Stamps and mail show many examples of the cultural exchange between China and the U.S. in science, literature, politics, religion, and other fields. Before 1949, American missionaries in China often shared their experiences in letters.
Much later, hundreds of millions of copies of The Quotations of Chairman Mao circulated inside China and, in translation, around the world and the U.S. At different times, both countries also made personal connections and shared ideas through international sports and global cultural events like world's fairs.
Many American missionaries in China learned local languages and dialects, living there for most of their lives. Missionaries often established and worked in schools, universities, hospitals, and orphanages, helping to bridge languages and cultures. Anti-foreign campaigns in the early 1950s ended the missionary era.
5c Pearl Buck model, 1982
The Nobel Prize winning American novelist Pearl Buck (1892–1973) grew up in China as the daughter of American missionaries. She wrote about Chinese rural life in books that included The Good Earth (1931). Artist Paul Calle sketched her portrait for the USPS Great Americans stamp series.
Loan courtesy United States Postal Service, Postmaster General’s Collection
During the Cultural Revolution, Chinese citizens studied Mao's "Little Red Book" and translated editions appeared worldwide. In the U.S., college students and members of groups such as the Black Panthers and Students for a Democratic Society received and distributed copies at the height of turmoil over the Vietnam War and civil rights.
Albert Einstein first day cover, China, 1979
Chinese students studying in the U.S. increased appreciation within China for physicist Albert Einstein (1879–1955) and his theory of relativity. China issued this stamp on Einstein’s birthday, March 14—also called Pi Day, since 3/14 includes the first digits of the value of pi.
These stamps depict earlier American journalists known for their sympathetic, on-site coverage of Communists in China: Edgar Snow (1905–1972), author of Red Star over China (1938); Agnes Smedley (1892–1950), who lived and reported in China in the 1930s; and Anna Louise Strong (1885–1970), who spent her final years there as well.
Between 1851 and 1914, China took part in 30 world’s fairs, exchanging ideas on culture, technology, and trade. Sir Robert Hart, head of Chinese customs and the postal system, chose the exhibits. Prince Pu Lun attended the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, where China first officially participated.
Workers in Beijing created a replica Chinese temple for display at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. Explorer Sven Hedin studied the original temple just before the Japanese occupied the region.
San Francisco World's Fair macerated stamp card, 1900s–1940s
At the 1939–40 San Francisco World's Fair, postcards portrayed an idyllic China through cut-up postage stamps. China, already in a years-long war with Japan, did not participate in the fair.
Knoxville World's Fair China pavilion postcard, 1982
China exhibited bricks from the Great Wall and ancient terracotta warriors at the Knoxville International Energy Exposition in 1982.
A century after China’s first world’s fair in 1910, Shanghai Expo 2010 set size and attendance records. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the Expo and USA pavilion that May.
Competition in a range of sports strengthened modern Chinese-American relations, starting with table tennis and "ping-pong diplomacy" around the time of President Nixon's visit in 1972.
Chinese athletes made history at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics when pistol shooter Xu Haifeng won China’s first gold medal. Chinese gymnast Li Ning won an extraordinary six medals, including three gold medals, in the same Olympics. Both athletes participated in the 2008 torch ceremony in Beijing.
The United States and China led the counts in the most medals awarded at the Beijing Olympics. The Beijing games also set a U.S. record as the most watched television event up to that time.