US Department of State (2 February 2022) – For two decades the chief U.S. representative in China had resided in either Guangzhou or Shanghai (along with all of the other foreign ministers), but after the implementation of the Treaties of Tianjin foreign legations were finally set up in the capital.
1784: First Representatives of the United States Went to China
A ship called the Empress of China became the first vessel to sail from the United States to China, arriving in Guangzhou (Canton) in August. The vessel’s supercargo, Samuel Shaw, had been appointed as an unofficial consul by the U.S. Congress, but he did not make contact with Chinese officials or gain diplomatic recognition for the United States. Since the 1760s all trade with Western nations had been conducted at Guangzhou through a set group of Chinese merchants with official licenses to trade. Some residents of the American colonies had engaged in the China trade before this time, but this journey marked the new nation’s entrance into the lucrative China trade in tea, porcelain, and silk.
1785: First Chinese Arrived in the United States
Three Chinese sailors arrived in Baltimore, where they were stranded on shore by the trading ship that brought them there from Guangzhou. There is no record of what happened to them after that.
1796: Macartney Mission to Beijing
The British Minister Plenipotentiary, Lord George Macartney, became the first Western diplomat to journey to Beijing in an effort to establish direct diplomatic relations with the Chinese imperial court. He received a rare audience with the Emperor, but in the end the effort was unsuccessful.
1810s: The Opium Trade Began
British merchants, seeking a commodity to trade for Chinese goods, began to smuggle Indian opium into China. Seeing that this raised the profit margins of the British, most American firms followed suit, although most obtained their opium from Persia, rather than India.
1821: The Terranova Affair
A Chinese woman selling items to an American ship was killed when a sailor on the American vessel threw a pitcher overboard that struck her, knocking her out of her small boat into the water, where she drowned. Local authorities demanded that the guilty party be surrendered for trial and punishment, but at first the ship’s captain and other merchants refused to comply. However, when it became clear that their resistance was damaging trade, the Americans relented and offered up an Italian crewman named Terranova. Soon thereafter, Terranova was executed, and trade resumed.
1830: First American Protestant Missionaries Arrived in China
The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, one of the earliest missionary organizations of the United States, sent the first two American missionaries to China, the Reverends Elijah Bridgman and David Abeel. They reached Guangzhou in February of 1830. Bridgman was one of the first Americans to undertake the study of China’s history and culture, and also wrote a Chinese language history of the United States.
1834: British East India Company Disbanded
For some time this company had held a near monopoly on the China trade and had served as the main contact point between all foreigners and Chinese officials. When it lost its charter and dissolved in 1834, the trade at Guangzhou opened up to more private traders. This destabilized trade relations over the next few years, but American merchants benefited from the company’s demise.
1835: First American Clinic Established
In 1834, Dr. Peter Parker arrived at Guangzhou as America’s pioneer medical missionary. After spending some time in Singapore studying language, he returned to Guangzhou and on November 4, 1835, established a small dispensary in the foreign quarter. He began treating so many Chinese patients, the majority of them for eye ailments, that he expanded the dispensary into an Ophthalmic Hospital, which later expanded again to become the Guangzhou Hospital.
1839: First Major Chinese Exhibition Opens In United States
After spending 12 years in the China trade, Philadelphia merchant Nathan Dunn returned from China with an enormous collection of art, artifacts, botanical samples, and other items. In 1839 he put them on display in his native city in a “Chinese Museum” that was designed to present the items in as natural a manner as possible, so as to give visitors a picture of life in China. Over 100,000 people visited the exhibit before he moved it to London in 1841.
1839: Outbreak of the First Opium War
In 1838 the Chinese Emperor sent Commissioner Lin Zexu to Guangzhou, with a goal to stamp out the opium trade. Lin demanded that the British merchants surrender their supplies of opium for destruction, and after an initial refusal they agreed to do so, after which they left Guangzhou for Macao. The following year, the dispute over these actions exploded into war. While the British traders were temporarily absent from Guangzhou, Americans did exceptionally good business, some of it on contract for the British.
1842: Signing of the Treaty of Nanjing (Nanking)
After several years of conflict, British forces emerged victorious and negotiated with the Qing Government to sign the Treaty of Nanjing. This treaty ended the existing system of trade through officially licensed merchants, opened four new treaty ports to trade (including Shanghai), granted most favored nation status to Britain, and provided the basis for the expansion of trade. It served as the model for subsequent treaties between China and other Western nations.
1844: Signing of the Treaty of Wangxia (Wang-hsia/Wang-hiya)
In 1843, Secretary of State Daniel Webster sent Caleb Cushing to China as Minister Plenipotentiary to negotiate a treaty with the Qing. Cushing hoped to journey to Beijing to conduct these negotiations, but the Qing refused to grant an imperial audience, which delayed the negotiations. He thus spent several months waiting in Macao for permission to travel to Beijing before finally giving up on that hope. Once he did so, the Qing negotiator, Qi Ying, quickly agreed to all the American terms (which were mostly the same as the British) and the two countries signed a treaty. The terms included extraterritoriality for U.S. citizens in China, most favored nation status, and a guarantee for treaty revision in twelve years. This marked the beginning of official diplomatic relations between the United States and China.
1847: The Coolie Trade Began in the New World
The first ship carrying Chinese laborers, known as “coolies,” arrived in Cuba with workers for the sugar plantations. Soon thereafter, coolie traders began to dock at U.S. ports, prompting the U.S. Congress to pass a law prohibiting U.S. citizens from engaging in the trade and guaranteeing the freedom of all Chinese laborers who came to the United States. After the California Gold Rush broke out in 1849, more and more Chinese laborers arrived to work in mines, on railroads, and in other mostly menial tasks. Over 100,000 Chinese came to the United States within the first 20 years.
