Mei Lanfang’s Tour of America: A Great Moment in China-US Relations

By Philip Valenti 

             “He is appreciated, not because he is ‘really like an American,’ but because he is truly Chinese.  He has even caused us to question our own dramatic forms and our manners.  And he has led many of us to respect the Chinese and their civilization in a way no amount of preaching has ever done.”  

                        -Edward C. Carter, “Mei Lan-Fang in America,” Pacific Affairs, September 1930.

            The histories of China and America have been intertwined since well before the American Revolution of 1776.  The great American Founding Father Benjamin Franklin looked to China rather than Europe to be the model for the new United States, while the ideas of Confucius influenced the thought of many American revolutionary leaders.   At the same time, both China and America struggled continuously to free themselves from the stranglehold of the British Empire, as symbolized by Americans dumping British tea into Boston Harbor in 1775, and Chinese dumping British opium into the sea in 1839. 

            When European imperialist powers, with the connivance of some Americans, sought to carve up and colonize China in the mid-19th century, the America of Abraham Lincoln helped thwart their schemes, negotiating a fair and equal treaty, and inviting Chinese workers and students to travel freely to the United States.  When anti-Chinese sentiment rose in America, the Chinese found a friend and champion in the great General and President Ulysses S. Grant, who traveled to China on a mission of friendship in 1879.   Meanwhile, Chinese intellectuals educated at American universities like Yale, Columbia and MIT played a key role in the development of modern China in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, founding new Chinese universities, railroads, and industries.  And when the imperialist powers forced China to pay massive war reparations in 1901, the US government accepted the bold plan presented by the Chinese Foreign Minister and Ambassador, both of whom had been students in the United States, to use part of the unjust indemnity to establish Tsinghua College and educate more Chinese youth in America.

            Then, when the United States shamefully capitulated to Japanese demands for Shandong Province at the Paris Peace conference in 1919, it was a courageous American Minister to China, Paul Reinsch, who resigned in protest, and, in the presence of the President of China Xu Shichang, made the revolutionary proposal to send the greatest Chinese actor and artist Mei Lanfang on a tour of America.

            Never had the United States and China come closer together than during those six months of 1930, when Mei Lanfang performed Beijing Opera before thousands of Americans in theaters from coast to coast, and personally met many more thousands in receptions, banquets, and other meetings.  Those Americans fell in love with Mei’s art, and thus came to better understand and respect China.  “The chief impression is one of grace and beauty, stateliness and sobriety, of unalloyed imagination, and of living antiquity,” wrote the legendary New York Times theater critic Brooks Atkinson about Mei’s first New York performance, adding significantly, “it is not difficult to believe that it reflects something of the soul of the Chinese nation.”   Atkinson later played a key role in mobilizing public support for the US-China alliance in the war against Japan as the New York Times correspondent in China from 1942 to 1944.

            Mei Lanfang’s impact on America continued beyond his triumphal 1930 tour.  After his important visit to Moscow in 1935, Mei continued on to western Europe, but was unsuccessful in attempts to arrange performances in Berlin, Paris or London.  Yet in London, he was sought out by a great American artist, the African-American singer and actor Paul Robeson, who became passionately interested in Chinese history and culture.  It was Robeson who helped mobilize American support for China in World War II by, among other things, performing and recording the great Chinese battle song, “March of the Volunteers”  in Mandarin and English.  The future National Anthem of China became a popular song in America in the 1940s, thanks to Paul Robeson, and the enduring influence of Mei Lanfang.

            Paul Robeson with Chinese opera singer Mei Lanfang in London, 1930s. Robeson’s 1941 rendition of the Chinese national anthem mobilized American support for the Chinese struggle against Japanese aggression.

The history of the China-US relationship, leading up to and beyond Mei’s 1930 tour, is so rich and intricate, that a brief survey like that presented here cannot claim to be complete.  Yet even such a summary should be sufficient to impress us with the depth of the relationship, and inspire us to renew and strengthen it today.

“America might, in time, become as populous as China”

            On January 15, 1767, Benjamin Franklin’s newspaper The Pennsylvania Gazette, announced that a new play called “The Orphan of China” would open the next night in the Southwark Theatre in Philadelphia.  The play was a great success, as it was performed again in February, then premiered in New York City in 1768, and returned to Philadelphia in 1770.  It was revived several times between 1779 and 1791, with the last known performance in New York in 1842. [1]

            Americans of that period, in the midst of a revolution against the British Empire, would have felt the greatest sympathy and support for the Chinese heroes of this play, which depicted a successful revolt of the Chinese nation against tyrannical Mongol occupiers.   Even more, Americans would be educated in the deepest values of Chinese culture, as the play was based on the classic Chinese drama The Orphan of Zhao, which represented a powerful and profound expression of Confucian morality. 

            Benjamin Franklin knew this play from his years in London, where it was first performed in 1759, so it is likely that he personally arranged to bring it to Philadelphia, both to educate Americans about China, and to help inspire them to follow the Chinese example in their ongoing revolt against the British. [2] 

            Like many American Founding Fathers, including James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams, Franklin studied and admired Confucian philosophy. [3]  As early as 1733, Franklin’s mentor James Logan had acquired one of the first European publications of Confucius’ philosophy for his personal library, the greatest of colonial America.  Franklin’s studies led him to conclude that America should model itself directly on China, not Europe, and that, by doing so, America could become a great independent nation.  The Confucian view of government as the servant of the people made China a natural ally of republican America, Franklin reasoned, as opposed to the oligarchical and imperialistic powers of Europe.

            So, eight years before the 1776 Declaration of Independence from Britain, Franklin’s American Society for Promoting Useful Knowledge issued a lengthy statement showing how America resembles China “in Soil, Climate, Temperature of the Air, Winds, Weather, and many natural Productions,” pointing out that “Philadelphia lies on the 40th Degree of North Latitude, the very same as Pekin in China,” and concluding:

            “Thus by introducing the Produce of those Countries, which lie on the East Side of the Old World, and particularly those of China, this Country may be improved beyond what heretofore might have been expected.  And could we be so fortunate as to introduce the Industry of the Chinese, their Arts of Living and Improvements in Husbandry, as well as their native Plants, America might, in Time, become as populous as China, which is allowed to contain more Inhabitants than any other Country of the same Extent, in the World.” [4]

American System versus British System

            Although the United States won its independence from Britain, both America and China became increasingly entangled in the global economic spider web of the British Empire in the early and mid- 19th century.  In this period, the British reversed their trade deficit with China through the massive smuggling of opium.  After the conquest of India, they converted farmland from food crops to opium poppy, a policy contributing to repeated famines there.  They further drained the wealth of India by suppressing domestic cloth production, replacing it with imports of cheap textiles from England manufactured by exploited labor in English factories.  The cotton for these English textiles came from enslaved black African labor in the south of the United States.

            Many Americans became wealthy and corrupted by participating in this evil Empire, both the slave owners of the South, and also many merchants of the North who carried slaves from Africa and opium to China.  Opposed to this pro-British faction were those Americans who remained loyal to the founding principles of the United States, and who advocated what they called the American System of economics based on the General Welfare of the people, including government promotion of manufacturing, infrastructure and national banking.  This group also supported the development of other sovereign nations as allies and equal partners of the United States.

            Among the  purest expressions of the true American leader were Abraham Lincoln, who was elected President in 1860, and his chief economic adviser Henry C. Carey of Philadelphia.  Carey became internationally famous as the main opponent of British Empire economics with his 1876 pamphlet, “Commerce, Christianity and Civilization Versus British Free Trade: Letters in Reply to the London Times,” which supported Chinese resistance to the opium trade and condemned British criminal and barbaric policies towards China.  Carey was also key in formulating the 1860 Republican Party platform for Lincoln, which, while opposing slavery and upholding American System economic policies, included two planks with great import for China-US relations:

14.That the Republican Party is opposed to any change in our naturalization laws or any state legislation by which the rights of citizens hitherto accorded to immigrants from foreign lands shall be abridged or impaired; and in favor of giving a full and efficient protection to the rights of all classes of citizens, whether native or naturalized, both at home and abroad….

16. That a railroad to the Pacific Ocean is imperatively demanded by the interests of the whole country; that the federal government ought to render immediate and efficient aid in its construction….           

             Soon after Lincoln’s election, the Confederacy of the Southern slave owners launched their violent rebellion against the US government.  Construction of the first Transcontinental Railroad began in 1863, in the midst of this Civil War, and was completed in only 6 years, a feat that would have been impossible without the skill and hard work of thousands of Chinese laborers. With their expertise and knowledge of explosives, plus pure determination, the Chinese braved massive snowstorms and extreme conditions to blast tunnels through the solid granite rock of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  The new railroad cut transportation time from the US east to west coasts from months to days, transforming the United States into a true Pacific Ocean power, ready to engage in close economic and political relations with China and Asia as a whole.

            Determined to establish a new standard of foreign relations to China, Lincoln appointed former Massachusetts Republican congressman Anson Burlingame in 1861 as US Minister to the Qing Empire.  Burlingame brought the growing power of the United States to bear in his diplomacy with the European imperialist powers, getting them to agree to a new Cooperative Policy with China.  As Burlingame expressed it, the “policy substituted for the old doctrine of violence one of fair diplomatic action;…  That policy was … an agreement upon the part of the representatives of the Western powers that they would not interfere in the internal affairs of China; would give to the treaties a fair and Christian construction; that they would abandon the so-called concessions doctrine, and that they never would menace the territorial integrity of China.” [5]   China, in turn, showed herself to be a true friend of Lincoln’s America, by closing her ports to warships of the Confederacy, while Britain and France were actively sympathetic to the Confederate cause.

            The Lincoln administration also took action against the so-called “coolie trade,” whereby poor Chinese were kidnapped or duped and forcibly transported by the thousands mainly to Cuba and Peru to work as virtual slave labor.  While initiated by the British, American merchants became heavily involved in this murderous human trafficking, which threatened to destroy the nation’s reputation in Asia.   A bill enacted by Congress and signed by Lincoln in February 1862 outlawed any involvement by American citizens or American ships in the “coolie trade,” and clearly distinguished that trade from voluntary immigration of Chinese to the US: “That nothing in this act hereinbefore contained shall be deemed or construed to apply to or affect any free and voluntary emigration of any Chinese subject, or to any vessel carrying such person as passenger on board the same.” [6]

The first Chinese Embassy to the United States

            After Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, Burlingame remained as American Minister to China until his retirement in 1867, at which point the Chinese government asked him to help lead its first diplomatic mission to the West.  Thus, Anson Burlingame entered the service of China, joining two Chinese officials, Zhigang and Sun Jiagu, as the leaders of China’s first embassy accredited to the United States and European nations.

            Arriving in Washington, DC in the Spring of 1868, the Chinese delegation was greeted with many honors, including a dinner hosted by the President of the United States, many personal meetings with the Secretary of State and other high officials, and receptions by both Houses of Congress.  General Ulysses S. Grant, who led the armies of the North to victory in the Civil War, received the Chinese embassy at his home.  Grant would be elected the 18th President of the United States later that year, and prove to be a strong friend of the Chinese people.

           “Presentation of Hon. Anson Burlingame and the attaches of the Chinese embassy to the President Andrew Johnson at the Executive Mansion, Washington, DC, June 5th” (1868 image, courtesy of N.Y. Public Library Digital Gallery)

On June 23, 1868, the Governor of New York State and the Mayor of New York City were among dozens of political leaders, military officers, businessmen and journalists who welcomed Burlingame and his Chinese associates at a grand banquet in Manhattan.   In a hall adorned with Chinese and American flags, Burlingame gave a powerful speech calling for fair relations with China and respect for her national sovereignty.  “I desire that the autonomy of China may be preserved,” he declared.  “I desire that her independence may be secured.  I desire that she may have equality, that she may dispense equal privileges to all the nations.” 

            Clearly referring to the European imperialist powers, as well as those Americans, particularly in California, who would prohibit Chinese immigration, Burlingame denounced  “men of that tyrannical school who say that China is not fit to sit at the Council Board of the nations, who call her people barbarians, and attack them on all occasions with a bitter and unrelenting spirit.  These things I utterly deny.  I say, on the contrary, that that is a great, a noble people. (Cheers)”  He pointed out that the American ideal of government of the people had already been enunciated over 2000 years ago by Confucius and Mencius.

            He went on to speak prophetically of the global prosperity that would result from “the enormous trade that will take place with China when she gets into full fellowship with the rest of the world. (Applause)  Let her alone; let her have her independence; let her develop herself in her own time, and in her own way.  She has no hostility to you.  Let her do this, and she will initiate a movement which will be felt in every workshop of the civilized world.”  [7]

            On July 28, 1868, China and the United States signed an historic new treaty, known in America as the Burlingame Treaty, establishing the international equality and sovereignty of China and protecting Chinese living in the United States, including the possibility of citizenship and the right to vote.   The treaty also granted reciprocal rights of free immigration and travel for Chinese to the US, and Americans to China.   Another momentous provision granted reciprocal rights of education for Chinese at American schools, and Americans in China.

