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Green Island, Macao (Aomen), watercolor by George R. West, 1844

Macao, a peninsula in southern China near Hong Kong, was settled by Portugal in the 1500s. For centuries, China restricted Western commerce to this area. Commissioner Caleb Cushing arrived in Macao in February 1844 to negotiate for American trade rights. The artist George R. West accompanied Cushing and painted many scenes of China.

Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Green Island, Macao (Aomen), watercolor by George R. West, 1844

The First Treaty with China

After Britain’s Opium War with China opened Chinese ports to British commerce in 1842, U.S. merchants petitioned Congress to obtain equal trade rights. In 1844 Representative Caleb Cushing of Massachusetts resigned to become America’s first commissioner to China and negotiated a trade treaty with the Ta Tsing (Qing) Empire. The Treaty of Wangxia, named for the village where it was signed, was the first treaty between the U.S. and China.