1850-1864: Taiping Rebellion in China
A man named Hong Xiuquan, who had briefly studied with an American missionary in Guangzhou, launched a massive rebel movement in Southeastern China. Within a few years, the Taiping rebels marched north to Nanjing and almost completely separated Northern from Southern China for a decade, causing extreme destruction and loss of life. The Qing ultimately managed to suppress the rebellion, thanks in part to the assistance of American soldier-of-fortune Frederick Townsend Ward and other foreigners, but the dynasty never fully recovered.
1858: Treaties of Tianjin (Tientsin) Signed
Under the threat of an attack on Beijing from British and French forces, the Qing court agreed to sign new treaties with several foreign powers, including the United States. These new treaties opened more treaty ports to foreign trade and settlement, granted additional trading privileges to foreign merchants, legalized the opium trade, gave missionaries the right to proselytize throughout inland China, and allowed the establishment of permanent diplomatic legations in Beijing.
1860: Treaties of Tianjin Enforced
Frustrated with Qing delays in the implementation of the Treaties of Tianjin, British and French forces marched on Beijing and destroyed the Summer Palace on the city’s outskirts. In this way, Britain and France forced the Qing to carry out its obligations under the recently signed treaties, and gained a few new privileges, which the United States acquired under the terms of most favored nation status.
1862: First U.S. Legation Established in China
For two decades the chief U.S. representative in China had resided in either Guangzhou or Shanghai (along with all of the other foreign ministers), but after the implementation of the Treaties of Tianjin foreign legations were finally set up in the capital. Anson Burlingame became the first U.S. minister to reside in Beijing, establishing his post in the legation quarter close to the Forbidden City.
1868: The First Chinese Mission Abroad
In 1867 the Qing decided to send China’s first diplomatic mission to the Western nations in order to renegotiate its treaties, and asked U.S. envoy Anson Burlingame to head the mission. With permission from the U.S. Government, Burlingame resigned his post and led two Qing officials to the United States and Europe. Burlingame negotiated and signed a new treaty with U.S. Secretary of State William Seward that allowed for mostly unrestricted Chinese migration to the United States, among other stipulations. However, the agreements Burlingame reached were never fully implemented. He died in Russia before the mission ended, leaving the Qing officials to complete it on their own.
1872: First Official Delegation of Chinese Students Came to United States
Yung Wing (Rong Hong), a naturalized U.S. citizen who received a degree from Yale University in 1854, formed the Chinese Education Mission (CEM) in 1870 with approval and support from the Government of China. The program hoped to train Chinese to work as diplomats and technical advisors to the government. He brought a group of 30 students, all teenaged males, from China to the United States for a comprehensive American education and to live with American families. The Qing ended the program in 1881, due to rising anti-Chinese sentiment in the United States, fears that the students were becoming too Americanized, and frustration that they were not being granted the promised access to U.S. military academies. Before the program ended, about 120 students took part, and some chose not to return to China.
1875: First Restrictions Placed on Chinese Immigration
The U.S. Congress passed the Page Act, which barred entry for Chinese coolie laborers and women brought in for prostitution. This law contradicted the treaty of 1868, but it was merely the first in a series of increasingly restrictive acts on the part of the United States
1878: First Chinese Legation Established in the United States
China finally established a diplomatic mission in Washington, D.C., with Chen Lanping appointed as the chief of mission. This marked the beginning of full bilateral ties between the United States and China. Chen had been appointed in 1875, but did not establish the post until 1878. During these three years, Yung Wing served as acting chief of mission while also running the Chinese Educational Mission.
1882: Chinese Exclusion Act Passed
After more than a decade of anti-Chinese lobbying, mostly from the West Coast, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, and it was signed by President Chester A. Arthur. The Act suspended Chinese immigration to the United States for ten years, which violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the 1868 treaty. In recent years several attempts had been made to pass a similar bill, but prior Presidents had vetoed them because they had contravened the existing agreements with China. This marked the beginning of some sixty years of exclusion.
1885: Anti-Chinese Violence Broke Out
A mob of white residents of Rock Springs, Wyoming, launched a vicious attack on Chinese miners in the area on September 2, 1885, killing 28 and destroying their property. This sparked a wave of similar assaults in other parts of the American West over the next several years.
1888: Additional Exclusionary Measures Instituted
Early in 1888, the United States and China signed the Bayard-Zhang Treaty, by which the Qing agreed to prohibit all new Chinese migration for 20 years and limited the classes of Chinese who could return to the United States after a trip home. The agreement did not violate the Burlingame Treaty of 1868 because the United States did not institute the prohibitions, but it drew opposition from the Chinese populace. However, before the treaty was ratified, Congress passed the Scott Act, which canceled the right of return for Chinese residents who left the United States for any reason. Chinese in the United States challenged the Act as being unconstitutional because it contravened prior treaties, but with no success. The California Circuit Court ruled that Congress could modify any treaty at any time, and the Supreme Court found that, although the Scott Act did contravene the treaties, control over immigration was a sovereign right and thus Congress had the authority to act as it saw fit regardless of any international agreements. This position stood in stark contrast to the U.S. insistence on extraterritorial rights and trading privileges in China that had been enshrined in prior treaties.