            Burlingame hoped that this treaty would provide the model for relations of China to all nations, but that was not to be, as he died in 1870 in St. Petersburg, Russia, his negotiations in Europe unfinished.   However, the educational provision of the treaty would soon provide the basis for a great movement of Chinese students to American schools.

The Chinese Educational Mission

            The first Chinese graduate from an American university was Yung Wing (1828-1912), known in Mandarin as Rong Hong.  Yung came to the United States as a student in 1847, sponsored by American missionaries and philanthropists.  He became a naturalized American citizen in 1852, and graduated from Yale University two years later.  He resolved to use his education to serve China.  “I was determined,” Yung wrote, “that the rising generation of China should enjoy the same educational advantages that I had enjoyed; that through western education China might be regenerated, become enlightened and powerful.  To accomplish that object became the guiding star of my ambition.”  [8]

            Some years after returning to China, Yung was recruited to the service of the great statesman, soldier and scholar Zeng Guofan, who, with his close associate and protege Li Hongzhang, was determined to modernize the country.  Yung’s proposals to Zeng strongly reflected the influence of the American System of economics.

           General Zeng Guofan of the Xiang Militia Army and his entourage inspecting western weaponry during the Taiping Rebellion

His first proposal was to create a central machine tool shop capable of manufacturing machinery to produce weapons, agricultural implements, engines and whatever else the country might require.  Annexed to the shop would be an academy to train Chinese in physics, mathematics,and the construction and operation of every type of machine, eventually ending all reliance on foreigners.  Yung was sent to America in 1864 to purchase the first machine tools in Massachusetts, which became the foundation of the famous Jiangnan Arsenal and technical school near Shanghai, one of the greatest in the world at that time.   Believing it was his patriotic duty to serve his adopted country in time of war, he visited Washington, DC to offer his services to Abraham Lincoln’s Union army against the Confederacy. 

            While also devoted to translating books of law and geography, Yung’s proposal for a Chinese-owned and operated steamship company became the great China Merchants Steam Navigation Company.  His proposal “to open the mineral resources of the country and thus in an indirect way lead to the necessity of introducing railroads,” laid the foundation for similar plans in the future.   He personally negotiated with the American Gatling Company to import 50 “gatling guns”, the most modern “machine gun” of the day, for the national defense of China.   Later in his life he unsuccessfully proposed that the Chinese government establish a National Bank on the American model, translating American banking law into Chinese to assist the process.   His plan to build a railroad from Tianjin to Zhenjiang was also blocked by foreign opposition.

Yung Wing

            However, Yung Wing’s most important proposal was adopted in full in 1870, a plan to educate the most promising youth of China at the best American universities, who would use their knowledge in the public service to transform China into a modern, powerful, and independent industrial nation.   Yung established the headquarters of the Chinese Educational Mission (CEM) in Hartford, Connecticut, and welcomed 120 Chinese boys there from 1871 to 1875, also finding time to marry an American, Mary Kellogg, with whom he would have two sons.  The students lived with American families, played American sports, and studied at the public schools of Connecticut in preparation for attendance at universities like Yale, Columbia, MIT and Harvard, all based on provisions of the Burlingame Treaty.  If the experiment proved successful, the Mission would be massively expanded.

            With his all-important educational project well underway, Yung was assigned another mission by Li Hongzhang in 1873, to investigate the condition of Chinese “coolie labor” in Peru on behalf of the Chinese government.  Accompanied by two of his strongest American supporters and friends, his future brother-in-law Dr. E.W. Kellogg, and Rev. Joseph Twitchell, Pastor of the Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford, Yung completed his mission in three months.   “My report was accompanied with two dozen photographs of Chinese coolies,” Yung writes, “showing how their backs had been lacerated and torn, scarred and disfigured by the lash.”   Yung states that as a result of his report, and another on the conditions in Cuba, “no more coolies have been allowed to leave China for those countries.  The traffic had received its death blow.” [9]

            In 1876, all the Chinese students traveled together to Philadelphia to attend the Centennial Exhibition, a massive Worlds Fair celebrating the 100th anniversary of American independence.  They received the great honor of being personally greeted by President Grant, while their English compositions and classwork on display at the Connecticut exhibit were judged one of the best educational exhibits at the Centennial.  They were also greeted by Li Gui, the Chinese official in charge of the Qing exhibit.  Li was tremendously impressed by his visit to America, and later published a popular diary of his 1876 travels called  A Journey to the East.  At the Yale commencement that year, Yung was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

            Yet, despite these expressions of good will and cooperation, political factions hostile to the policies and spirit of Abraham Lincoln were gaining strength in America.  The reversal of key Lincoln economic policies led to a financial panic and economic crisis in 1873, while in the South, the former slave holders were returning to power through massive violence against the freed slaves and their supporters.  Economic hardship combined with growing racist attitudes fed the movement to stop Chinese immigration and curtail the rights of Chinese in America, a movement led in California by the Mayor of San Francisco and the top officials of the state government.   Chinese organizations in San Francisco appealed to a sympathetic President Grant for protection, but 1876 was his last year in office, and in May 1877 Grant and his wife Julia left the United States for a 2-1/2 year tour of the world.       

            When Yung applied to the US State Department in 1878 to admit some of the best qualified boys to West Point and the Annapolis Naval Academy, he was told: “There is no room provided for Chinese students.” [10]

            “The race prejudice against the Chinese was so rampant and rank,” Yung wrote, “that not only my application for the students to gain entrance to Annapolis and West Point was treated with cold indifference and scornful hauteur, but the Burlingame Treaty of 1868 was, without the least provocation, and contrary to all diplomatic precedents and common decency, trampled under foot unceremoniously and wantonly, and set aside as though no such treaty had ever existed, in order to make way for those acts of congressional discrimination against Chinese immigration which were pressed for immediate enactment.”  [11]  Li Hongzhang also interpreted this rejection as a violation of the Burlingame Treaty, and conservative elements in the Qing Court pressed for an immediate end to the Mission. 

President Grant in China

            Meanwhile, Grant’s world tour, nominally intended as a family vacation, had developed into an unprecedented diplomatic initiative on behalf of the United States.  In Europe, Grant was received by, among others, British Queen Victoria, German Emperor Wilhelm I and Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, Russian Czar Alexander II, Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I, Pope Leo XIII, and the Kings of Denmark, Spain and Portugal.   In March 1879, the US Navy offered to take Grant and his party through the Suez Canal to India, China and Japan.   In early May, Grant became the first U.S. President, albeit a former President, to set foot in China, visiting Guangzhou (Canton), Macao, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tianjin, Beijing, the Great Wall and other places over a period of six weeks.

            Grant with General Li Hongzhang, in China 1879, during Grant’s world tour.

Grant’s welcome in China was described at the time as the greatest ever accorded to a foreigner, with hundreds of thousands of people lining the streets to see him. [12]   “My reception by the civil and military authorities of China was the most cordial extended to any foreigner, no matter what his rank.” Grant wrote.  “The fact is, the Chinese like America better, or rather, hate it less, than any other foreigner.  The reason is palpable: we are the only power that recognizes their right to control their own domestic affairs.” [13]

            During their extensive discussions, Grant and Li Hongzhang developed a great mutual respect and admiration.    As a contemporary account described it:

            “Between the General and the Viceroy [Li] friendly relations grew up, and while in Tientsin they saw a great deal of each other….   As the Viceroy is known to be among the advanced school of Chinese statesmen, not afraid of railways and telegraphs, and anxious to strengthen and develop China by all the agencies of outside civilization, the General found a ground upon which they could meet and talk.  The subject so near to the Viceroy’s heart is one about which few men living are better informed than General Grant.  During his stay in China, whenever the General has met Chinese statesmen, he has impressed upon them the necessity of developing their country and of doing it themselves.”  [14]     

            “I hope that you  may succeed to the next Presidency,” Li wrote Grant, “in which event the friendly relations between our two Countries will become firmer than ever.” [15] 

            Grant also took every opportunity to express his support for the rise of China as powerful industrial nation fully engaged in the world economy.  He praised the Chinese as “a wonderfully industrious, ingenious and frugal people,” [16] but privately expressed his concern that, “They must have the protection of a better and more honest government to succeed.” [17]  He repeatedly denounced the “overbearing and bullying policy of the foreigner and their diplomatic representatives,” [18] comparing their treatment of the natives to the brutal treatment of freed slaves in America by the former slave owners.  In Beijing, he made a point of visiting the American-run English-language school, offering his support and best wishes.

            The trust of Grant by the Chinese leadership was so great, that the regent Prince Gong asked him to mediate the ongoing dispute with Japan over the Liuqiu islands.   “Your willingness to do this will be a new claim to the respect in which you are held in China,” the Prince said, “and be a continuance of that friendship shown to us by the United States, and especially by Mr. Burlingame, whose death we all deplored, and whose name is venerated in China.”  [19]

            Grant, who believed that war between China and Japan would be a disaster for both countries, replied: “If I can be of any service in adjusting the question and securing peace, I shall be rejoiced, and it will be no less a cause of rejoicing if in doing so I can be of any service to China, or be enabled to show my appreciation of the great honor she has shown to me during my visit, and of the unvarying friendship she has shown our country.” [20]

            Grant was true to his word.  During his subsequent visit to Tokyo, while also expressing strong support for the economic development of Japan, he prophetically warned the Emperor Meiji to his face against any war with China.  

            “General Grant said he could not speak too earnestly to the Emperor on this subject, because he felt earnestly.  He knew of nothing that would give him greater pleasure than to be able to leave Japan…feeling that between China and Japan there was entire friendship.  Other counsels would be given to His Majesty, because there were powerful influences in the East fanning trouble between China and Japan.  One could not fail to see these influences, and the General said he was profoundly convinced that any concession to them would bring about war [which] would bring unspeakable calamities to China and Japan.  Such a war would bring in foreign nations, who would end it to suit themselves.  The history of European diplomacy in the East was unmistakable on that point.  What China and Japan should do is to come together without foreign intervention, talk over LooChoo (sic) and other subjects, and come to a complete and friendly understanding.  They should do it between themselves, as no foreign Power can do them any good.” [21]

“Hereafter no… court of the United States shall admit Chinese to citizenship”

            Grant received a hero’s welcome when he returned to the United States, reaching San Francisco on September 20, the epicenter of the anti-Chinese agitation then sweeping the country.  Only two years before, thousands of rioters had killed four people and destroyed businesses in the city’s Chinatown, until stopped by the police and state militia.  With the Mayor, Governor and other anti-Chinese officials looking on, Grant made a point of cordially receiving a delegation from the Chinese community, led by the Chinese Vice Consul, where Grant expressed his gratitude for “the kindness and hospitality shown me by the people and authorities of China,” and his hope “that China will continue to draw near to her the sympathy and the trade of the civilized world.” [22] 

            With Grant back in New York, Yung decided to appeal to him directly to help save the Mission.   On December 21, 1880, several prominent Americans arranged a meeting with Grant, including Yung’s devoted friend and supporter Rev. Joseph Twitchell, who reported that Grant “launched out in as free and flowing a talk as I ever heard, marked by broad, intelligent and benevolent views, on the subject of China, her wants, disadvantages, &c.  Now and then he asked a question, but kept the lead of the conversation.  At last he proposed of his own accord to write a letter to [Li], advising the continuance of the Mission, asking only that I prepare him some notes by giving him points to go by.” [23]

            In the end, Grant’s letter only delayed the tragedy, as the Mission was officially terminated by the Chinese government in June 1881, and the boys ordered to return home.   “At the time of the mission’s closure, over sixty of the students were enrolled in American institutions of higher education.  Of that number, twenty-two were at Yale, eight at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, three at Columbia, one at Harvard, and the rest at disparate colleges and technical schools throughout the Northeast.” [24]

            For its part, the US government officially abrogated the Burlingame Treaty with the adoption of the disgraceful Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which declared that “in the opinion of the Government of the United States the coming of Chinese laborers to this country endangers the good order of certain localities within the territory thereof.”   Thus the Act totally prohibited “the coming of Chinese laborers to the United States,” and decreed, “That hereafter no State court or court of the United States shall admit Chinese to citizenship.” [25] 

            It was soon discovered that Grant was suffering from throat cancer, which would take his life in 1885, leading to a massive outpouring of grief from the American people.  When the great monument and tomb for Grant and his wife was erected in Manhattan, Li Hongzhang, on behalf of China, had a tree planted there, along with a plaque in English and Chinese “for the purpose of commemorating his  greatness.”  Today, it remains the only memorial by any foreign country at Grant’s tomb.  When a great bronze statue of Grant was unveiled in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park in 1899, China was the only foreign nation to participate in the ceremony.  And on September 18, 1911, one of the last official acts of the Imperial Chinese Navy was to lay a wreath at Grant’s tomb.

