It is symbolic that the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit took place in San Francisco, a place of significance in the history of US-China relations and both nations’ narratives (‘Planet Earth is big enough for two’: Biden and Xi meet for first time in a year, 15 November). From 1848, San Francisco became the first Chinatown, the de facto capital of the Chinese in America. This was the time of the conquest of the west, when, just annexed from Mexico, California became a symbol of the American dream, helped by the gold rush and the transcontinental railroad, constructed with Chinese labour. That dream was once shared and built by white settlers and Chinese migrants together, until the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 would hinder dialogue between America and China for almost a century.
Many Americans worried California would become a Chinese colony, the so-called “yellow peril”, while the Chinese were struggling at home with foreign imperialism. In 1907, Kang Youwei, a famous Chinese philosopher and reformer, exiled in America, wrote: “There is no yellow peril. There is no white peril … The great question that is presented to civilised nations today is not whether their unimportant differences will lead them to clash, but rather whether their inherent similarities and oneness will inspire them to unite in the great global work that needs to be done.”
Despite their differences and mistakes, the American and Chinese nations share a sense of history, an idea that they have contributed to human advancement and should continue doing so in the future. Economic cooperation has created unprecedented wealth and promoted peace in the Apec region. It is hoped the US and Chinese governments will continue to find common ground, this time for humanity’s sake.
Author, America’s Lost Chinese