1892: Geary Act Passed
This Act extended the Chinese Exclusion Act’s prohibition on Chinese immigration for another ten years (until 1902), and required all Chinese and Chinese descendents in the United States to carry residence permits or face deportation. It stripped Chinese in the United States of additional legal rights.
1894-95: First Sino-Japanese War
Japanese and Chinese forces clashed over influence in Korea, and Japan emerged with a stunning victory. As part of the settlement, Japan took control of Taiwan and established colonial rule over the island, and also gained several new privileges in China including the right to build factories. The United States gained this right as well, through the most favored nation principle, but at the same time it lost its rights in Taiwan and soon had greater competition from Japan in Southeast China.
1898: Hundred Days Reform Movement
A group of reform-minded Chinese literati became concerned that China was in danger of collapsing if it did not institute a range of modern reforms to the government and educational system. They joined with the Guangxu Emperor in an effort to bring about change, but conservatives within the imperial court, including the Empress Dowager Ci Xi, opposed these measures. They seized the Emperor and placed him under house arrest and arrested and executed several literati while others fled into exile. There was no immediate impact on U.S.-China relations, but the triumph of conservatives in China made treaty revision much less likely in the near future.
1899-1900: The Open Door Notes
In September 1899 and July 1900, Secretary of State John Hay issued the two Open Door Notes to all foreign powers with interests in China. The United States had become concerned over recent developments in China, where many foreign powers had claimed exclusive spheres of influence. Fearful that the long-standing free trade system in China would be compromised and that a weakening China might be carved up like Africa had been, Hay acted to defend U.S. interests in the area. The Notes aimed to preserve both the existing system of trade, with equal opportunity for all foreign powers, and to maintain China’s territorial integrity so that no foreign power would have an advantage. This was the first clear and official statement of U.S. China policy.
1900: The Boxer Uprising
In the late 19th century, anti-foreign sentiments merged with rural unrest and mystical cults to give rise to the Boxer movement. Practicing martial arts and espousing a slogan of “support the Qing, destroy the foreign,” the “Boxers United in Righteousness” targeted all foreigners and Chinese Christian converts, who suffered violent attacks. The Uprising reached a peak in the spring and summer of 1900 when Boxer forces marched on Beijing, with the support of the Qing court. For two months the Boxers occupied the capital and besieged the foreign legation district, where the foreign community and a large group of Chinese Christians barricaded themselves within the legations. The foreigners managed to resist repeated Boxer attacks until a multinational force finally fought its way in from the coast and reached Beijing, lifting the siege. U.S. marines played a key role in defending the legations during the siege and also joined the multinational force that crushed the Boxers.
1901: The Boxer Protocol Signed
After defeating the Boxers, the foreign powers forced the Qing to submit to a punitive settlement that included a huge indemnity ($333 million) to be paid to the foreign nations. This essentially bankrupted the Qing government, which already faced serious financial difficulties.
1902, 1904: Provisions of the Geary Act Extended and Expanded
The U.S. Congress continued to pass restrictive legislation regarding Chinese immigration; new laws aimed both at preventing the arrival of more Chinese and establishing guidelines for the ultimate removal of all of those already in the United States. These exclusionary laws contributed to the ghettoization of Chinese communities in the United States as Chinese become more and more concentrated in insular Chinatowns in major urban areas across the country.
1905-06: Anti-American Boycotts in China
After the United States and China failed to come to an agreement on a new immigration treaty in 1904, Chinese in Shanghai, Beijing, and other cities launched boycotts of U.S. products and businesses. Some of the inspiration for the boycotts came from Chinese living in the United States, but the primary motivation was the nationalism that was rising in China.
1908: Remittance of the Boxer Indemnity
On May 25, Congress issued a joint resolution remitting the surplus amount of the U.S. portion of the Boxer Indemnity (roughly $11 million out of an initial $24 million) to the Chinese government. The United States was the first country to do something of this kind, and in response, the Qing decided to send between 50 and 100 students a year to receive their education in the United States. Secretary of State Elihu Root determined that the remitted funds would be used to finance this educational program.
1908: Root-Takahira Agreement
Secretary of State Root exchanged notes with Japan’s Ambassador to the United States, Takahira Kogorō, which confirmed Japan’s special interests and influence in Northeast China and Korea. The agreement also reaffirmed the Open Door policy regarding the preservation of China’s territorial integrity.
1911: The Fall of the Qing Dynasty
Early in the 20th century the Qing finally enacted a range of reforms, including ending the centuries-old civil service examination system and constitutional changes, but these measures proved to be too little, too late. Discontent with the government rose, and when the Qing attempted to nationalize all of the regional railroads, and took out more foreign loans to do so, it proved to be the breaking point. An uprising broke out in the inland city of Wuhan in October, and within a few months local rebellions took place throughout the country. These eventually led to the fall of the dynasty.
1912: Founding of the Republic of China
The Qing collapsed during the fall of 1911, and on January 1, 1912, Sun Zhongshan (Sun Yat-sen) took office as the provisional president of the newly created Republic of China. Although Sun’s Revolutionary Alliance had widespread support, the power lay with regional militaries, and within a few months Sun stepped down in favor of General Yuan Shikai.
1915: Japan’s 21 Demands
After entering World War I on the side of the Allies, Japan seized German territories in Shandong Province. Japan then issued 21 demands to the Chinese Government, seeking extensive new trade and territorial privileges. President Woodrow Wilson objected to these demands as being a rejection of the Open Door policy, and the U.S. Minister in China, Paul Reinsch, advised the Chinese to resist as long as possible. Eventually Japan dropped the portions that most severely compromised China’s sovereignty, and the Chinese agreed to the rest.