            Meanwhile, the US government seemed so determined to repudiate the legacy of Lincoln and Burlingame, that the State Department informed Yung Wing that his citizenship had been revoked and would no longer be recognized.   Although Philadelphia industrialists in the Lincoln-Carey tradition negotiated agreements with China to establish a Chinese-American Bank to build steel mills, factories and thousands of miles of railroads, these plans were blocked by the British and other powers. [26]  The subsequent history of this period would show that this rupture in China-US relations benefited only those foreign imperial powers with designs on Chinese territory and sovereignty.

American-trained students start to build a modern China

            While the boys of the Chinese Educational Mission were considered too Americanized to be trusted by the Qing court upon their return to China in 1881, this soon changed, as China faced the major disasters and humiliations of that period.   The students were called upon to serve their country as engineers, educators, managers, diplomats, military officers, and statesmen.   The most complete account of the students and their accomplishments can be found at the Zhuhai Museum, or  Some few examples are:

Zhou Wanpeng: established telephone service in Guangdong and Shanghai; Chief of Telegraph and Postal Services, Director of several railway lines; supervisor of Shanghai Telegraph College.

Wu Yanzeng: Chief Engineer and Superintendent of silver, coal and copper mines; Chief Chemist at the Chinese Engineering and Mining Company; manager of Kaiping Railway Co. and China Railway Co.

Cai Tinggan: Commander of a torpedo boat squadron; Chief of the Department of Naval Administration, with rank of Rear Admiral; Foreign Minister.

Zhan Tianyou: “Father of the Chinese Railways;”  Resident Engineer, Imperial Railways of North China; Chief Engineer and Co-Director of Beijing-Zhangjiakou (Kalgan) Railway, the first Chinese-financed, designed and built railway; Senior Adviser to Ministry of Education;  Chief Engineer and Director of several railways.

Cai Shaoji: magistrate; proposed and organized Beiyang University (now Tianjin University), the first modern institution of higher learning in China, with American-style departments of law, civil engineering, mechanics, mining and metallurgy, and supplied with text books and equipment purchased from the US; first President Beiyang University; chief adviser for foreign affairs.

Tang Shaoyi: diplomat; Consul General in Seoul; superintendent Beiyang University; successful negotiations with British over Tibet; Senior Vice President of Board of Posts and Communications, controlling telegraphs, railways, and China Merchants Steam Navigation Co.; Prime Minister.

Liang Pixu: diplomat; Minister to the United States, appointed five other CEM alumni as his subordinates; President, Board of Foreign Affairs; Director, Guangzhou-Hankou Railway; Minister to Germany.

Liang Dunyan: diplomat, railway director, customs superintendent; President Beiyang University; Assistant Secretary, later President, Board of Foreign Affairs; Minister of Foreign Affairs; Acting Prime Minister.

            In one of China’s darkest hours, after thousands of soldiers of eight foreign countries had brutally occupied Beijing in 1900-1901, forcing China to pay a massive sum in unjust war reparations, the Chinese Foreign Ministry made a bold proposal to the US government.  Minister of Foreign Affairs Liang Dunyan, and Minister to the United States Liang Pixu, proposed that part of the so-called Boxer indemnity paid to the US be returned to China to resume the education of Chinese students in America.   Their plan also called for the establishment of an English-language school in China to prepare the students to enter American universities.   After intensive negotiations, and despite anti-Chinese laws still in effect, the US government agreed.

            In 1909, the first group of 47 Chinese students arrived in Springfield, Massachusetts, traveling the same route as Yung Wing’s boys over 40 years before.  They were escorted by Tang Guoan, Vice Director of the Bureau of the Educational Mission to the United States, which was responsible for selecting the most  qualified students.  Tang had also been a member of Yung’s original CEM, studying for a year at Yale until being called home in 1881.  Tang became an official and manager of several Chinese railroads and mining companies before entering the Foreign Ministry as an interpreter. 

            After settling the first group of students in the US, Tang returned to China to help establish the preparatory school, the institution that would later become Tsinghua University, the most prestigious in China today.  Tang Guoan became the first President of Tsinghua College in 1912.  

            In 1926, a portion of the indemnity money was also used to establish the New York-based China Institute in America, devoted to cultural exchange and education, which would soon play a key role in organizing the American tour of Mei Lanfang.

Paul Reinsch and the Shandong Question: “They would hardly understand so abject and complete a surrender.”

            “Never has one nation had a greater opportunity to act as counsellor and friend to another and to help a vast and lovable people to realize its striving for a better life.  Cooperation freely sought, unconstrained, spontaneous desire to model on institutions and methods which are admired– that is the only way in which nations may mutually influence each other without the coercion of political power and the cunning of intrigue.  That is a feeling which has existed in the hearts of the Chinese toward America.  The American people does not yet realize what a treasure it possesses in this confidence.” [27]

Paul S. Reinsch

            So wrote the American diplomat Paul S. Reinsch, US Minister to China from 1913 to 1919, in his memoirs published in 1922, a year before his untimely death.  Reinsch, a prominent professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin, had played a leading role in formulating policies of economic development and cooperation among nations as the basis for world peace. [28]   He greatly admired Chinese culture, and believed that China, if freed of imperialistic interference and aggression, would become a great power for good in the world.  As US Minister, Reinsch corresponded with Dr. Sun Yat-sen (Sun Zhongshan) and other republican leaders, and tried to assist them in formulating plans for the industrial development of the country.  

            While Reinsch made many attempts to organize American industrialists and financiers to cooperate with China in building railroads, ports and manufacturing, each initiative was blocked by the imperialist powers, particularly the British and Japanese, who were close military and political allies under the 1902 Anglo-Japanese Alliance.   Reinsch was particularly outraged by the subservience of American banking and business to the British. [29]  “I was impressed with how inadequately this wonderful country of China and  the promise of its people were understood in America,” Reinsch wrote.  “I knew the difficulties and dangers to be overcome there, and felt that Americans well-disposed toward China would take a hand in its development.  But the ‘folks back home,’ especially the interests that controlled the economic life of America, remained blind and deaf….”  This weakness also threatened to make a mockery of America’s commitment to Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity, which had been announced to the world under the Open Door Policy in 1899.

            The breaking point was reached at the infamous Paris Peace Conference of 1919, where the United States of President Woodrow Wilson shamefully capitulated to Japanese demands to control the former German concessions in Shandong Province.   “Probably nowhere else in the world had expectations of America’s leadership at Paris been raised so high as in China,” Reinsch wrote.  “The Chinese trusted America, they trusted the frequent declarations of principle uttered by President Wilson, whose words reached China in its remotest parts….  It sickened and disheartened me to think how the Chinese people would receive this blow which meant the blasting of their hopes and the destruction of their confidence in the equity of nations….  They would hardly understand so abject and complete a surrender.” [30]

            In his memoirs, Reinsch expressed “strong sympathy” for the May 4th Movement, calling it “an inspiring national awakening of the Chinese people, a welding together for joint thought and joint action.”   Like Burlingame before him, he agreed to serve China as counselor to the Chinese delegation at the 1921-1922 Washington Naval Conference, where Japan was pressured to temporarily back off some if its demands for Shandong.  He died in Shanghai in 1923, while assisting the Chinese government in plans for economic reform.

            However, it was his dramatic resignation in 1919 in protest of the Shandong travesty, that ironically began the sequence of events leading to Mei Lanfang’s historic tour.  Reinsch was convinced that the underlying problem was the profound ignorance of the American people about China, and that this weakness of public opinion allowed the US government to take a decision so disastrous not only to China, but also to America.  He warned that Japanese militarism, if unchecked, would eventually target the United States, prophetically entitling a chapter of his memoirs, “A New World War Coming?”  His June 7 letter of resignation to President Wilson was eloquent on these points:

            “[T]he situation requires that the American people should be made to realize what is at stake here for us in order that they may give the necessary backing to the Government for support in any action which the developments here may require.  Unless the American people realize this and the Government feels strong enough to take adequate action, the fruits of one hundred and forty years of American work in China will inevitably be lost… ,and the great opportunity which has been held out to us by the Chinese people to assist in the development of education and free institutions will be gone beyond recall.  In its stead there will come a sinister situation dominated by the unscrupulous methods of the reactionary military regime centred in Tokyo, absolutist in tendency, cynical of the principles of free government and human progress.  If this force, with all the methods it is accustomed to apply, remains unopposed there will be created in the Far East the greatest engine of military oppression and dominance that the world has yet seen.  Nor can we avoid the conclusion that the brunt of evil results will fall on the United States….” [31]  

“Art is the best way”

            Once his resignation had been accepted by President Wilson, Reinsch was invited to many farewell dinners and other events before departing Beijing on September 13.   He discussed with a delegation of the Chinese Ministry of Education his concern “to make accessible to the American public the treasures of Chinese literature, philosophy, and art,” by bringing young Chinese scholars to lecture at American universities.  Reinsch writes, “When President Hsu Shih-chang [Xu Shichang] entertained me for the last time, he said: ‘The Chinese look to you to be a friend and guide to them, and we hope your action and influence may continue for many decades.’  On the next day he invited me… to act as counsellor to the  Chinese Government, with residence in America.” [32]  It was perhaps at this last farewell event with President Xu, that Reinsch presented his revolutionary proposal to send Mei Lanfang to the US.

            The most authoritative account of Mei’s historic visit was written by his close friend and artistic collaborator Qi Rushan, who was a key organizer of the tour and an eye witness of its events.  Qi also wrote many of the plays performed by Mei, usually based on classic Chinese stories, and helped design the extraordinary choreography and costumes of Mei’s repertoire.  Qi explains the origin and motive of the tour in his book, Mei Lanfang you Mei ji, or Mei Lanfang’s Journey to America: 

            “The motive of traveling to the United States began from a speech made by Paul Reinsch at a farewell dinner with President Xu.   “If we want to create a better relationship between the Chinese and American people,” Reinsch said, “I think it would be very effective for Mr. Mei to travel to the United States and perform his art to Americans directly.”  The gentlemen present were shocked by his words and did not take him seriously, but  he continued: “I am very serious.  I believe that art is the best way to enhance the friendship between the Chinese and American people, because art has no borders.  And there is a precedent for this.  At one time, the relationship between the United States and Italy was not a good one, but this changed after a great Italian artist came to the United States to perform.   So I believe that art is the best vehicle to create friendship between nations.  Moreover, the relationship between the Chinese and American people was originally a very good one, and it will become even better by communicating through great art.”

            All the gentlemen present paid little attention to this idea, since they believed it was hardly possible.  Only Mr. Yuhu Ye [Ye Gongchuo] realized its potential, and directly came to tell me about it.  As soon as I heard it, I totally agreed with Mr. Reinsch’s  idea.  I was convinced that such a tour could not only enhance the friendship between the people of the United States and China, but also begin an important cultural communication.  You may believe that I didn’t take the time to think it through, but I had already concluded that Chinese opera would be welcomed by the American people, and even take a place among the great art of the world, and that Mr. Mei’s artistry would be highly praised in America.  If so, his travel to the Unites States would be a great success benefiting not only Mr. Mei and Chinese opera, but the friendship between the American and Chinese people. 

            I was greatly impressed by Mr. Reinsch’s words.  Mr. Mei was also moved, but he is a humble man, and questioned whether he was good enough to succeed.   I constantly encouraged him, and finally he expressed great interest in traveling to the United States.  So I decided to make it happen. [33]

“Even if I have to spend my last penny, I will travel to the United States.”

            Thus began almost ten years of careful preparation and close cooperation with American friends leading to the historic tour.  Qi says the first thing he did was ask Chinese students returning from their studies in the US about Americans and their attitudes towards China and Chinese opera.  Americans visiting China were also encouraged to come to Beijing to meet Mei at his home, where he would perform for them and ask them their opinions and ideas.  Qi especially discusses the great assistance and support they received from another prominent American in China, John Leighton Stuart, and his Chinese student and protege Fu Jingbo, or Philip Fugh, who helped make the initial contacts and arrangements in the United States, freeing Qi and Mei to focus on the artistic preparations. 

            Stuart had been appointed the first President of Yanjing University in Beijing in January 1919, and built it into one of the top universities of the country.  He was born in Hangzhou in 1876 of American missionary parents, and was raised in China until age 11.  He married and returned to China with his wife, becoming a professor and missionary while maintaining ties with high level political and academic circles in the US.  He also served on the Board of Trustees of Tsinghua University, and developed partnerships between Yanjing and American universities like Harvard and Princeton.  He resisted the Japanese invaders in the 1930s, and was jailed by them for almost four years after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The Chinese-style campus he designed for Yanjing later became the campus of Beijing University.  

