Although he had understood that the Chinese were "droll in shape and appearance," George Washington was in 1785 taken aback to learn that they were not white. For their part, the Chinese viewed Americans as a new and insignificant breed of Europeans and, like the Europeans, barbarian, intrusive, hairy and malodorous.
Two hundred years ago East Asia and the new American nation were separated not only by the world's biggest ocean but also by the wilderness of most of the North American continent. And so, while Columbus had come upon America by sailing westward, the first American ship to make its way to East Asia, in 1784, did so by sailing in the opposite direction, through two oceans-the Atlantic and the Indian-and past three continents-Europe, South America, and Africa.
Thus, East Asia was for Americans the most remote part of the earth, and its various civilizations the most exotic. Even some 80 years later, after the purchase of Alaska, when across the 36 miles of Bering Strait, Asia became the nearest continent to the United States, it was still true that no cultures were more alien to Americans than those of China, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia.
And yet, it was to East Asia that the greatest outpouring of American altruism flowed. It was also the area in which Americans fought four major wars-more than anywhere else overseas. The Spanish-American, Pacific, Korean and Indochinese wars were conducted in eight East Asian countries: the Philippines, China, Burma, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The United States also intervened militarily in Korea, in China, and in the Russian Far East during the Russian Revolution.
So while the people of East Asia were acquainted with manifestations of ardent American idealism, they also on occasion had brought home to them expressions of American displeasure.
In no other part of the world did the United States more persistently and actively oppose imperialism and what it regarded as attempts by others to create hegemonies. But it was in East Asia (and
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