1917: Lansing-Ishii Agreement
With this agreement, signed by Secretary of State Robert Lansing and Japanese envoy Ishii Kikujirō, the United States reaffirmed its acknowledgement of Japan’s “special interests” in Northeast China.
1917: China Entered the Warlord Period
Yuan Shikai, in a last-ditch effort to hold China together under his control, had himself proclaimed Emperor in 1916, but soon thereafter he passed away. The following year, China fragmented into territorial fiefdoms ruled by local warlords, with a nominal national regime located in Beijing. The United States maintained diplomatic relations with this Government, but U.S. citizens and companies in China often dealt directly with local leaders.
1919: Treaty of Versailles and May Fourth Incident
China had joined the Allies in World War I, partly at U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s urging, and hoped that in return it would regain control over the former German concessions that Japan had seized. However, this hope was not fulfilled by the Treaty of Versailles, due mostly to secret agreements between Japan, Britain, and France to give those territories to Japan. When word of this reached China, on May 4 students gathered for a demonstration at the Tiananmen (Gate of Heavenly Peace) in Beijing, and then stormed the house of a pro-Japanese minister, to express their discontent. This launched the May Fourth Movement, a mostly urban movement that combined cultural and educational reform with rising nationalism and a new energy for thorough political and social transformation. Although some felt betrayed by Wilson for not fulfilling his promises to promote self-determination, many Chinese looked to the United States for models of reform.
1921: Peking Union Medical College (PUMC) Opened
The Rockefeller Foundation began searching for philanthropic projects in China during the 1910s, and in 1915 it donated a large sum to found this institution. Conceived of as a joint U.S.-Chinese project, the PUMC trained nurses and doctors to serve as the core of a modern medical profession in China. Over time, its graduates did have a substantial impact upon medical practice throughout the country.
1921: Chinese Communist Party Founded
In July, a small group of Chinese leftists met in the French Concession in Shanghai to form the Chinese Communist Party. Within a couple of years, and largely at the urging of advisors from the Soviet Union, the CCP forged a united front with Sun’s Nationalist Party (Guomindang/Kuomintang).
1922: Washington Conference Agreements
The Washington Conferences of 1921-22 focused on settling a number of issues relating to East Asia. Under U.S. leadership, the resulting Four, Five, and Nine Power Treaties returned the now Japanese-held areas in Shandong to Chinese sovereignty, and also set limits on the relative sizes of naval forces in East Asia.
1922: Anti-missionary Movement
The Chinese nationalism sparked by the May Fourth Movement spilled over into a wave of intense anti-missionary activity, much of it directed against U.S. citizens. This in turn gave rise to the Rights Recovery Movement to bring all missionary schools under Chinese control, which was achieved by 1927.
1924: Immigration Act Extended Exclusion
Also known as the National Origins Act, this legislation placed stringent quotas on new immigrants based upon their country of origin. In addition, it enacted a total prohibition on new arrivals from China and Japan, with a few exceptions, such as students, certain professionals, and others who did not intend to immigrate.
1925: United States Established China Foundation
The United States decided to remit all of China’s remaining payments on the Boxer Indemnity, and redirected those funds to establish the China Foundation, an organization devoted to promoting science education and improving libraries in China.
1925: May 30th Incident
Chinese nationalists launched a nationwide anti-foreign movement when Chinese laborers demonstrating against cruel treatment at a Japanese factory were killed by British troops on this day. U.S. citizens were relatively unaffected by these developments in the short term.
1925: Death of Sun Zhongshan (Sun Yat-sen)
Sun, the man known as the “National Father,” died in Beijing. Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) emerged as Sun’s successor to lead the Nationalist Party, and the next year he launched the Northern Expedition to reunite almost all of China from the party’s base in Guangzhou. Jiang finally succeeded in 1928, when Nationalist forces claimed Beijing.
1927: Nationalist Capital Established
After bringing most of southern China under their military control, the Nationalists established their capital in Nanjing. U.S. citizens and other foreigners were killed as the Nationalists took over Nanjing, but this proved to be an isolated incident that did not stand in the way of the United States establishing ties with the new regime.
1927: End of the United Front
Soon after establishing himself in Nanjing, Jiang Jieshi launched a major purge of Communists in Shanghai. This shattered the uneasy alliance between Nationalists and Communists, and sent the Communists into hiding in the countryside. The two parties remained in a state of civil war for most of the next 20 years.
1928: United States Formally Recognized Nationalist Government
The United States became the first nation to recognize the new regime as the legitimate Government of China when Secretary of State Frank Kellogg signed an agreement granting China full tariff autonomy. Kellogg also expressed a willingness to discuss abandoning extraterritoriality, but did not follow through on that goal.
1931: Manchurian Incident
Rogue elements in the Japanese Army staged an explosion on a rail line outside the city of Shenyang (Mukden), which they then used as a pretext for a military takeover of all of Manchuria. The following year, the Japanese installed the last Qing Emperor, Puyi, as ruler of the puppet state of Manzhouguo (Manchukuo). The League of Nations sent the Lytton Commission, which included a U.S. delegate in an unofficial capacity, to investigate the Incident. It concluded that Japan was at fault and called for the restoration of Manchuria to Chinese political control. As a result, Japan left the League of Nations in 1933. The United States separately criticized the takeover of Manchuria and never recognized the Government of Manzhouguo.