              When the inevitable problem of financing arose, Qi writes that they were initially unsure of how to proceed, as they wished to organize the tour as a cultural exchange, and not as a business venture.  He quotes Mei declaring, “Even if I have to spend my last penny, I will travel to the United States.”   Once again, Stuart offered his assistance to raise the necessary 100,000 yuan.  “According to its constitution, Yanjing University can help you,” Stuart told Qi, “since this is an activity intended to improve the relationship between China and the US.”    When Stuart encountered opposition to this idea, he proposed to personally borrow 50,000 yuan from the University, and organize several others to guarantee 50,000 more.    Although neither of these ideas succeeded, Qi was encouraged by Stuart’s willingness to help, and eventually raised the money from several Chinese bankers and many individual supporters, including Stuart and Fugh.

            Stuart also helped opened doors for Mei in New York.  He initially arranged for the prominent Broadway producer and director Arthur Hopkins to assist in organizing the tour.   Eventually, this responsibility was assumed by the China Institute in America, which included Stuart as a member of the Board of Advisers.  The Institute was led by scholars such as P. C. Chang (Zhang Pengchun), Paul Chih Meng, and Kuo Ping Wen (Guo Bingwen), all of whom had received their university education in the United States under the Boxer indemnity program.  

            In 1914, Kuo became the first Chinese to receive a doctorate from Teachers College, Columbia University.  He returned to China to establish the National Southeast University, which later became Nanjing University.  He was director of the China Institute from 1926-1930. Chang earned a Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1924.  He served as dean of Tsinghua College, and held visiting appointments at the University of Chicago and the University of Hawaii.   As a student at Tsinghua College, Meng had been jailed in 1919 for leading demonstrations against the Paris Peace Conference.  He also graduated from Columbia University, becoming director of the Institute in 1930, the year of Mei’s visit.      

             Securing the services of the general secretary of the New York Metropolitan Opera, F.C. Coppicus, was another great breakthrough for the tour.  A public relations genius, Coppicus was the manager of most of the great opera singers and performers of the day.  He had managed the American career of the famous Italian opera singer Enrico Caruso, probably the “great Italian artist” referenced by Paul Reinsch who changed American attitudes about Italy.   In 1929, a few weeks before Mei arrived in the US, Coppicus had managed the first full scale American concert tour of the African-American singer and actor Paul Robeson, who would later meet Mei in London and become a strong supporter of China and Chinese culture.  According to Qi, “Mr. F.C. Coppicus is in charge of renting the theaters, negotiating contracts, advertising, and many other business matters.  After Mr. Mei agrees and signs with him, Mr. F.C. Coppicus makes things happen.” [34]

            Meanwhile, Mei and Qi had decided that they must do everything possible to help Americans appreciate and understand Mei’s art.  To this end, the China Institute prepared an informative 40-page program, designed to be distributed to the audience before each performance, which included a synopsis of each story and detailed descriptions of the scenes of each of the plays in Mei’s U.S. repertoire.  As every performance also included a dance number, the program explained the context of each dance and the meaning of the movements and gestures.   Appended to a short biography of Mei were translations of comments by unnamed Chinese scholars under the title, “What the Chinese see in Mei Lan-Fang.”   These are poetical descriptions of Mei’s artistry in the dramatic use of his eyes, face, smile, emotional expression, head, neck, shoulders, hands, waist, stage walk, vocal art, and the sleeve. 

            “Mei’s quiet facial expressions and his intelligent use of the same may be compared with the adaptability of running water,” wrote one scholar, “which, placed in a square receptacle is square; when put in a basin, round.  When Mei acts a scene of meditation, his facial expression is masterly.  Is there any other Chinese actor who can attain the perfection of this great artist’s facial expression?”

            To further engage their American audiences and increase their understanding, a young Chinese-American actress, Soo Yong (Yang Siu), was recruited to appear on stage before each scene, to briefly explain the action and provide insights into Mei’s performance.  Yong was born in Hawaii to parents with personal connections to Dr. Sun.   She graduated from Teachers College, Columbia University in 1927, and appeared in several Broadway plays before joining the tour.  Newspaper reviews often mentioned the “attractive” or “charming” Miss Yong and the clarity of her English diction.  After her appearances with Mei in Los Angeles, she began a lengthy Hollywood movie career.

            Most striking to American audiences would have been the list of 38 New York sponsors of “The First American Tour of Mei Lan-Fang,” placed prominently in the program.   The list cut across political and ideological lines, representing an impressive high-level mobilization of American society, and featuring two of Reinsch’s successors as Minister to China, Charles R. Crane (1920-1921) and John Van A. MacMurray (1925-1929).   These were moral, not financial, sponsors, as the funding had been organized independently by Mei and Qi in China.

            Very prominent religious leaders listed included Dr. Henry Sloane Coffin, President of the Union Theological Seminary; Right Reverend William T. Manning, Episcopal Bishop of New York; Rabbi Jonah B. Wise of the Central Synagogue of Manhattan; and Unitarian Minister Dr. John Haynes Holmes, co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

            Prominent American women included Carrie Chapman Catt, leader of the movement for the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution giving women the right to vote, and founder of the League of Women Voters; Mabel T. Boardman, philanthropist and leader of the American Red Cross; Julia Ellsworth Ford, wealthy art collector and patron of the arts; and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, widow of the former President.

            Leading academics included the co-founder of the China Institute Dr. Paul Monroe of Columbia University, who had received an honorary degree from Beijing University in 1913; Dr. William F. Russell, Dean and President of Teachers College, Columbia University; Dr. George Pierce Baker, founder of the Harvard Dramatic Club, co-founder of the Yale School of Drama; Dr. Simon Flexner, MD, former University of Pennsylvania professor, director of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research; and Dr. John Dewey, Professor of Philosophy, Columbia University, who had lectured in China, 1919-1921.

            Also listed was Ernest K. Moy, a trustee of the China Institute who compiled and edited the program as a whole, and later published books documenting the tour’s phenomenal success; and Madame Chao-Chu Wu (Wu Chao Shu), wife of the Chinese ambassador to the US.  Other sponsors included an American composer and conductor, a famous stage actor, a major newspaper editor, an influential Manhattan attorney and more than one wealthy philanthropist.  

            Perhaps the most prominent sponsor of all was the famous and very wealthy financier Otto H. Kahn.  A major patron of the arts, Kahn was president and chairman of the board of the New York Metropolitan Opera, vice-president of the New York Philharmonic orchestra, and an important backer of the Hollywood film industry.   

            Another name listed was, once again, Dr. J. Leighton Stuart, who probably played an important behind-the-scenes role in helping to organize such an impressive demonstration of American support.

A powerful intervention

            As Mei, Qi, and their troupe of more than 20 actors and dancers departed Shanghai for the US in late December1929, it was clear that they had designed a powerful intervention into the cultural life of an entire nation, with the bold objective of transforming the American view of China.  The tour would open February 17 for a two week engagement on Broadway in Manhattan, the cultural heart of the country, in full view of the newspaper reporters and critics who shaped public opinion nation-wide.   Ultimately, the Broadway run was extended to five weeks by popular demand.  They would then travel to the mid-Western geographical heartland of America, a vast area with little interaction with Chinese, for another two week engagement in Chicago.  

By mid-April, they would arrive in San Francisco for 13 days of performances in three different theaters, where they would be directly challenging a long history of anti-Chinese prejudice and propaganda.  In May and June they would perform for 12 days in the Philharmonic Auditorium of Los Angeles, with plans for extensive interactions with Hollywood  movie stars, directors, and major studios.  On their way home, they would stop in Honolulu, Hawaii for 12 more days of performances in what was then an important US territory and naval base, with a tradition of China-US collaboration since the days of Dr. Sun’s revolutionary activities there.

            In each city, besides the formal performances, there would be a full schedule of banquets, luncheons, receptions, large public meetings and small private gatherings, where thousands more Americans could personally experience the highest level of Chinese culture in the person of Mei Lanfang.   A full round of activities commenced soon after Mei and his troupe stepped off the train upon their arrival in New York’s Grand Central Terminal on February 8.

            Here they were greeted by a delegation from the Chinese community led by the Chinese Consul General and the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association.   “Mei Lan-fang Here With His Actors,” headlined the New York Times, “Foremost Member of China’s Stage Warmly Welcomed by Compatriots.”   “As he left the terminal,” the Times reported, “a group of Chinese school children, each of whom carried a Chinese and an American flag, sang a song of welcome written for the occasion. Two large bouquets were presented to Mr. Mei, who shook hands with the children, greeting each with a smile and a word of thanks.”

            “Many receptions and dinner engagements have been arranged in honor of the Chinese performer,” the Times continued.   These included a dinner that night at the Hotel Ambassador given by the Governor of the Bank of China, Chang Kia-Ngau (Zhang Jia’ao), and a reception and tea the next day hosted by prominent Manhattan patrons of the arts, and including several leading Broadway actors among the guests.   That Friday, February 14, Mei was invited to Washington, DC by the Chinese ambassador Dr. Wu Chao Shu, aka Dr. C.C. Wu, for a private performance. [35]

            Wu was the son of a prominent former Minister to the US, Wu Tingfang (Wu Cai).  As such, he had lived in Washington, DC for several years in his youth and was educated in American public schools.  The younger Wu had also been the chief Chinese delegate to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, where he stood against the Shandong sellout, and became Minister to the US in 1928.  According to Qi Rushan, 150 people saw Mei perform in DC that night, including mostly government officials and diplomats.  “Only President Herbert Hoover was out of town on business,” writes Qi. 

            Hoover was the President who would be most identified by Americans with the beginning of the Great Depression of the 1930s, as the Wall Street stock market had crashed only weeks before in October 1929.   He was defeated for re-election in 1932 by the Governor of New York, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who became a great President in the tradition of Lincoln, and later built the alliance with China during World War II.   Roosevelt’s and Mei’s paths would soon cross in New York City.

            Nevertheless, Hoover had an important Chinese connection of his own.  As a young engineer working for a firm in China in 1898, he had forged a strong friendship with the Director of the Northern Railways. [36]   This was none other than Tang Shaoyi, the great diplomat and alumnus of Yung Wing’s CEM, who had graduated with honors from Hartford High School and attended Columbia University until being called home in 1881.  Thus, Hoover seemed to have a strong interest in meeting Mei Lanfang, as Qi explains:

            “When Hoover returned, he heard many compliments about Mr. Mei and regretted missing the performance.  He asked the State Department to consult with Mr. Wu to invite Mr. Mei back to Washington to meet the President.  Mr. Mei wanted to go back to DC, but by that time the contract with the San Francisco theater had already been signed, and there was no time for another trip to Washington.  So Mr. Mei wrote a letter of apology to President Hoover.  To this day, he still believes it was a great pity he was unable to meet the President.” [37]

            While meeting the President would certainly have been significant, it was not as important to the tour’s success as the reviews that would be published in all the New York newspapers after  opening night on Broadway.   Of all the reviewers read most avidly by the American public, none was so influential as the legendary drama critic of the New York Times, Brooks Atkinson (1894-1984).

            From the time his first column was published in 1925 until his retirement in 1965, Atkinson had served as the Times’ drama critic for 31 years, interrupted by other assignments including two important years as war correspondent in China, and had attended the opening nights of about 3000 plays and musicals.  A Broadway theater was named after him in 1960.  His obituary characterized him as “the theater’s most influential reviewer of his time,” “the conscience of the theater,” and “the only one who can be said to have presided over Broadway.”   “He frequently scoffed at the notion that he could make or break a play,” the obituary explained.  “But there was never any doubt that he had potent influence over success or failure on the stage.” [38]

“The soul of the Chinese nation”

             All accounts agree that all 700 seats of the 49th Street Theater were occupied on opening night.  Atkinson’s effusive, thoughtful and poetical review of the performance left no doubt that Mei Lanfang would be a hit in America, and that the tour could lead to a new understanding and appreciation of China itself.

            Atkinson’s headlines read: “China’s Idol Actor Reveals His Art.  Mei Lan-fang’s Performance of Exquisite Loveliness in Pantomime and Costume.  Is Completely Exotic.”    He wrote that Mei’s art was “as beautiful as an old Chinese vase or tapestry,” and admonished his readers: “If you can purge yourself of the sophomoric illusion that it is funny, merely because it is different, you can begin to appreciate something of exquisite loveliness in pantomime and costume, and you may find yourself vaguely in contact, not with the sensation of the moment, but with the strange ripeness of centuries.” 

            Atkinson pointed out that the China Institute had arranged the tour “not as a commercial enterprise, but in the interests of cultural relations and good-will.”  He characterized Mei’s acting as “unreal and beautiful,” and acknowledged his ignorance of much of the action on stage. 

