Angell’s diplomatic journey to China


University of Michigan President James Burrill Angell once played a crucial role in negotiating two treaties with China. During the late 1800s, Angell traveled to China to negotiate an immigration treaty at the behest of the U.S. government. While there, he agreed to a second trade treaty drafted by the Chinese, which in part enacted an absolute ban on Chinese-American commerce in opium. The importation of opium that Western nations had forced upon China was, according to the American China expert John King Fairbank, “the most continued and systematic international crime of modern times.” Addiction levels had soared among China’s residents, and since Angell had seen opium’s effects for themselves, the treaty got his stamp of approval. Although Angell’s less severe compromise on Chinese immigration was ultimately squashed by Congress, resulting in the discriminatory Chinese Exclusion Act, the ban on U.S.-Chinese commerce in opium remained intact.

— Adapted from “Angell, China and Opium” by James Tobin, U-M Heritage Project


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