1933: China Requested American Aid in Rural Reconstruction
Jiang Jieshi, who wanted to institute rural reforms in areas formerly held by the Communists in order to maintain control over them, asked a representative of one of the American missionary organizations to lead a rural reconstruction effort in one of these regions in Jiangxi Province. This was the Chinese Government’s first official rural development program, and like other private efforts, it relied to a large extent on American planning, funding, and/or implementation.
1934: The Long March
After a prolonged period of fighting and encirclement around their base camp in the mountains of southern Jiangxi Province, a group of Communists broke through the Nationalist lines and commenced a search for a new base of operations. After wandering for more than a year, they ended up in Yan’an, in Shaanxi Province in north central China, where they remained for the next decade. Along the way Mao Zedong solidified his predominance over the party and army. Less than 10,000 of the original 130,000 who set off made it to Yan’an.
1936: The Second United Front Formed
A Nationalist general named Zhang Xueliang kidnapped Jiang Jieshi while he was visiting the city of Xi’an and forced him to negotiate a new united front with the Communists, so that they could focus their collective efforts against the Japanese. The united front held for several years, but it was not strictly observed by either side.
1937: Second Sino-Japanese War
In July, Chinese and Japanese forces clashed at the Marco Polo Bridge outside of Beijing, and the conflict quickly escalated as simmering tensions turned into full-scale war. The Japanese Army swept down from Manchuria and along the coast to Shanghai, where Chinese troops put up a spirited defense before finally giving way. The Japanese military then pushed inland, with their assault reaching a destructive peak in the Rape of Nanjing in November. Just before the Japanese overran the capital, the Nationalist Government fled inland to the city of Chongqing, where it remained for the duration of the war. Some U.S. citizens became involved in an international effort to protect tens of thousands of Chinese in the International Settlement in Nanjing and to publicize Japanese actions there.
1938: United States Extended Credits to Nationalists
After the outbreak of war in China, U.S. popular and governmental support for China increased dramatically. Although not yet ready to go to war, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took the advice of his Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, and then Adviser on Political Relations at the Department of State Stanley Hornbeck and extended a $25 million credit to the Nationalist regime so that it could purchase necessary supplies. In 1940, President Roosevelt expanded the credit to $100 million.
1938: Indusco Founded
To help the Chinese produce materials for their fight against Japan, U.S. authors and journalists Helen Foster Snow and Edgar Snow joined with a few other foreigners to create Industrial Cooperatives (Indusco)—small factories that could be established anywhere with very little money. Both Nationalists and Communists picked up on this idea, and cooperatives were set up throughout Chinese held territory. In addition to making an important contribution to China’s early war effort, the Chinese name of the project, with its spirit of concerted and collective action, provided a new word for the English language: gung ho.
1941: Aid to China Expanded
In May, the United States extended the Lend-Lease program to China, so that it could obtain war supplies, and during the summer it enacted an embargo against Japan to pressure it to halt its offensive in China and Southeast Asia. General Claire Lee Chennault, who had been serving as an advisor to Jiang Jieshi since 1937, organized the American Volunteer Group (“Flying Tigers”) and, with permission from President Roosevelt, brought a squadron of planes and pilots to defend China from Japan’s aerial attacks. After Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor, the United States formally entered into the war on China’s side.
1942: United States and China Formed Wartime Alliance
President Roosevelt sent General Joseph Stilwell to Chongqing as the chief U.S. military advisor to the Chinese Government and commander of U.S. forces in China. He and Jiang Jieshi had a tense relationship, in which the two disagreed over strategy, troop deployments, and expenditures. Material aid from the United States was limited by the difficulty of getting supplies to Chongqing, particularly after Japan seized control of Burma from Britain in May and cut the Burma Road that had been China’s lifeline. Thereafter, U.S. pilots flew supplies in over “the Hump” from India.
1943: Madame Jiang Jieshi Visited United States
Jiang’s wife, Song Meiling, a graduate of Wellesley College, came to the United States to rally greater support for China’s war effort. She spoke to Congress and generally made a good impression on the U.S. public, and succeeded in gaining more aid. In a show of solidarity, the United States pushed to have China declared a major power in any postwar settlement, and also promised that China would gain sovereignty over all areas seized by Japan, especially Manchuria and Taiwan.
1943: The End of Extraterritoriality and Exclusion
The two nations signed a treaty formally ending 100 years of extraterritoriality in China, bringing an end to the legal privileges long held by foreigners. Simultaneously, the United States passed legislation allowing Chinese immigration for the first time in 60 years, although it was under a very low quota.
1944: The Dixie Mission
With approval from Jiang Jieshi, the United States Army Observation Group went to the Communist base camp at Yan’an to explore the possibility of U.S. aid to Communist forces. The group, which maintained a presence there from July 1944 to March 1947, was on the whole favorably impressed with the discipline and organization of the Communists, and sought to provide direct assistance. However, Jiang objected to this, as did U.S. Special Envoy Patrick Hurley, who came to China that year and also visited Yan’an, and General Albert Wedemeyer, who replaced General Stilwell as the senior U.S. military officer in China.
1944: Vice President Visited Chongqing
Vice President Henry Wallace paid a visit to China’s wartime capital, making him the highest-ranking U.S. official to set foot on Chinese soil up until that time.
1945: Japan Surrendered, United States Attempted to Negotiate China’s Civil War
With the common Japanese enemy gone, Nationalists and Communists let their long-simmering disputes erupt again. In December, President Harry S. Truman sent General George Marshall as a Special Envoy to negotiate an agreement between the two sides on a cease-fire and a national unity government. These agreements quickly collapsed, and the Marshall Mission ultimately failed as full-scale civil war began in early 1946.
