An American in Peking

Houckgeest Embassy Fisherman

In the last quarter of the eighteenth century all the major European commercial powers were negotiating for favoured access to China. The embassy sent by the Dutch East India Company in 1794 to congratulate the emperor of China on his 60th year of government was very similar to Macartney’s embassy of the same period. However, it is remarkable in at least one respect - it included Andreas Everardus van Braam Houckgeest (1739-1801), the first American to visit China.

Inspired by the American Revolution, in 1784 Van Braam had given up his Dutch nationality to become an American citizen. His book about the mission begins with a dedication to George Washington. It was first published in Philadelphia in 1798 and later reprinted in London. The Roderic Bowen Library and Archives has the scarce Philadelphia edition.

The original manuscript was written in Dutch, and translated into French and edited by Moreau de Saint-Méry, an emigré bookseller based for a few years in Philadephia before being recalled to France by Napoleon. The image reproduced above shows a fast-food vendor preparing food.