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Speeches and Remarks

Macau-U.S. Relations--A Retrospective

--Joseph R. Donovan Jr
Consul General of the United States of America

For the University of Macau's
Distinguished Diplomatic & Consular Speakers' Series
Thursday, May 14, 2009
After Signing Ceremony of Renewal of the
UMac-USCG Letter of Understanding on
the American Corner at the UMac Library

Rector Zhao, distinguished guests, professors, and students: I am delighted to be here today to renew our Letter of Understanding and continue the operations of the American Corner at the University of Macau Library. Since 1991, the University of Macau has established links with more than 90 academic institutions around the world and we are proud to be a part of your programs. We are also proud that the American Corner has been the scene of so many great events over the last few years that have helped increase U.S.-Macau mutual understanding. We sincerely hope with this signing that the Corner will continue to serve as a forum for the exchange of ideas between the people of Macau and the people of the United States.

We can always get to know each other a little better. As I look around Macau today it's easy to see signs of the American presence in the Macau Special Administrative Region. The U.S. is the second largest investor in Macau. In fact, U.S. resort and gaming companies have invested close to US$ 8 billion over the past five years in Macau - far more than they have earned in profits. Approximately 2,000 Americans now work and study here. And in 2007, U.S. businessmen in Macau established their own American Chamber of Commerce here to promote the development of trade and commerce between Macau and the U.S.p American law enforcement agencies have established close working relationships with their Macau counterparts and we at the Consulate General spend more and more of our time in Macau strengthening our ties to the people of Macau and with the Government of the Macau SAR. We are proud of these contributions to Macau's economic prosperity and hope to make even greater contributions in the future.

But what is less apparent are the historical ties between the United States and Macau. While not long in terms of Macau's history, in fact, our ties date from the very beginnings of the American nation and touch on some of the most important and earliest American experiences in Asia. Just a few months after the Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolution in 1784, a three-masted, American sailing ship, newly named the Empress of China, with a crew of 34, set out from New York for Macau. The expedition was financed by a well-known American patriot, Robert Morris, a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Morris's objective was to directly purchase Chinese tea, much in demand in our young nation. The Empress arrived at Macau in August 1784 with a cargo of 30 tons of wild New England ginseng root which it traded at Chinese ports for tea, cotton cloth, silk, tableware and spice. The venture was a success, and soon led to a flourishing trade after the Empress returned to New York in May 1785.

The "tableware" in the Empress of China's return consignment quickly became a major component of cargoes headed from Macau to the United States in exchange for American ginseng. This Chinese porcelain was mainly blue and white ware made in Canton for export. While serving as U.S. Minister in Paris, Thomas Jefferson came to love Chinese porcelain. When he returned to the U.S., Jefferson ordered Chinese porcelain through a Boston merchant trading in Macau. It was delivered to Jefferson in New York where he was serving as the first U.S. Secretary of State. Jefferson used such China-ware at official dinners in the newly constructed White House when he served as the third U.S. President (1801-09).

A common design on the Chinese porcelain made for export to the U.S. was a Chinese version of the Great Seal of the United States: the eagle grasps an olive branch with one foot, but in the other it grasps wheat stalks instead of arrows. It is generally surrounded by traditional renderings of the four treasures of the Confucian scholar.

Since University Rector Zhao Wei comes to the University of Macau from many years at the Rensselaer Polytechnic University of New York, I must add this aside. One of the best examples of this Chinese export ware is a Punch Bowl made in China in 1801. On it, the Great Seal of the United States was adapted by replacing the stars and stripes on the eagle's shield with the initials KVR, for Kiliaen van Rensselaer (1763-1845) of Greenbush, New York. He was a lawyer and Federalist Party politician descended from a wealthy Dutch family who was elected to Congress in 1801 and served there for ten years. Typical of the wealthy Americans of his age, van Rensselaer insisted on having made-to-order Chinese ware imported through Macau on his formal table.

The American participation in the China trade soon diversified from ginseng to sea-otter pelts, which Yankees traded from Indigenous Americans in the American Northwest and Chinese officials loved to use in the borders of official robes and cloaks for warmth. The Boston ship Columbia brought the first otter pelts from the U.S. in 1787. Soon, sandalwood, harvested in the Sandwich Islands better known today as Hawaii, began to be placed on American ships replenishing their stocks mid-Pacific. It brought a high price in China and soon became a major trade linking Hawaii with Macau.

During this period before the trade was regularized by treaty in the mid-1800s, foreign merchants engaged in the China trade lived much of the year in Macau with their families. The Chinese government allowed foreign businessmen only to spend part of the year in Canton for the trading season; their wives had to remain in Macau year round, foreshadowing modern-day Macau's efforts to become a family-friendly, diversified resort destination. We are fortunate to have several diaries and collections of letters from the wives of some of the American businessman in Macau during this period. While their writings occasionally have the character of wide-eyed travelogues describing what appeared to these Americans to be the peculiarities of Chinese and Portuguese customs and life, they are also a treasure trove of details about life in late 18th and early 19th century Macau.

In one such diary, Rebecca Kinsman, the Quaker wife of a Salem merchant, who came to Macau with her husband in the mid-1840s wrote, "The city of Macao is larger and more pleasant than I anticipated. The scenery in the environs of the city is picturesque and romantic and affords many delightful rambles… On every hillside we find Chinese burying places…I cannot describe the strange feeling which came over me when I first saw one of these burying places--It seemed never to have occurred to me before that these people were subjected to same [pains and griefs as] ourselves… I no longer felt a stranger among them."

