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The Youngest Introducing The Oldest

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The ambassador whose trousers Professor Boime and evidently Edgar Degas referred to was Anson Burlingame (November 14, 1820-February 23, 1870.) He served as a Congressman from Massachusetts (1855-1861) and then as U.S. Minister to China (1861-1867).
In 1868, Prince Kung appointed Burlingame as Special Chinese Ambassador to other nations, the only such instance on record. Burlingame then proceeded to negotiate treaties on China’s behalf with the United States, England, Prussia, Holland, Sweden and Denmark. He died in St. Petersburg, Russia, less than two years after his appointment.
Thomas Nast’s cartoon shows left to right:
Sultan Abdulazis Oglu Mahmud II of Turkey
John Bull, representing Great Britain
Tsar Alexander II of Russia
Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck of Prussia
Emperor Napoleon III of France (in front)
King Wilhelm I of Prussia
Prince Amadeo of Italy, future King of Spain (1870)
Queen Isabella of Spain
King Victor Emanuel II of Italy
Pope Pius IX
Columbia, representing the U.S.
A symbol of China
Ambassador Anson Burlingame
Professor Boime believes that Edgar Degas saw this cartoon and used Burlingame’s trousers as a model for René Degas’ in his picture, even though the cartoon appeared more than four years before his visit to New Orleans. Perhaps its international aspects, particularly the French emperor, drew his attention initially.
Harper’s Weekly wrote about The Celestial Embassy on July 18, 1868, to explain the cartoon in the same issue. Some of the discussion may be relevant today with regard to China’s role in world trade, human rights and other issues.
His Celestial Excellency, Mr. Burlingame, is having, as is most proper, a truly flowery reception. With his high born and illustrious co-dignitaries the Celestial Embassador entered the continent by "the granite portals of the Golden State," and they are receiving every where a welcome of good feeling as well as of wonder. It is, as our picture in this issue shows, the youngest nation introducing the oldest to the friendship of Christendom. It is, indeed, strange to hear a Yankee speaking for China, and claiming for her that kind of regard and respect which the world has not been accustomed to feel for the old empire. Despite all that we hear and know of its ancient and elaborate civilization, there is still the feeling that it is the most grotesque of barbarous nations, and that there is wholly wanting that plane of common interest and knowledge and sympathy upon which the nations of Christendom are accustomed to meet. The popular image of China is an enormous country surrounded by a high wall, probably with broken bottles strewn along the top, where the people wear their hair in a long tail, squeeze the feet of the women into deformity, cultivate tea, and eat rats and dogs…
And now the Celestial Embassador alights upon our shores—no outlandish foreigner, but a familiar public friend of our own, and side by side with native Chinese noblemen, yet their official chief, he quietly says to this amazed Brother Jonathan*, who evidently wonders how his Celestial Excellency scaled the wall with no further damage to his attire, "We seek not only the good of China, but we seek your good, and the good of all mankind…"
This means, of course, the same free and familiar intercourse that we have with European nations. It means treaties of commerce and amity. It means an opening of the ports and cities and interior of this great empire, secluded from the beginning of history, to the exploration and study of curiosity and science. It means the unconditional admission into China of all the influences, moral, social, intellectual, and industrial, of the outer civilization which it has always suspected and avoided. If his Celestial Excellency does not too warmly state the truth, his embassy is one of the most remarkable events in history; and we await with the greatest interest the practical propositions which he is authorized to make, by which this extraordinary change in the relations of China and the Western World is to be begun and accomplished.

* A prior name for Uncle Sam


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