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New Sino-US exhibition introduces visitors to foundations of trade between China and US
Installation view.

HONG KONG.- While today’s headlines continue to be dominated by China-US trade, the Hong Kong Maritime Museum is introducing a new exhibition to explore the origins of the world’s most important commercial relationship.

The Dragon and the Eagle: American Traders in China, A Century of Trade from 1784 to 1900 runs from 14 December 2018 to 14 April 2019. The long-planned exhibition unfolds the history of early Sino-American trade in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; exploring the fascinating people and products that defined the early foundations of commerce between China, the dragon, and the United States, the eagle.

Curated by the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, the exhibition aims to inform and inspire visitors by revealing what happened when the world’s youngest republic started trading with the world’s oldest empire for the first time in 1784. It features art and artefacts from prominent collections including the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, US institutions including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Peabody Essex Museum, the Baker Library, Harvard Business School, Independence Seaport Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Kelton Foundation, Winterthur Museum, and a number of independent local and US-based collectors, such as Anthony J. Hardy Collection, HSBC Archives and the Swire HK Archive Service.

The historical arts and artefacts on display weave a tale of economic, social and cultural trade; introducing a fascinating cast of characters and stories. Visitors will learn how Captain John Green sailed 18,000 miles from New York for Guangzhou on a ship about the same size of the Star Ferry; why wealthy Americans (including the nation’s first president George Washington) aspired to purchase “made in China” goods; and how the first Chinese billionaire made his fortune in international trade.

All these stories and more will come to life across five sections of the exhibition – “Dreaming of the East”, “Treaty Ports”, “Speeding up the Trade”, “Exotic Tastes”, and “Building a Community”. Each theme is chronicled via rich historical artefacts, including tableware from George Washington’s impressive ceramic dinner service, early nautical instruments, and rare objects from the earliest days of American trade with China which are now returning home for the first time in over a century.

Anthony Hardy, Chairman Emeritus of Hong Kong Maritime Museum, said, “I have always greatly admired how entrepreneurial American merchants, hardened merchant seamen and trade agents combined to create a profitable trading system on the other side of the world with the Hong merchants of Southern China, with whom they built up in many cases close personal relationships. I am delighted the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, with which I have had a long association, has taken up the challenge with telling this important story.

I have been collecting China Trade paintings for four decades and have never ceased to be intrigued by the insight they reveal about life on the “China Coast” for over 100 years – from the date they were first commissioned in the mid-1770s. The Chinese painters displayed superb craftsmanship and an eye for detail, in a medium which was initially totally foreign to them but which they learnt to emulate in a masterful way, has added greatly to our historical understanding of the period.”

Museum Director, Richard Wesley, expressed, “Museum exhibitions require the support of donors to achieve a high quality outcome. We are very grateful for all the assistance provided, especially from Cathay Pacific who covered the costs of bringing over 200 artefacts from the United States to Hong Kong, and the Hinrich Foundation who have helped highlight the important historical and contemporary link between the prosperity of nations and healthy international trade.”

The Exhibition Curator and Assistant Director Dr Libby Lai-Pik Chan, mentioned, “We are fortunate to accomplish this four-year plan exhibition with the partnerships of the important American museums and the core lenders such as Anthony J. Hardy and the Kelton Foundation. Through re-examination of the story of the early Sino-American trade and culture, we believe that the under-researched, early Sino-US trade story demonstrates the bilateral beneficial relationship of two nations in our shared history, that will continue to inspire generations to come.”

Mr Rupert Hogg, Chief Executive Officer of Cathay Pacific said: “We are delighted to be involved in this fascinating exhibition and help bring together 200 artefacts from prestigious US museums and private collections from Boston, Los Angeles and New York. I am sure that both Hong Kong people and visitors alike will enjoy the exquisite art and relics that tell the story of the early economic, cultural and social links between China and the United States.”

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