            “But none of these details is of genuine significance,” he concluded.  “They merely hit the eyes of spectators unaccustomed to this display.  And the chief impression is one of grace and beauty, stateliness and sobriety, of unalloyed imagination, and of living antiquity.  Obviously, the theater of Mei Lan-Fang does not mirror the thought of contemporary China.  But it is not difficult to believe that it reflects something of the soul of the Chinese nation.  If you can accept it on those terms, you are as full of wonder as you are of bewilderment.” [39]

            Ernest K. Moy later compiled many reviews from a wide assortment of publications under the title, “What New York thinks of Mei Lan-fang.”   Some other few examples are:

“… One of the strangest and most exciting evenings I ever spent in a theatre.  You will admit, after he has been on the stage three minutes, that Mei Lan-fang is one of the most extraordinary actors you have ever seen….  Nothing like this has ever been seen in New York.”  Robert Littell, New York World.

“Here is a realization of perfection which is more rare and precious than anything a new world can produce.  Our imaginations remain prostrate before its delicacy, grace and poetry.  The hands of Mei Lan-fang, their eloquence, fascination and delicacy, have become famous.”  Mary F. Watkins, New York Herald-Tribune.

“His physical pose and grace defy description, and it is easy to see why the Chinese critics burst into poetry over him.”  John Martin, New York Times. [40]

            But Atkinson’s fascination with Mei’s art could not be contained to one review.  Within a week, he had written a lengthy column under the title “Mei Lan-fang, Ambassador in Art,” expressing his view of the advantages of Chinese drama over the “torturing realism” of the West, despite “being so far removed from anything in our theatrical experience.”  

            “Yet no matter how little you understand it,” Atkinson wrote, “you recognize it as the quintessence of pantomime, the ultimate in grace and style and a token of far-off, ancient, abstractly beautiful things.  Mr. Mei’s acting is as limpid as a forest pool….  What Chinese artists strive to do with the pellucidity of line in their prints Mei Lan-fang endeavors to create with the line of his acting.” 

            In his rebuttal of Western skepticism about the “naivete” of Chinese drama, Atkinson showed that, through Mei, he had come to a profound appreciation of Chinese culture.  “Everything in Chinese classical drama must give pleasure through grace and beauty,” he concluded.  “That is naivete.  How naive it would be to reorganize the world on that basis!” [41]

            After this, New York would not be satisfied with a mere two week engagement, so Mei’s program was extended for three weeks more at the much larger National Theater on West 41 Street, just off Times Square.   At the same time, Mei’s interaction with American society outside the theater, including the future President Franklin D. Roosevelt, intensified, as shown by these selections from  The New York Times coverage:

March 1: Newspaper Men Dance.  Their Club’s First Large Public Function Is Well Attended 

            More than 1,000 persons attended the ball given by the Newspaper Club of New York… at the Ritz-Carlton last night.  Governor Roosevelt and Mayor Walker were among the patrons.  This first large public social function of the club attracted many persons prominent in civic, business and social life, as well as stars of the screen, stage and opera….  Stage and screen stars appeared in a program which followed a buffet supper, served at midnight….  Among those who entertained guests in the boxes and reserved tables were…  Mei Lan-fang, the Chinese actor.

March 12: Mei Lan-Fang Urges Wide Art Sympathies.  Chinese Actor, Honored by Photoplay Group, Lauds Katherine Cornell, Another Guest. 

            One way by which nations may achieve respect for one another’s cultures is through a mutual appreciation of art, according to Mei Lan-fang, the Chinese actor now appearing on Broadway, who was a guest of honor at a luncheon yesterday of the American Association for Better Photoplays, Inc. in the Hotel Astor.  Katherine Cornell was also a guest of honor….  [Cornell was one of the greatest leading ladies of the Broadway stage.-PV]  More than 200 persons were present….

March 16: Flower Show Here Opens Tomorrow.  Queen of Netherlands Offers Medal for Best Garden Using Dutch Bulb Plants.  New Blooms to be Shown. 

            Several new flowers will make their debut this year at the show beginning tomorrow at the Grand Central Palace.  Among them will be … ‘Mei Lan-Fang,’ a tulip shown by John T. Scheepers….

March 19: Mrs. Campbell Honors Mei Lan-fang

            Mrs. Patrick Campbell, English actress, gave a luncheon yesterday in the Oval Restaurant of the Ritz-Carlton for the Chinese actor, Mei Lan-fang.

            By the end of his New York engagement, Mei was openly discussing his role as the “humble representative” of the Chinese people, and his “ultimate purpose” of fostering good will between the United States and China.

March 23: Mei Lan-Fang Praises American Cordiality.  At Farewell Dinner to His Sponsors He Ascribes Reception to Our Amity Toward China.

            Mei Lan-fang, the visiting Chinese actor who completed his engagement in New York last night at the National Theatre, was host at a farewell dinner at the Ambassador Hotel.  Seventy American and Chinese sponsors of his engagement heard Mr. Mei acknowledge the interest and support accorded him in his engagement here, which was extended from two weeks to five.

            Mr. Mei’s address, which was delivered in Chinese, was translated by his representative and interpreter, E.K. Moy.

            “The people of New York, during the several weeks that I have been here, have overwhelmed and bewildered me with their gracious attention and flattering kindness,” the actor said.  “You have entertained me and you have praised me.  You have contrived, in your inimitable way, to show me every possible courtesy and honor.

            “It would be presumptuous if I dared to think that this priceless bounty was showered upon me as an individual.  Your ineffable kindness, I recognize, was intended for the people of whom I have the privilege to be the humble representative.  The ultimate purpose of our coming to this country was and is to promote a closer and more sympathetic understanding between your people and mine, through the medium of the stage.

            “When we leave this city and this country, we will take with us the good-will of the American people so abundantly shown to us, and we shall transmit it to our people.  If our presence and efforts here have conveyed to you the esteem and affection in which the American people is held by my own, we have done all that we came to accomplish.”

            At the conclusion of his address, before hastening to the theatre to prepare for his performance, Mr. Mei shook hands with each of his guests….

            After his final performance at the National Theatre Mr. Mei held a reception backstage for members of the audience and friends.

            Americans present at the farewell dinner were amazed at Mei’s graciousness in pausing to personally greet everyone present, including the hotel staff! 


             The list of 38 sponsors of the Chicago performances was fully as impressive as that in New York, including bankers, businessmen, industrialists, professors, several leaders of the Art Institute of Chicago, the president of the University of Chicago, the publisher of the Chicago Daily News, the president of the US Chamber of Commerce, and many wealthy patrons of the arts.  

            Among the sponsors was Stanley Field, the banker and civic leader whose family had founded the Marshall Field & Co. department store chain.  Field was also President of the Field Museum of Natural History, one of the greatest natural history museums in the world.  Also listed was Dr. Berthold Laufer, the Field Museum curator of Asian anthropology, who was considered the foremost China expert in the United States at the time. 

            Qi Rushan reports that Dr. Laufer invited Mei to visit the Museum and gave him a personal tour. 

“Most museums are for communicating cultures,” Laufer said.  “It is also the same with our museum.  We have spent more than 20 years and millions of dollars studying East Asian culture.  The effect of all this work cannot compare with the two weeks of Mr. Mei’s performances.” [42]

San Francisco:

“What I heard about Chinese women… is totally wrong”

            Mei’s visit to San Francisco was a golden opportunity for that city to make some amends for its previous crimes against the Chinese people.   This time, there were 84 sponsors listed, many more than any other place, and the list was headed by Mayor James Rolph, Jr., who was the longest-serving Mayor in San Francisco history, a record that still stands today. 

            Rolph had become wealthy in the shipping business, and then became extremely popular with the common people due to his personal efforts at public relief after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.   For years, the San Francisco mayor’s office had been controlled by a political party demanding greater restrictions on Asian immigration, and segregated schools for Asian children.   Rolph defeated this anti-Chinese party in the 1911 mayoral election, and defeated it for reelection several times more, until it faded from the scene.   At the time of Mei’s visit, he was running for Governor of California, and won the November election.  However, despite the apparent good will towards the Chinese community, California anti-Chinese laws did not change until the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt finally repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943.

            Nevertheless, in his welcoming address to Mei’s party, as reported by Qi, Rolph chose to pass over previous history, and rather emphasize that Mei’s tour represented a new beginning in China-US relations.  “People who have seen Mr. Mei’s performance have enjoyed it very much” Rolph said.  “Even though they don’t know a word of Chinese, they can understand everything by the expressions on Mei’s face and his gestures.  People are moved by the stories of the plays, they feel sympathy for the life of the characters expressed on the stage, and they even keep thinking about the plays for days afterwards.   They believe Mr. Mei’s excellent performing is breaking down the barriers between our two different languages and cultures….       

            “When you return to China, please tell the Chinese people that Americans now know and respect Chinese culture more than ever before, all because of Mr. Mei’s visit to the United States.” [43]

            Most remarkable is Qi’s report on the speech of an unnamed leader of a major women’s organization before 300 people at a San Francisco tea party in Mei’s honor.   Deeply moved by Mei’s performances, her comments reveal in some detail how American attitudes toward China were being radically transformed as the tour progressed.

            “I thank Mr. Mei for coming to our tea party.  I attended Mr. Mei’s performances, and although I could not understand a single word, I understood the meaning of the stories very well.  The newspapers of New York, Chicago and San Francisco have already highly complimented Mr. Mei’s performances and Chinese art, so I will not repeat that here.  Today, as a representative of our women’s union, I will say something from a woman’s viewpoint. 

            “What I heard about Chinese women before is only that they do not go to work, and that they spend all their time at home taking care of their husbands, since they have to rely on their husbands for everything.  But now, after seeing Mr. Mei’s performances, I realize that Chinese women are far greater than what I heard about them.  They have both ability and high morality. 

            “For instance, Yingchun Liu in ‘Fen River Bay’ loyally waits for her husband, preserving her chastity.  Zhene Fei in ‘Killing the Tiger General’ is full of courage and wisdom to avenge her father.  Mulan Hua in ‘Mulan in the Army’ is also full of courage, making such a great contribution on the battlefield for her country and her father.  What a woman!  Guiying Xiao is so good and full of respect for her father, and tries her best to care for him in ‘Qingding Pearl’.  The girl in ‘Lian Jinfeng’ bravely dives into the deep to find sea cucumber for her mother.

            “I only spent a few days watching Mr. Mei’s plays, and I discovered so many wonderful women with wisdom, ability and morality.  It is not only my opinion, we all love the women in these plays so much, we would even like to meet them in real life.  So I know that what I heard before is totally wrong.  I want to thank Mr. Mei for helping us to learn what China is really like.  But it’s a pity that Mr. Mei has so little time here, or we could enjoy more of these beautiful stories.

            “And I really find that Mr. Mei’s performance is so amazing, especially his face.  The perfect example is in ‘Fen River Bay’.  When Yingchun Liu is angry with her husband, he apologizes; she wants to forgive him, but she wants to pretend not to forgive him at the same time.  She is also afraid her husband will get angry if she pretends not to forgive him.  Her thoughts are the same as American women.  Mr. Mei can express such complicated feelings so well, but he is not a woman himself.  He is a great artist!”

            The speech was greeted with much applause. [44]

Los Angeles: Mei is a model for American youth

            In Los Angeles, the 60 sponsors included the biggest movie stars and directors of the day, including Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Cecil B. DeMille.  Chaplin in particular became a life-long friend of China, meeting Mei again on a trip to Shanghai in 1936, and welcoming Chinese leaders to his home in Switzerland in the 1950s.

Charlie Chaplin and Mei Lanfang             

It was also in southern California that Mei received the highest recognition from America, when he was awarded honorary Doctor of Letters degrees from the University of Southern California and Pomona College.  A prestigious private liberal arts college in Claremont, California, Pomona College had multiple connections to China, and Qi Rushan describes the ceremony there in some detail.

            Pomona’s President Dr. Charles K. Edmunds had served for 20 years as the head of Lingnan University in Guangzhou, which had been founded by American missionaries in 1888, and is now part of Zhongshan University (Sun Yat Sen University).  He established a Department of Oriental Studies at Pomona, and wished the College to play a leading role in improving relations with all the nations of the Pacific Rim.   He encouraged students to visit China, and several of them undertook a year long course of study in China and Japan in 1929.  Pomona Professor of Economics Dr. Kenneth Duncan had been a professor and librarian at Lingnan, and knew Mei from his time there.

            Qi writes that the College changed the date of its commencement ceremony to accommodate Mei’s schedule, so that he could be there in person.   He says that over 1000 people were present, including at least 100 professors.   The ceremony began with music, and then Dr. Luther Freeman spoke about the responsibilities of youth.  Freeman was the Pastor of the Pilgrim Congregational Church, which had played a leading role in founding Pomona College in 1887.  This Christian Pastor held up Mei and Chinese culture as models of morality for American youth.  

            “When I watched Mei’s performance,” Freeman said, “it was a very funny comedy and I could not help laughing out loud.  But when I met Mei backstage, I saw another side of him.  Although he is a world-famous artist, when he met an older person like me, he was very humble and treated me with great respect.  American youth do not have this quality.  In Chinese culture, this is common.  It comes from an ancient code of ethics, which we would do well to emulate.”