As you may know, U.S. Presidents have a tradition of sending out a Christmas card from the White House every year. Well, back in 1934 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sent out a Christmas card with the picture of a house in Macao on its cover. That's because one of the Yankee merchants mentioned in the diaries of Rebecca Kinsman and others was a New Yorker, Warren Delano, grandfather of U.S. President Roosevelt. In 1833, Delano sailed to China on board the ship Commerce bound for Macau. In January 1840, he became a partner in the house of Russell and Company, also of Canton and Macau. During the Sino-British Opium War, Delano remained in Canton and Macao, serving as Acting Consul for the United States. In 1843 he returned to the United States to marry. The couple returned to Macau and remained there until 1846, when they went back to New York. But the panic of 1857 caused Delano to suffer severe financial losses, so he returned to China in 1859 to rebuild his business. His family, which included the President's mother, Sara, joined him in Hong Kong in 1862 and they returned to New York in the late 1860s. As a result, President Roosevelt always had a warm spot in his heart for his family's history in this part of the world. The Macau house on the 1934 Christmas card was his family's former residence in Macau.

Then as now, business was not the only thing driving American engagement with Macau. In 1834, physician Dr. Peter Parker arrived in Macau, and then moved to Guangzhou as the first American medical missionary in China. After spending some time in Singapore studying Chinese, he returned to the Pearl River Delta and on November 4, 1835, established a small dispensary in the foreign quarter of Canton (Guangzhou). 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.

In 1843, Dr. Parker helped Caleb Cushing, who had been sent to China by the U.S. government as Minister Plenipotentiary to negotiate a treaty with the Qing Court. Cushing hoped to journey to Beijing to conduct these negotiations, but the Qing Court 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 his request to meet directly with the Emperor. Once he did so, the Qing negotiator, Guangxi Governor General Qiying, agreed to come to Macau and the two successfully negotiated an agreement. The two countries signed a treaty in 1844 at Wangxia in Macau at the Kun Iam Temple on a desk which still exists there today. This agreement marked the beginning of official diplomatic relations between the United States and China. And it took place in Macau.

Perhaps the best place to explore the roots of U.S. ties to Macau is the Old Protestant Cemetery next to the Morrison Chapel. The Cemetery is the final resting spot of three American diplomats and 19 American service members. Among those is Lt. Joseph Harod Adams, the grandson of America's second President John Adams. Lt. Adams died in Macau while accompanying Commodore Matthew Perry on his historic mission to Japan. When Commodore Perry stopped in Macau on his way to Japan, the German artist Wilhelm Heine who was accompanying him, painted scenes of life in Macau, some of which, as prints, I have displayed at the Consul General's Residence in Hong Kong. Other members of Perry's crews on the Powhatan and the Susquehanna are also buried at the cemetery.

On May 1 of this year, at a ceremony presided over by Secretary Clinton and which I attended at the U.S. State Department in Washington, two American diplomats buried at the Old Protestant Cemetery were added to the wall of American diplomats who have died in the service of their country. Thomas Waldron, America's first consul to Hong Kong who died in Macau in 1843 is now on that wall, as is Special Diplomatic Agent Edmund Roberts who had been tasked by President Andrew Jackson with concluding treaties with Siam and Cochin China. Edmonds died in Macau in 1836.

The second half of the 19th century also saw an increased movement of Chinese citizens to the U.S. Manual laborers from South China, many traveling through Macau, took the arduous journey to the U.S. during this period. It was the hard toil and sweat of these Chinese workers that built the first transcontinental railroad in the U.S. Over 100,000 such manual laborers came to the U.S. in the years 1850-70 and they formed the roots of today's Chinese-American community.

Many of you know people who have gone to the U.S. to study. But do you know that the very first Chinese citizen who earned a college degree in the United States was from Macau? Yung Wing (Rong Hong, 容閎) was born in 1828, he was tutored as a boy by a missionary's wife at a Macau primary school, and later enrolled in Macau's Morrison School. In 1854, Yung graduated from Yale College, now Yale University, with a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Yung's story doesn't end there. In 1872, the first official delegation of Chinese students came to United States under the leadership and guidance of Yung Wing. He had formed the Chinese Education Mission in 1870 with approval and support from the Imperial Qing government. The program sought to train Chinese students to work as diplomats and technical advisors to China. The first cohort was a group of 30 teenage boys desiring a comprehensive American education and the experience of living with American families. About 120 students participated in Yung Wing's program before the Qing government ended the program in 1881.

My point is that there is more to U.S.-Macau relations than meets the casual eye. Of course, our relationship today is forward looking as American entrepreneurs seek to be good corporate citizens in Macau and to help Macau succeed in its vision to become a global center for tourism, exhibitions and gaming. We at the Consulate General are committed to working with our counterparts in the Macau government to help combat transnational crime and international terrorism. We are committed to working with educational institutions such as the University of Macau to increase exchanges and mutual understanding. But it is important to remember that our ties are grounded in a rich tradition. A tradition that dates back to the earliest years of U.S. history. A tradition which has enriched the lives of people from Macau and the United States alike.

It was Macau that first served as a window, and a gateway, into China for America. When the Empress of China docked in Macau in 1784, Major Samuel Shaw in his capacity as U.S. Consul General to China reported his first meetings with Chinese official to Washington:

The Chinese themselves were very indulgent toward us, though ours being the first American ship that ever visited China, it was some time before they fully comprehended the distinction between Englishmen and us. They styled us "the new people" and when by the map we conveyed to them an idea of the extent of our country, with its present and increasing population, they were very highly pleased at the prospect of so considerable a market for (their products).

From the very beginning, our relationship with Macau has been about mutual benefit, cooperation and prosperity. That's what the American engagement in Macau is all about. That's what our mutual exchanges of ideas and people, including the American Corner, is all about. May it so continue in the years ahead.