Taken together, these books offer a critical history of transpacific relations in their accounts of how East Asia shaped American development from the mid-nineteenth century through the late twentieth. Each book centers on a different aspect of transpacific entanglement—political economy, literary aesthetic, consumption culture—while exposing relations as simultaneously material and cultural. Ultimately, these books imply that crossing the Pacific entails imperialism, if in a new form or “only” culturally, that is, through Orientalism, the representation of the other in one’s terms, in ways that facilitate its colonization.

Kendall A. Johnson’s The New Middle Kingdom explores the antebellum United States’ romance with China, which rested on the “union of the Oldest Empire and the Youngest Republic” to posit the United States as the new Middle Kingdom (4). Against the neglect of China in early American history, Johnson foregrounds the US trade with China,...

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