            Dr. Duncan spoke of Mei’s qualifications to receive such an important honor.  “Mei Lanfang is an artist of the highest level,” he said, “acknowledged as such by the whole world, but most people do not know that he is also a man of letters.  He is not only accomplished in performing opera, but in composing new operas and creating many innovations.   He has studied all aspects of opera for more than 20 years, and his home is full of books.   He has established the first opera school in Beijing, so he contributes not only to art, but to the larger society and to the entire world as well.  Thus, he meets the criteria of our College for an honorary Doctor of Letters degree.”

            After the degree was presented by President Edmunds, Mei spoke, once again addressing his mission to promote goodwill between the US and China.  He said he understood that he was being honored not because of his own merits, but as an act of friendship by Americans to the Chinese people.  He spoke of his commitment to peace.  “From the experience of history,” he said, perhaps thinking of 1919, “real peace cannot come from war.” The only way to achieve peace, he said, is from the human need to know one another, to forgive and help one another, not from fighting.   He hoped that the two great nations, the US and China, could promote peace together based on international trust and friendship, by studying the arts and sciences and understanding each other’s customs and history.  He said that although he felt unworthy to receive this great honor,  he accepted it as a symbol of friendship between our two countries.  He pledged to work harder “to deserve the honor of being part of Pomona College.”

            After the speech was translated for the audience, Qi says there was sustained applause, and President Edmunds decided to print and circulate it as the best commencement speech ever delivered at Pomona.   The professors lined up to shake Mei’s hand, addressing him as “Doctor Mei.” [45]

            In Honolulu, both the Mayor and the American Territorial Governor emphasized Mei’s unique contribution to peaceful relations among the various nationalities living in Hawaii, as he was already admired by Chinese and Japanese alike, but now had become known and appreciated by Americans as well.   The leader of the Institute of Pacific Relations is similarly quoted by Qi saying that Mei’s performances contributed more to communication and friendship among Pacific Rim nations than years of effort by his group.   Over 100 VIPS attended a welcoming event hosted by the Governor, including US military officers, diplomats, university presidents, professors, and businessmen. 

            On July 20, the New York Times reported, “Mei Lan-fang Back in China; Expresses Thanks to America”:

            SHANGHAI, July 19.– Mei Lan-fang, China’s most famous actor, who returned here yesterday from his American tour, made a formal call today on Edwin S. Cunningham, American Consul General, and asked him to transmit to the American people his appreciation of the cordiality of his reception in the United States.

            Mei Lan-fang is being widely feted here as a good-will ambassador from China to America.

            An insightful summary of the tour’s meaning and impact was provided by China Institute trustee Edward C. Carter in a September 1930 article, “Mei Lan-Fang in America.”  

            Carter points out that Mei, “although he is recognized as a genius, is not regarded in essentials as an exception to the general run of his countrymen.   He is appreciated, not because he is ‘really like an American,’ but because he is truly Chinese.  He has even caused us to question our own dramatic forms and our manners.  And he has led many of us to respect the Chinese and their civilization in a way no amount of preaching has ever done.  The truth is that, as he crystallizes in his dramatic gestures the reality they represent, so he crystallizes in himself much that is most beautiful and significant in the Chinese character…. 

            “For many New Yorkers it was a new and exciting experience to sit in an audience that was one third Chinese.  There were Ph.D.’s from Columbia and restaurant owners from Mott Street.  But New York saw them all from a new angle.  So it was also in San Francisco and Los Angeles.  Whether all the Americans who attended were able to accept the lines in the libretto, ‘To know their theatre is to know in no small degree the Chinese people,’ certainly all came away admitting that you do not really know the Chinese people until you have seen and heard this great actor.  And if we have any faith in mutual appreciation and respect among peoples as a force for international understanding, we must be grateful that China has sent us such a symbol of herself as Mei Lan-fang.”  [46]

            A year after Mei’s return, the first shots of a new world war were fired in China, as Paul Reinsch had warned, with the infamous Mukden Incident (September 18 Incident, Jiu yi ba Shibian), staged by Japan as a pretext to invade and occupy Northeast China.   With the drums of war growing louder in Europe as well, Mei made an important visit to the Soviet Union in 1935, performing in Moscow and Leningrad.   Although this tour lasted only three weeks, Mei’s art greatly influenced the international theater through his interactions with actors, artists and writers such as Sergei Eisenstein, Konstantin Stanislavski, and Berthold Brecht.  [47]

            Mei Lanfang, Tretyakov e Eisenstein, courtesy Mei Lanfang Museum

While his troupe remained in Moscow, Mei traveled to western Europe, hoping to arrange a tour of the continent.  In contrast to his reception in America, Mei was unsuccessful in Berlin and Paris, and continued on to London, where he was similarly disappointed. 

            However, while in London, he was eagerly sought out by an American, Paul Robeson, who had developed a passionate interest in China and Chinese culture.  Their meeting is documented in a photo taken outside of Claridge’s Hotel, with Mei and Robeson standing together.  Between them is the leading Chinese-American actress of the day, and Robeson’s friend of many years, Anna May Wong (Huang Liushuang). 

Paul Robeson: “The remarkable kinship between African and Chinese culture”

            Robeson’s father was born a slave in the American South.  He escaped slavery in 1860, the year of Lincoln’s election, and fled to Pennsylvania, later graduating from Lincoln University near Philadelphia.   He became a Minister in Princeton, New Jersey, where Paul Robeson was born in 1898.

            Ironically, Robeson grew up in Princeton while the future US President Woodrow Wilson was serving as President of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910.   In his autobiography, Robeson explains that Princeton was largely populated by white people from the South, who imposed strict segregation against blacks and refused them admission to the University.  “And like the South to which its heart belonged,” Robeson writes, “Princeton’s controlling mind was in Wall Street.”  [48]   While often portrayed as a progressive Democrat, Wilson himself was a Confederate sympathizer born in Virginia, who imposed racial segregation in the federal government, and followed the British lead in foreign policy.   Robeson recounts how his own older brother was refused admission to Princeton University, despite a plea by his father to Wilson personally. [49]

            Paul won a scholarship to Rutgers College in 1915, where he excelled in his studies and developed his talent as an actor, singer and athlete.  He attended Columbia University Law School, earning a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1923, but rejected the legal profession in favor of performing on the stage in the United States and England.    His success led to recording contracts and starring roles in film and theater productions, as well as the US concert tour managed by the great impresario F.C. Coppicus in 1929, weeks before Mei’s arrival in New York.   During Mei’s tour, Robeson was starring in the title role of Shakespeare’s Othello in London.  

            While Robeson had decided to make his home in London and was welcomed into aristocratic circles there, his outlook was transformed by his contact with African students and workers.  “I came to consider that I was an African,” Robeson writes. [50]   He enrolled in the London School of Oriental and African Studies, and plunged into a study of African languages and cultures, which led him directly to a discovery of China.  “I came to learn of the remarkable kinship between African and Chinese culture,” Robeson writes.  He found it “astonishing, and, to me, fascinating to find a flexibility and subtlety in a language like Swahili, sufficient to convey the teachings of Confucius….” [51]   In the midst of this intellectual turmoil, Robeson met Mei Lanfang, which could only deepen his already strong attachment to China and its people.   “As a Negro, I am often reminded of the parallel between China and Africa,” Robeson would later say.  “Both lands have had a glorious and ancient culture.  Both lands have known the oppression and exploitation of aliens who spat upon culture, and spread abroad the poison of racial hate and intolerance.” [52]

            With the rise of fascism in Europe and Asia, Robeson resolved that he must join the political struggle.  “The artist must elect to fight for Freedom or for Slavery,” Robeson said.  “I have made my choice.  I had no alternative.” [53]   He traveled to Spain in 1938 to perform in support of republican forces against Franco’s fascist army, and was welcomed into the labor movement in England, Wales and Scotland.   He soon decided that he could be most effective back in the United States, and returned home in 1939.

“An unofficial national anthem”

            Shanghai YMCA leader Liu Liangmo had popularized March of the Volunteers in China as part of the movement for mass singing of patriotic songs against the Japanese invaders.   Liu arrived in the US in 1940, carrying many songs of resistance which he hoped would help mobilize Americans in support of China.   Liu thought of Robeson, “whose fame had reached me even when I was in China, and whose sonorous voice I had already heard on the silver screen and on gramophone records.  I thought if only I could get Robeson to sing the songs of resistance, there could be nothing better.” [54] 

            A 2017 China Daily article recounted the story:

            Liu had a friend who knew Robeson and a phone call led to a meeting.

            “You just came from China?” Robeson said in his celebrated deep basso profondo voice.  “Wonderful!  Wonderful!”

            Liu told the 6-foot-3 African-American avid civil rights activist about the songs of resistance.  Robeson asked him to sing some of them, and then asked him to repeat March of the Volunteers.

            Weeks later giving a concert in an open air amphitheater in West Harlem, Robeson held up his hand asking for silence.

            “Tonight, I want to sing a song for the heroic Chinese people in battle,” he said.  “The title of the song is Chee Lai.”  And he proceeded to sing March of the Volunteers in flawless Mandarin.

            Robeson recorded the song with a youth chorus Liu had put together from New York’s laundry workers, and revenue from sales of the gramophone recording went to the war effort in China. [55]

            The recording included a booklet with statements by Robeson and Dr. Sun’s widow Soong Ching Ling (Song Qingling).  “From songs immensely popular among the people, China has found a new strength against the invaders,” Soong wrote.  “The voice speaks for the peoples of all nations.  It has become a bond uniting all people struggling for freedom.” [56]

            “Sung by millions of Chinese, it is an unofficial national anthem,” Robeson stated.  “It stands, I was told, for a spirit of fighting against a mighty power.”  [57]

            The song became immensely popular in the US, especially as America joined the war against Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor.   Robeson became the honorary director of the China Defense League, founded by Soong in 1938, and regularly performed at concerts supporting the Chinese resistance.  This was also the high point of Robeson’s career and popularity, as his patriotic anti-fascist and anti-imperialist views, and his sympathy for the Soviet Union, cohered with the outlook of the majority of the nation under the wartime presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

            In stark contrast to America’s previous wartime President, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt was solidly in the tradition of the American Revolution and Abraham Lincoln, and thus staunchly opposed to the British Empire in any form.   His domestic policies of large-scale public works, government financing of industry and regulation of Wall Street, also defined him as a follower of American System economics.  

            As such, Roosevelt had many well-documented clashes with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who was determined to preserve the Empire and maintain the subservience of China and other “colonial peoples.” 

            “I’ve tried to make it clear,” Roosevelt told his son Elliott, “that while we’re [Britain’s] allies and in it to victory by their side, they must never get the idea that we’re in it just to help them hang on to their archaic, medieval empire ideas …   I hope they realize they’re not senior partner; that we are not going to sit by and watch their system stultify the growth of every country in Asia and half the countries in Europe to boot.”  [58]

            Thus, Roosevelt forged an alliance with China, and promoted China as a member of the “Big Four” along with the United States, the Soviet Union and Britain, one of the great nations which would plan the conduct of the war and direct world affairs afterwards.   Accordingly, Roosevelt signed the Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act of 1943, which once again allowed Chinese immigration and citizenship, with some restrictions that were removed over the following years.

            Robeson emphasized the change under Roosevelt in a 1944 speech delivered at a Sun Yat-sen tribute meeting in New York City:

            “The difference in the objectives between World War I and World War II can be measured by the fact that even in the midst of the present war, at the Moscow and Cairo Conferences, China’s position as one of the four great allied powers was recognized not merely in words but in action, and the return of all territories stolen from her by Japan was guaranteed.

            “The offensive extra-territoriality rights maintained by the western powers in China to give evidence of their superiority have been renounced, and we have repealed the humiliating Chinese Exclusion Act.

            “At the core of all that is progressive in China, and at the root of her new eminence as a world power, are the ‘Three People’s Principles’ which China’s great leader, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, preached and practiced: nationalism and independence, democracy and advancement of the condition of the people.” [59]

Joseph Stilwell, Brooks Atkinson, and China’s Valley Forge

            The man Franklin Roosevelt selected to be his military representative in China was General Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell, who was appointed commanding general of US Army forces of the China-Burma-India theater.  His primary mission was to organize an offensive against Japanese forces as soon as practicable, providing leadership, training and supplies for the armed forces of China which had been single-handedly battling the Japanese invaders since 1937.   Since Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi) was the recognized leader of China at the time, Stilwell was made Chiang’s Chief of Staff, an arrangement which ultimately proved impossible. 