1947: Wedemeyer Mission to China
President Truman sent General Wedemeyer back to China on a special mission to assess the current conditions in China’s civil war. Wedemeyer returned with recommendations for large-scale aid to the Nationalists. Although a strong U.S> “China lobby” supported this position, it went against the views of others in the Truman administration, who saw the Nationalists as a lost cause.
1948: China Aid Act Passed
The U.S. Government extended additional aid to Jiang Jieshi’s regime, although President Truman signed it largely to gain support for the Marshall Plan aid to Europe. In fact, the United States refrained from getting deeply involved in the conflict. By the end of the year, the Nationalists were suffering from a series of defeats and a Communist victory seemed more and more likely.
1949: People’s Republic of China (PRC) Founded
After driving the Nationalists from the Mainland, Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the PRC on October 1. Before this, U.S. Ambassador John Leighton Stuart met with Communist leaders to discuss U.S. recognition of the PRC, but those talks failed when Mao announced his intention to lean towards the side of the Soviet Union. The Department of State issued the China White Paper, which stated that the United States had stayed out of the Chinese civil war because it neither should nor could have influenced the outcome. The Truman administration was prepared to abandon the Nationalists, allow the Communists to take over Taiwan, and perhaps even grant recognition to PRC.
1950: Korean War
Soon after the start of the Korean War, General Douglas MacArthur led U.S. forces across the 38th Parallel and drove north towards China, which brought China into the conflict and precipitated the first military clash between U.S. and Chinese forces since the Boxer Uprising of 1900. With the United States and China engaged in combat, anti-American sentiment rose in China and almost all remaining U.S. citizens began to pull out. The Truman administration changed its earlier China policy and sent the Seventh Fleet into the Taiwan Straits to prevent the PRC from launching an attack to reclaim Taiwan. With McCarthyism on the rise in the United States, a debate began over who had “lost China,” and many intellectuals, journalists, and others with connections to China came under suspicion and even attack.
1951: General MacArthur Recalled
After General MacArthur called for authorization to launch an assault deep into Chinese territory, President Truman recalled him from command in Korea. Thereafter, the Korean conflict stalemated at roughly the pre-war boundary, although it was not until 1953 that the various parties signed an armistice agreement.
1954: First Taiwan Strait Crisis
PRC forces massed along the coast opposite Taiwan, threatening Nationalist-held islands just offshore. The United States intervened to support the Nationalists by discouraging the Communists from invading, and thereafter it continued to aid Jiang Jieshi’s government while also pushing it to make various social and economic reforms in Taiwan.
1954: The Geneva Conference
Delegates from around the world met in Geneva to resolve the Korean War and the Indochina War between France and Vietnam. PRC delegate Premier Zhou Enlai attempted to shake hands with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who refused to acknowledge Zhou.
1954: Ambassadorial Talks Began
In spite of Dulles’s snub of Zhou, the U.S. and PRC Ambassadors in Geneva began a long-standing tradition of holding occasional, highly formalized talks. The talks shifted location to Warsaw in 1958. In addition to the peace talks in Korea, these were the only direct official connections between the United States and China in the 1950s and 60s.
1955: Formosa Resolution Passed
The U.S. Government confirmed its commitment to defend Taiwan by enacting this Resolution.
1956: Beginnings of the Sino-Soviet Split
Although Mao had guided China into the Soviet camp, the PRC and USSR had always had tense relations. Their differences became more pronounced when Khrushchev denounced Stalin in his Secret Speech, and Mao responded with a condemnation of Khrushchev. From this point on, the split gradually widened through the end of the decade.
1957: U.S. Students Visited PRC
In August, a group of 41 U.S. students who had been participating in the 6th World Festival of Youth and Students decided to journey to the People’s Republic of China. Most of the group stayed into October, touring Beijing and other cities in the country. This trip was made against the express wishes of the U.S. Government, which seized their passports upon their return to the United States.
1958: The Second Taiwan Strait Crisis
The PRC shelled Nationalist outposts on Jinmen and Mazu Islands off the coast of Fujian Province, sparking a second crisis in which the United States again intervened by sending ships into the Taiwan Strait.
1958: The Great Leap Forward
Mao launched this mass campaign to thoroughly reform society and dramatically increase industrial output in a very short period of time, by organizing the countryside into massive communes that would produce both food and iron and steel. After one year of bumper crops, agricultural output in some areas plummeted, although reports continued to trumpet high productivity. Devastating famines ensued, and rural production of iron and steel in “backyard furnaces” did not meet the targets for industrial production, leading to the near collapse of the Chinese economy by 1962.
1960: Eisenhower Visited Taiwan
President Dwight Eisenhower became the first U.S. head of state to pay an official visit to a Chinese Government when he met with Jiang Jieshi in Taiwan in June.
1960-61: Completion of the Sino-Soviet Split
The tensions that emerged between the PRC and the Soviet Union in the 1950s became more and more apparent, and the split seemed complete when the USSR recalled its last scientific and technical advisors from the PRC and cut off all assistance.
1963: Kennedy Administration Considered Opening Ties with PRC
Amidst a reevaluation of China policy, Assistant Secretary of State Roger Hilsman hinted in a public speech that the United States wished to improve relations with the PRC, but no action was taken.
1964: The Vietnam War
Following a decade of gradually increasing aid to South Vietnam, the U.S. Government decided to escalate its involvement in Vietnam in the wake of the Tonkin Gulf Incident. The large and growing U.S. presence in Vietnam posed a potential threat to the PRC, which began to send more military and technical assistance to the North Vietnamese. At the same time, Chinese engaged in mass demonstrations accusing the United States of imperialist actions.
