This is a beautifully illustrated book and a lively, entertaining, illuminating discussion of the contribution and effects of East Asian art on American culture. Warren Cohen portrays the assembling of the great American collections of East Asian art, public and private, and the idiosyncrasies of the collectors. Particular attention is focused on how this art became part of the cultural consciousness of the people of the United States, transforming their culture into something more complex than the Western civilization their ancestors brought from Europe. Cohen tells of art collectors, dealers, and historians, of museums and their curators, of art and imperialism, art and politics, art as an instrument of foreign policy.
One of America's leading diplomatic historians, Cohen views art as an important part of international relations. He describes the use of art in "cultural diplomacy" to implement policy by China, Japan, and the United States. He argues that "virtually every act in the movement of art between cultures has political implications." The book demonstrates how art collecting interacts with the shifting rhythms of international politics and the business cycle. The recent decline in American economic power, with Japan emerging preeminent, was first obvious in the art world where American collectors found themselves unable to compete with their Japanese and Hong Kong counterparts and watched great works begin to move back across the Pacific.