            In Joseph Stilwell, Roosevelt had a military leader with long experience in China.  He graduated from West Point in 1904, and taught languages there for several years.   After service in the Philippines, he traveled to China in 1911 and witnessed events of the republican revolution in Shanghai and Guangzhou.    After serving as an intelligence officer in World War I, he was assigned to learn Chinese in 1919 and studied in Beijing for three years.   His wife and three children made their home there and the family immersed itself in Chinese culture– his other two children would later be born in China.   Here he received his Chinese name, Shi Diwei, which could be translated as “a good and strong leader in history.”   Stilwell served again in China from 1926 to 1929 in Tianjin, and then filled the important post of military attache of the US embassy from 1935 to 1939, joined again by his wife and children.   This time, Stilwell’s job included observation of the Japanese invasion and aggression as well as the response of the Chinese leadership and military forces.  His reports expressed respect for the Communist forces, and lack of confidence in Chiang.  [60]

            Like Robeson, Stilwell established a close relationship to Soong Ching Ling, who he described as “most responsive and likable, quiet and poised but misses nothing….”  [61]  His judgment of the Chinese people also echoed the observations of Burlingame, Grant and Reinsch before him.  “[I have] faith in Chinese soldiers and Chinese people,” Stilwell wrote in his diary, “fundamentally great, democratic, misgoverned.  No bars of caste or religion….  Honest, frugal, industrious, cheerful, independent, tolerant, friendly, courteous.” [62]   In a 1942 radio broadcast, Stilwell further honored the Chinese soldier and people.  “The Chinese defense has stood up,” Stilwell said, “and now, after five years, it is a privilege to be here and pay tribute to the man who has carried the burden and gone through the test of battle– the Chinese soldier.  To me the Chinese soldier best exemplifies the greatness of the Chinese people– their indomitable spirit, their uncomplaining loyalty, their honesty of purpose, their steadfast perseverance.” [63]  At the same time, Stilwell was disgusted by the imperialistic attitudes and pretenses of many of his British counterparts.

Gen. Stilwell and Soong Ching Ling

            While Stilwell doggedly pursued his mission, and the Chinese people maintained their heroic resistance, the battle to mobilize public opinion continued at home.   After trying to enlist in the Navy and being rejected because of his age, Brooks Atkinson joined that battle in late 1942, when he was made the New York Times correspondent in China and sent to the wartime capital of Chongqing.   He quickly assumed a position of leadership, becoming President of the newly-organized Association of Foreign Correspondents in China in May 1943. [64]   The man who believed he saw “the soul of the Chinese nation” in Mei Lanfang, wrote some 250 articles over the next two-and-a-half years, designed to inspire the American people to support that nation in its darkest hour.  Some of these articles compared the Chinese resistance against the Japanese occupiers to the American revolution against the British, a comparison echoing the theme of The Orphan of China of almost two centuries before.  

            A September 12, 1943 article featured a large photo of Chinese soldiers on duty at a muddy outpost with the headline: “China’s Valley Forge: Her armies, worn and tattered like Washington’s, have unbeatable spirit.”     “What the ragamuffins of the Revolution were to America,” Atkinson wrote, “the Chinese soldier is to Free China….   [W]hen the Japs are finally driven out of China it will be by the sort of cotton-clad, straw-shod soldier who seems to be infiltrated through all of Free China today.”

            “U.S. Of Revolution Likened To China.  Many Parallels Found in Our Struggle for Freedom and Ally’s War with Japan,” read another headline of November 30, 1944.   “To understand the development of our Far Eastern Ally,” wrote Atkinson, “it is illuminating to compare it in some ways to America 160 and 170 years ago.  There are many startling comparisons between the war in China today and the American Revolution.”

            Most of Atkinson’s articles expressed deep confidence in the moral qualities of the Chinese people, despite their many years of suffering and struggle.  Some examples of headlines and quotes are:

China’s Arms Low But Spirit Is High (July 8, 1943)

Boats On Yangtze Defy Foe’s Planes (July 12, 1943)

Chinese Are Eager For War Training.  Stilwell’s Chief Task Now Is Instructing Them in Art of Modern Warfare (July 27, 1943)

China Holds the Line.  In the people of China we have good allies. (February 20, 1944)

China Undaunted As Foe Plunges On (September 5, 1944)

China Has Vision Of Industrialism.  China is seething with ambition.  The post-war plans, based on Sun Yat-sen’s policies, include a stupendous amount of road and railroad building, organization of water power and waterways and industrial  development. (December 5, 1944)

Backbone of China’s Resistance.  It is the enduring peasant, who supplies the rice and the soldiers, hates and thwarts the Japanese.  To the peasants of China we owe profound thanks. (January 14, 1945)

“China’s 400 millions must be united”

             By 1944, American supporters of China felt compelled to openly address the internal conflict among Chinese forces.  “China today is fighting with one arm tied,” declared Paul Robeson in his March 12, 1944 speech in New York City.  “The arm that is tied is the Communist-led Eighth Route and New Fourth Armies.  Despite the great work which these armies have done in defending China… , the Chinese guerilla armies have been held in check, blockaded and hunted down, and denied financial, military or economic aid from their government….

            “The three year’s blockade against the Chinese guerilla forces must be lifted,” he demanded.  “The entire might and strength of China’s 400 millions must be united.” [65]

            With Stilwell’s support, Roosevelt dispatched a United States Army Observation Group, the famous “Dixie Mission,” to the Communist headquarters in Yan’an in July 1944.  Atkinson arrived there in October, and wrote a positive report of his impressions published in the Times October 6, under the headline, “Yenan, a Chinese Wonderland City…  Gasoline Is Unrationed, Food Also Is Plentiful, Shows Are Free.”   He interviewed Mao Zedong, who discussed his conditions for entering a coalition government.   In a December 8 article reporting Mao’s comments, Atkinson revealed that Chiang’s “Kuomintang censor suppressed the entire interview,” so he gave his last copy to US Ambassador Patrick Hurley, who was conducting negotiations for a possible coalition.  [66]

            Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Mao Zedong and US ambassador to China Patrick J. Hurley (back row) in an American army jeep.

But by that time the fateful blow had been struck– Joseph Stilwell had been relieved of his duties in China, as demanded by Chiang Kai-shek.  

            Almost immediately, Stilwell told the shocking story directly to Atkinson, who was “horrified and disgusted.” [67]  “Saw Madame Sun Yat-sen,” Stilwell writes.  “She cried and was generally broken up.” [68] His diary entry for October 19 reports: “Atkinson going home to blow the works.” [69]    What soon followed was a long page one New York Times feature article, Atkinson’s greatest scoop of the war, published October 31 after clearing US War Department censorship at the highest level.   “Long Schism Seen,” the headlines read. “Stilwell Break Stems From Chiang Refusal to Press War Fully.  Peace With Reds Barred.  Generalissimo Regards Their Armies Fighting Japanese as Threat to His Rule.”

            Atkinson was unstinting in his praise of Stilwell.  “Like most foreigners who know the Chinese people, he loved them,” Atkinson wrote, “for they are the glory of China.  From long experience Stilwell had great confidence in the capacities of the Chinese soldiers, who even then were fighting on nothing….  Inside China, everything Stilwell has tried to do has been obstructed and delayed.”

            At the same time, Atkinson was scathing in his indictment of Chiang’s rule, writing that the removal of Stilwell “represents the political triumph of a moribund anti-democratic regime that is more concerned with maintaining its political supremacy than in driving the Japanese out of China.  America is now committed at least passively to supporting a regime that has become increasingly unpopular and distrusted in China, that maintains three secret police services and concentration camps for political prisoners, that stifles free speech and resists democratic forces.”

            In his diaries, Stilwell had called Chiang “a stubborn, ignorant, prejudiced, conceited despot.” [70] “I judge Kuomintang and Kungchantang [Communist Party] by what I saw,” he wrote. 

            “[KMT] Corruption, neglect, chaos, economy, taxes, words and deeds.  Hoarding, black market, trading with the enemy.

            “Communist program… reduce taxes, rents, interest.  Raise production, and standard of living.  Participate in government.  Practice what they preach.” [71]

            “Chiang K’ai-shek is confronted with an idea, and that defeats him,” Stilwell’s diaries continue prophetically.  “He is bewildered by the spread of Communist influence.  He can’t see that the mass of Chinese people welcome the Reds as being the only visible hope of relief from crushing taxation, the abuses of the Army and [the terror of] Tai Li’s (Dai Li) Gestapo.  Under Chiang K’ai-shek they now begin to see what they may expect.  Greed, corruption, favoritism, more taxes, a ruined currency, terrible waste of life, callous disregard for all the rights of man.” [72]

A rich legacy

            With Franklin Roosevelt as President, there was always hope that the United States would correct its errors, and fulfill his vision of a post-war world without empires and colonies, a world composed of equal and sovereign nations cooperating for large-scale economic development.   But this hope ended with his untimely death on April 12, 1945, as the United States soon fell under British domination in its foreign policy once again.

            Despite the terrible conflicts and hostilities of the subsequent years, the rich legacy of China-US relations, represented most profoundly by the American tour of Mei Lanfang, continued to express itself. 

            It was seen in the honors paid to the memory of Paul Robeson in China.  At Robeson’s passing in 1976, the Chinese government issued a tribute to him in the People’s Daily–

            “In the period of the Chinese people’s war of resistance, he sang ‘March of the Volunteers’ in the Chinese tongue and supported the war of the Chinese people against the Japanese, becoming a true friend to the people of our nation.” [73]  

            Robeson’s son Paul Jr. travelled to Beijing in 1980, and was personally welcomed there by Soong Ching Ling.  “The Chinese people have a special connection to your family,” she told him.  “Many cherish your father’s memory, including me.” [74]  In 2008, the 110th anniversary of Robeson’s birth was commemorated in China by the Soong Ching Ling Foundation Research Center.   “Today, the international community gathers in Beijing to commemorate the great personality of Paul Robeson,” said He Dazhang, Deputy Director of the Center, “but for the Chinese people, we want to state to the world that we as a nation will never forget Paul Robeson, or the fact that he supported our struggle against fascism.” [75]

            It was seen in the generosity extended to the memory of John Leighton Stuart, who had assisted Mei Lanfang in so many ways.   Despite the hostility between China and the US at the time of his death in Washington DC in 1962, Stuart expressed his wish to be buried in China.  Forty-six years later, his remains were returned there by retired Major General John L. Fugh, who was the first Chinese-American general officer of the US Army and the son of Stuart’s loyal student Philip Fugh.  General Fugh, like his father before him, had appealed for many years to Chinese officials, and finally received approval in 2008 after meeting with the future President of China Xi Jinping, who was then Zhejiang Province Party Secretary.   Stuart’s ashes were interred near his parents in Hangzhou on November 17 of that year, in a ceremony attended by the vice mayor, US ambassador Clark Randt, and several Yanjing alumni, and their family home has been restored by local authorities as a museum and memorial.  [76]

            It was seen in the establishment of the Stilwell Museum by the Chongqing municipal government in 1994, in a ceremony attended by US Defense Secretary William Perry.   Stilwell’s residence and headquarters were preserved and restored, and the museum filled with photos of the General with Chinese soldiers, and of American officers fraternizing with Chinese leaders like Mao Zedong, Zhu De, and Zhou Enlai.   It features a large bust of Stilwell with his Chinese name engraved below.  [77]

            Set in stone in the courtyard, in English and Chinese, is a letter from President Roosevelt honoring the people of Chongqing for their heroism in withstanding massive Japanese terror bombing during the war.    “In the name of the people of the United States,” Roosevelt wrote, “I present this scroll to the city of Chungking as a symbol of our admiration for its brave men, women and children….  They proved gloriously that terrorism cannot destroy the spirit of a people determined to be free.  Their fidelity to the cause of freedom will inspire the hearts of all future generations.”

            A poster welcoming visitors to the Museum poignantly addresses the positive legacy of China-US relations.

            “Those days are unforgettable, and the friendship between the peoples of the two countries is precious.  The Chinese people, especially the people of Chongqing, have great respect to the American friends for their contributions to the Chinese people’s course of national liberation.  The valuable friendship will live forever in the hearts of the Chinese people.”

            Most of all, it was seen in the graciousness of Mei Lanfang’s son and artistic successor, Mei Baojiu, in coming to America in 2014 to renew the offer of friendship and goodwill represented by his father’s achievement 84 years earlier. 

From left: Peking opera actress Dou Xiaoxuan, Chinese Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai, Peking opera master Mei Baojiu and Peking opera actor Hu Wenge pose for a photo at a reception in the Chinese embassy in Washington on Tuesday evening. Chen Weihua / China Daily

            Mei Baojiu (1934-2016) was the ninth and youngest child of Mei Lanfang, and the only one to become a performer and teacher of the Mei School of Beijing Opera.  He was taught by his father and other masters, and first performed on the stage when he was 10 years old.  At his father’s death in 1961, he took the responsibility of carrying on his legacy, becoming the leader of the Mei Lanfang Jingju (Beijing Opera) Troupe of the Jingju Theater Company of Beijing.  He devoted the last period of his life to introducing young people to Mei’s art, and educating many students as leaders of the third generation of the Mei School.