1964: PRC Exploded Nuclear Weapon
The PRC successfully tested its first atomic bomb and emerged as a nuclear power in its own right.
1965: Immigration and Naturalization Act Passed
By passing this act, the United States put an end to the long-standing system of quotas based upon national origin, and opened the doors to more migrants from Asia. Chinese immigration from Taiwan and Hong Kong in particular increased dramatically in the following years.
1965: United States Halted Aid to Taiwan
After 15 years of providing major economic assistance to the Nationalist regime on Taiwan, the U.S. Government halted this type of support in recognition of the growth and stability of Taiwan’s economy.
1966: The Cultural Revolution
With speeches to students gathered in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Mao launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, unleashing a decade of often destructive mass-mobilization. Bands of student-aged Red Guards were at the vanguard of the movement, which quickly descended into chaos. In 1967, a group of radicals took over and temporarily shut down the Foreign Ministry, forcing the PRC’s foreign relations to a halt for several months. By 1968, the PRC Government had reined in the worst excesses, and it controlled the urban chaos by sending urban youths to the countryside for re-education.
1968: Tet Offensive
In the wake of the stunning Tet Offensive in Vietnam in early 1968, the anti-war movement in the United States gained strength and President Lyndon Johnson began to seriously explore possibilities for withdrawing from Vietnam. In the fall, Richard Nixon was elected President partly on the strength of his claim that he would get the United States out of Vietnam.
1969: Conflict on the China-Soviet Border
A long-standing dispute over the eastern border between the PRC and USSR broke into localized armed conflict, heightening tensions between the two. This conflict bolstered the Nixon Administration in its intention to improve relations with the PRC in order to isolate and pressure the Soviet Union.
1969: Nixon Doctrine Announced
President Richard Nixon proclaimed his intentions to reduce U.S. military commitments in Asia and to reconsider the current policy of containment for the PRC. These objectives formed the basis of the Nixon Doctrine. As an example of reducing military commitments, the U.S. Navy ceased making regular patrols of the Taiwan Strait.
1970: Ambassadorial Talks Restarted
After a hiatus of several years due mostly to the Cultural Revolution, the U.S. and Chinese Ambassadors began meeting again in Warsaw. However, the talks were soon suspended again after the United States bombed Cambodia.
1971: Ping-Pong Diplomacy
While at an international table tennis competition in Japan, a U.S. player ended up riding on the Chinese team bus. Shortly thereafter, the Chinese invited the U.S. team to visit Beijing, and the U.S. Government approved. In April, the U.S. team arrived in China, the first semi-official delegation of Americans there in two decades, and soon thereafter the United States eased trade and travel restrictions with China. The Chinese ping-pong team came to the United States in 1972.
1971: Kissinger’s Visits to China
After several rounds of backdoor diplomacy through go-betweens, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger made a secret trip to the PRC in July in order to meet with Zhou Enlai and other senior Chinese leaders to pave the way for a visit by President Nixon. He then made a second public trip in the fall to finalize arrangements. These trips marked the reopening of direct ties between Washington and Beijing, after more than 20 years of non-recognition.
1971: PRC Joined the United Nations
By a vote of the U.N. General Assembly, the Chinese seat in the United Nations was transferred from the Republic of China on Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China.
1972: Nixon’s Visit to China and the Shanghai Communiqué
On February 21, President Nixon arrived in Beijing, the first American head of state ever to set foot on the Chinese Mainland. Nixon, Kissinger, and others met with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, and at the end of the weeklong visit the two sides issued the Shanghai Communiqué. In this document the United States and China stated their positions on a number of issues, including joint opposition to the Soviet Union, the U.S. intention to withdraw its military from Taiwan, and U.S. support for a “peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves.” This began the process of full normalization of relations between the United States and the PRC.
1973: Liaison Offices Established
The United States and China established Liaison Offices in Beijing and Washington, which functioned as informal diplomatic posts during the years prior to normalization. However, for several years the United States maintained its Embassy in Taiwan.
1974: Changes in Leadership
In the United States President Nixon resigned from office in the wake of the Watergate scandal. In China, Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai both began to decline in health. Zhou rehabilitated Deng Xiaoping, who had been purged in 1966, to serve as his Deputy Premier and handle some aspects of relations with the United States. These leadership shifts delayed the normalization process.
1975: Ford’s Visit to China
President Gerald Ford visited China for further discussions with China’s leaders, including a very ill Mao Zedong. No progress was made on normalization.
1976: Deaths of Zhou and Mao
Zhou Enlai passed away in January, and without his support Deng Xiaoping was purged again. This meant that the two Chinese leaders with the most experience dealing with the United States were now off the scene, and the radicals opposed to relations with the United States had greater power. Mao then died in September. Soon after his death, the Gang of Four, who had been the architects of much of the Cultural Revolution and the main opponents of re-opening ties with the United States, were arrested.
1977: The Rise of Deng and Carter
Deng Xiaoping returned to power once again, and quickly emerged as China’s paramount leader. President Carter assumed office, and soon sent Secretary of State Cyrus Vance to China to re-start negotiations on normalization. This effort failed.
1978: Agreement Reached on Normalization
In order to complete the process of normalization, President Carter dispatched National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski to China to meet with Deng and other leaders. After months of negotiations, in December the two governments finally issued a joint communiqué that established full diplomatic relations. By this agreement, the United States recognized the PRC as the sole government of China and affirmed that Taiwan is a part of China. At the same time, the United States ended official relations and its defense treaty with the Nationalist regime on Taiwan. Formal embassies were established in Beijing and Washington the following year.
