Mark Twain, the Treaty with China and Chinese Connection

Zehr, Martin. (2010). Mark Twain, “The Treaty with China,” and the Chinese Connection. Journal of Transnational American Studies, 2(1). Retrieved from:

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For today’s reader of Twain, the chronological appearance of “The Treaty with China” in August of 1868 may seem an anomalous entry in his bibliography, published at a time when his growing reputation is still primarily dependent on his ability to elicit a laugh or, for the more sophisticated reader, a knowing snicker. However, issues of race, class, and politics are not absent from his journalistic work prior to August 1868. Nothing in Twain’s writing prior to 1868, however, which had limited circulation, would have prepared the contemporary reader for the strong, unequivocal sympathies expressed toward the Chinese immigrants in “The Treaty with China.” For this reason alone, a closer analysis of “The Treaty” is warranted, providing prescient evidence regarding the political basis of Twain’s oeuvre at this embryonic stage of his career as a public figure. Many Twain scholars, largely through the brilliant analysis in Philip Foner’s 1958 work, Mark Twain: Social Critic, are already aware of the existence of “The Treaty with China,” even if they have never seen the text, but it has otherwise suffered from undeserved neglect, primarily because it has not been widely available to scholars since its 1868 publication, except for those with access to adequate microfilm resource libraries. This lacuna in Twain studies, at least, is now remedied with this reappearance of the entire text of “The Treaty with China.”

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