            In August 2014, the 120th anniversary of his father’s birth, Mei Baojiu organized more than 100 artists of his Troupe to perform in the United States in commemoration of the 1930 tour.   “In 1930, my father performed  many shows in the United States, in New York, Washington DC, and Los Angeles,” Mei said.  “So if I’m going to do something in memory of my father, to celebrate his work, I must return to those cities.” [78]

             He selected several plays created by his father to present in three performances at Lincoln Center in New York, and two performances at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC.    As in 1930, a moderator introduced the plays to the audience, and a written program was distributed, but technology was used to project a simultaneous translation onto screens at either side of the stage.  

            In New York, several actors in full costume and makeup went out onto the streets of Times Square to meet the people and personally introduce them to Beijing Opera.  Mei was also invited to speak to the public, including at the offices of the United Nations.  In Washington, the entire troupe was invited to a reception in the Chinese embassy, where ambassador Cui Tiankai emphasized the “unique significance” of the tour, since 2014 was also the 35th anniversary of the establishment of China-US diplomatic relations. [79]   The performances were received enthusiastically by the 2000 or more people in attendance each evening, and the tour received excellent reviews in The New York Times and other media.

            Mei Baojiu explained his purpose in terms similar to his father before him.  “Bringing the Peking Opera to the United States not only provides an important cultural exchange,” he said, “but also strengthens the China-US relationship.”  [80]

            Mei Baojiu passed away in 2016 in Beijing at the age of 82.  Today, it is the responsibility of the third generation Mei School, and of all Chinese and American people of good will, to continue the work of Mei Lanfang.


Archives of The New York Times.

Carter, Edward C., “Mei Lan-Fang in America,” Pacific Affairs, Vol. 3, No. 9 (Sep. 1930), pp. 827-833.

Chaitkin, Anton, “The ‘land-bridge’: Henry Carey’s global development program,” Executive Intelligence Review, Vol. 24, No. 19 (May 2, 1997), pp. 30-53.

Cosdon, Mark, “’Introducing Occidentals to an Exotic Art’: Mei Lanfang in New York,” Asian Theatre Journal, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Spring 1995), pp. 175-189.

Evarts, Hon. William M., Banquet to His Excellency Anson Burlingame and His Associates of the Chinese Embassy.  New York: Sun Book and Job Printing House, 1868.

Foner, Philip S., ed., Paul Robeson Speaks, 1918-1974. New York: Citadel Press, 1978.

Garland, Hamlin, Ulysses S. Grant: His Life and Character. New York: Doubleday & McClure, 1898.

Guy, Nancy, “Brokering Glory for the Chinese Nation: Peking Opera’s 1930 American Tour,” Comparitive Drama, Vol. 35, No. ¾ (Fall/Winter 2001-02), pp. 377-392.

Larrabee, Eric, Commander-in-Chief Franklin Delano Roosevelt, His Lieutenants, and Their War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987.

Leibovitz, Liel and Matthew Miller, Fortunate Sons. New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011.

Logan, James, Of the Duties of Man, as they may be deduced from Nature, edited with an introductory essay by Philip Valenti.  Philadelphia, 2013.

Mei Lan-fang, “My Life on the Stage,” Eastern Horizon, Vol. 1, No. 15 (December 1961), pp. 11-29.

Packard, J.F., Grant’s Tour Around the World. Cincinnati: Forshee & McMakin, 1880.

Pugach, Noel H., “American Friendship for China and the Shantung Question at the Washington Conference,” The Journal of American History, Vol. 64, No. 1 (Jun. 1977), pp. 67-86.

Pugach, Noel H., “Making the Open Door Work: Paul S. Reinsch in China, 1913-1919,” Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 38, No. 2 (May 1969), pp. 157-175.

Qi Rushan, Mei Lanfang you Mei ji.  Shenyang: Liaoning Publishing Company, 2005.

Rao, Nancy Yunhwa, “Racial Essences and Historical Invisibility: Chinese Opera in New York, 1930,” Cambridge Opera Journal, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Jul. 2000), pp. 135-162.

Reinsch, Paul S., An American Diplomat in China, 1913-1919. Garden City, NY and Toronto: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1922.

Robeson, Paul, Here I Stand. Boston: Beacon Press, 1958.

Roosevelt, Elliott, As He Saw It.  New York: Duell, Sloane and Pearce, 1946.

Saussy, Haun, “Mei Lanfang in Moscow, 1935: Familiar, Unfamiliar, Defamiliar,” Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Spring 2006), pp. 8-29. 

Schrecker, John, “’For the Equality of Men– For the Equality of Nations’: Anson Burlingame and China’s First Embassy to the United States, 1868,” The Journal of American-East Asian Relations, Vol. 17, No. 1 (2010), pp. 9-34.

Scott, A.C., Mei Lan-fang: The Life and Times of a Peking Actor. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1959.

Shen, Dr. Eugene, China Institute in America. New York City: China Institute in America, 1930.

Simon, John Y., ed., The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, Volume 29, October 1, 1878-September 30, 1880. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2008.

Stilwell, Joseph W., The Stilwell Papers, arranged and edited by Theodore H. White. New York: William Sloane Associates, Inc., 1948.

Tuchman, Barbara W., Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-1945. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1970.

Valenti, Philip, “The Orphan of Zhao: A Chinese Inspiration for the American Revolution?” Confluent, No. 10 (October 2015), pp. 61-78.

Valenti, Philip. “Zhao shi gu er yu Meiguo ge ming,” Xi Ju Xue, Shanghai Xi Ju Xueyuan: Vol. 4, 2016.12, pp. 135-147.

Wang, Dave, “Confucius in the American Founding,” Virginia Review of Asian Studies, Vol. 16, 2014.

Worthen, James, Governor James Rolph and the Great Depression in California. Jefferson, North Carolina, and London: McFarland & Company, 2006.

Yung Wing, My Life in China and America. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1909.


[1]    Philip Valenti, “The Orphan of Zhao: A Chinese Inspiration for the American Revolution?” Confluent, No. 10 (October 2015), pp. 61-78.

[2] Valenti, “The Orphan of Zhao.”

[3]    Dave Wang, “Confucius in the American Founding.” Virginia Review of Asian Studies, Vol. 16 (2014).

[4]    The Pennsylvania Gazette, March 17, 1768.

[5]   John Schrecker, “’For the Equality of Men—for the Equality of Nations’: Anson Burlingame and China’s First Embassy to the United States, 1868,” Journal of American-East Asian Relations 17.1 (2010), p. 11.

[6]    Thirty-seventh Congress. Sess. II. Ch. 27, Sec. 4. February 19, 1862.

[7]    Hon. William M. Evarts, Banquet to His Excellency Anson Burlingame and His Associates of the Chinese Embassy. (New York: Sun Book and Job Printing House, 1868), pp. 11-18.

[8]  Yung Wing, My Life in China and America. (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1909) p. 15.

[9]    Yung, My Life, pp. 69-70.

[10]  Ibid., p. 74.

[11]  Ibid.

[12]  J.F. Packard, Grant’s Tour Around the World. (Cincinnati: Forshee & McMakin, 1880) p. 722.

[13]  Hamlin Garland, Ulysses S. Grant: His Life and Character. (New York: Doubleday & McClure, 1898) p. 466.

[14]  J.F. Packard, Grant’s Tour Around the World, pp. 711-712.

[15]  John Y. Simon, ed., The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, Volume 29, October 1, 1878-September 30, 1880. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univesity Press, 2009) p. 217n.

[16]  Ibid., July 16, 1879, p. 185.

[17]  Ibid., July 23, 1879, p. 190.

[18]  Ibid., August 10, 1879, pp. 211-212.

[19]  J.F. Packard, Grant’s Tour, p. 738.

[20]  Ibid. p. 740.

[21]  Ibid., p. 780.

[22]  Ibid., p. 797.

[23]  Liel Liebovitz and Matthew Miller, Fortunate Sons (New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011), pp. 161-162.

[24]  Ibid., pp. 163-164.

[25]        Forty seventh Congress, Sess. I. Chap. 126, May 6, 1882.

[26]  Anton Chaitkin, “The ‘land-bridge’: Henry Carey’s global development program,” Executive Intelligence Review, Vol. 24, No. 19 (May 2, 1997), pp. 48-51.

[27]  Paul S. Reinsch, An American Diplomat in China, 1913-1919. (Garden City, NY, Toronto: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1922), p. xii.

[28]  Noel H. Pugach, “Making the Open Door Work: Paul S. Reinsch in China, 1913-1919,” Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 38, No. 2 (May 1969), pp. 156-160.

[29]  Ibid., pp. 164-165.

[30]  Paul S. Reinsch, An American Diplomat in China, p. 361.

[31]  Ibid., pp. 364-365.

[32]  Ibid., pp. 383-384.

[33]  Qi Rushan, Mei Lanfang you Mei ji, (Shenyang: Liaoning Publishing Company, 2005), pp. 2-3.  (English language renditions of Qi Rushan’s writings appearing in this article are based on translations by Gong Lingshan.)

[34]  Qi Rushan, Mei Lanfang you Mei ji, p. 55.

[35] “Mei Lan-Fang Here With His Actors,” The New York Times, February 9, 1930.

[36]  Leibovitz and Miller, Fortunate Sons, p. 237.

[37]  Qi Rushan, p. 95.

[38]  Richard F. Shepard, “Brooks Atkinson, 89, Dead; Times Drama Critic 31 Years,” The New York Times, January 14, 1984.

[39]  J. Brooks Atkinson, “China’s Idol Actor Reveals His Art,” The New York Times, February 17, 1930.

[40]  Edward C. Carter, “Mei Lan-fang in America,” Pacific Affairs, Vol. 3, No. 9 (September 1930), p. 832.

[41]  J. Brooks Atkinson, “Mei Lan-fang: Ambassador in Art.” The New York Times, February 23, 1930.

[42]  Qi Rushan, p. 120.

[43]  Ibid., p. 108.

[44]  Ibid. pp. 106-107.

[45]  Qi Rushan, pp. 171-173.

[46]  Edward C. Carter, “Mei Lan-Fang in America,” Pacific Affairs, University of British Columbia, Vol. 3, No. 9 (Sep. 1930), pp. 827-833.

[47]  Haun Saussy, “Mei Lanfang in Moscow, 1935: Familiar, Unfamiliar, Defamiliar,” Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Spring 2006).

[48]  Paul Robeson, Here I Stand. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1958). p. 10.

[49]  Ibid., p. 11.

[50]  Ibid., p. 33.

[51]  Ibid., pp. 34-35.

[52]  Philip S. Foner, ed., Paul Robeson Speaks, 1918-1974. (New York: Citadel Press, 1978), p. 155.

[53]  Paul Robeson, Here I Stand, p. 52.

[54]  Chris Davis, “China’s national anthem got a boost from a US star,” China Daily, July 5, 2017.

[55]  Ibid.

[56]  “Paul Robeson: A Voice That Inspired China,” China Today, January 15, 2009.

[57]  Ibid.

[58]  Elliott Roosevelt, As He Saw It (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1946)

[59]  Philip S. Foner, ed., Paul Robeson Speaks, p. 155.

[60]  Eric Larrabee, Commander-in-Chief Franklin Delano Roosevelt, His Lieutenants, and Their War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987)

[61]  Joseph W. Stilwell, The Stilwell Papers (New York: William Sloane Associates, Inc.: 1948), p. 132.

[62]  Ibid., p. 316

[63]  Ibid., 123-124.

[64]  “Press Group In China,” The New York Times, May 19, 1943.

[65]  Paul Robeson Speaks, pp. 155-156.

[66]  Brooks Atkinson, “Scope of Terms Indicated,” The New York Times, December 8, 1944.

[67]  The Stilwell Papers, p. 345.

[68]  Ibid., p. 346.

[69]  Ibid.  p. 345.

[70]  Ibid., p. 126.

[71]  Ibid., p. 316.

[72]  Ibid., p. 317.

[73]  Quoted in: Chris Davis, “China’s national anthem got a boost from a US star,” China Daily, July 5, 2017.

[74]  “Paul Robeson: A Voice That Inspired China,” China Today, January 15, 2009.

[75]  Adrian Chan-Wyles, trans., “Beijing: 110th Celebration of Paul Robeson’s Birthday in Photographs (2008),”

[76]  David Barboza, “John Leighton Stuart, China Expert, Is Buried There at Last,” The New York Times, November 19, 2008.

[77]  Jane Perlez, “China Maintains Respect, and a Museum, for a U.S. General,” The New York Times, February 23, 2016.

[78]   “US tour marks Mei Lanfang anniversary,”, Aug. 21, 2014

[79]  “Following in the Master’s Footsteps on 120th Anniversary of famous Peking Opera master Mei Lanfang,” Wu Promotion.

[80]  Patricia Reaney, “China’s Peking Opera company marks anniversary with U.S. Tour,” Reuters, August 20, 2014.


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