by commerce and curiosity to Guangzhou, the 226-year US-China friendship now embarks on a bright common future of shared interest and global commitment.

We hope there will be a further deepening of US-China bonds this year through the Shanghai EXPO and the Guangzhou Asian Games.