1979: Deng’s Visit to the United States
On January 1, the United States and the PRC commenced normal diplomatic relations and soon thereafter Deng Xiaoping visited the United States to meet with U.S. officials and tour some of the companies with which China had begun to make deals. Later that year, the two countries signed a trade agreement that enabled Chinese products to receive temporary most favored nation (MFN) tariff status.
1979: Taiwan Relations Act Signed
President Carter enacted the Taiwan Relations Act, which committed the United States to provide military and other support for Taiwan and provided guidelines for future trade and other relations.
1980: Deng Launched Economic Reform and Opening
In an effort to jumpstart China’s stagnant economy and improve the lives of its citizens, Deng Xiaoping embarked on a major process of economic reforms. One of the main aspects of this was opening the doors to foreign investment and business. Companies from the United States, Europe, and Japan began to flock to China to take advantage of the new opportunities. China also joined the IMF and World Bank.
1982: Third Communiqué Issued
After additional negotiations concerning coordinating positions regarding the Soviet Union and Taiwan, the United States and China released another joint communiqué by which the United States agreed to reduce its arms sales to Taiwan and China agreed to emphasize a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue. However, the Reagan Administration offered private assurances to Taiwan that it would continue to support the island and its government. The next year, Deng Xiaoping proposed the “one country, two systems” approach for reunification with both Hong Kong and Taiwan.
1984: Reagan’s Visit to China
President Ronald Reagan became the third U.S. President to visit the PRC. The following year, Chinese President Li Xiannian became China’s first formal head of state to visit the United States
1986: China Joined Multilateral Institutions
China joined the Asian Development Bank and applied for membership in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). The United States did not initially support China’s entry into the latter two organizations because of reservations about the degree of openness of China’s economy.
1988: Peace Corps to Enter China
The United States and China reached an agreement to allow the U.S. Peace Corps to begin sending volunteers to China. The first group arrived in China to teach English in 1992.
1989: Temporary Hiatus in U.S.-China Relations
In the aftermath of the Chinese military crackdown on demonstrations in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in the spring, the United States and other nations imposed economic sanctions on China, and many U.S. citizens evacuated the country. President George H.W. Bush maintained communications with senior Chinese leaders, and twice sent Brent Scowcroft and Lawrence Eagleburger on secret missions to Beijing to reassure Deng Xiaoping and the Chinese leadership that the United States would maintain ties. Tensions continued into the next year, with criticisms aired from both sides, although diplomatic ties were never severed and China remained open to foreign trade.
1991: China Joined NPT, APEC
The Chinese Government agreed to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and reached a compromise formula with Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) that allowed China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong to join as separate economies rather than separate states.
1992: Reopening U.S.-China Relations
The first high-level contacts in several years occurred when President George H.W. Bush and Chinese Premier Li Peng met on the sidelines of a U.N. conference. At the same time, President Bush maintained support for Taiwan by authorizing new arms sales and dispatching a Special Trade Representative to the island.
1993: Linkage of MFN to Human Rights
President Clinton tied the annual review of Most Favored Nation trading status to China’s record on human rights, a decision that was in keeping with popular opinion on China. When this status came up for renewal the next year, Clinton reversed this position and granted China MFN without requiring any changes regarding human rights.
1995: Taiwanese President Visited United States
After much debate, President Bill Clinton granted a visa to Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui so that he could enter the country as a private citizen to attend a reunion at his alma mater, Cornell University. This drew criticism from the PRC and added to rising tensions in the region.
1995: China Hosted International Women’s Conference
China played host to the U.N.’s Fourth World Conference on Women, and an associated conference of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), with First Lady Hilary Clinton in attendance. This was the largest and highest profile international event to be held in China to date.
1996: Third Taiwan Strait Crisis
With presidential elections looming in Taiwan, the PRC conducted military exercises and ballistic missile tests in the Taiwan Strait, prompting stern warnings from the United States. As tensions rose, the United States sent two carrier battle groups into the Strait, which may have helped calm the situation. Lee Teng-hui was re-elected President in Taiwan’s first ever direct presidential election.
1997: Jiang Zemin’s Visit to the United States
Chinese President Jiang Zemin came to the United States, the first state visit by a Chinese leader in over a decade. The trip suggested that U.S.-China relations were getting back on track.
1998: Clinton’s Visit to China
The year after Jiang Zemin came to the United States, President Bill Clinton paid a return trip to China for a summit meeting. During his visit, he stated that the United States held to a “three no’s policy” regarding Taiwan. By this he meant that the United States does not support Taiwan’s independence, “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan” policies, or Taiwan’s membership in international organizations where statehood is required.
1999: Bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade
During NATO airstrikes on Serbia, U.S. planes accidentally bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, killing three and wounding twenty. This sparked a wave of anti-U.S. demonstrations throughout China, with multiple attacks on U.S. diplomatic properties, in particular the embassy in Beijing. Tensions eased after an apology from President Bill Clinton and the visit of a special envoy to Beijing.
1999: China Sought Entry to WTO
Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji traveled to Washington to finalize China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, but even though he made several concessions he failed to reach an agreement with the U.S. negotiators over the conditions for entry. Late in the year, after further talks in Beijing, the two sides finally came to an agreement and China was able to join the WTO.
2000: Permanent Normal Trade Status Granted
The annual debate over China’s trading status within the United States was ended when President Clinton decided to grant China permanent Normal Trade Relations (NTR, formerly MFN).