Timeline: U.S.-Chinese Relations Through the Years

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This article originally appeared in the April 24the issue of TIME Asia

Sino-U.S. relations over the last 230 years have been marred by wars, diplomatic rows and xenophobia. But the desire for trans-Pacific trade has, in the end, always trumped cultural and ideological differences.

1784 Empress of China, the first U.S. ship to trade with China, arrives in Canton (now Guangzhou) after a six-month voyage, carrying 2,600 fur pelts and 30 tons of ginseng. It returns home with cotton, porcelain, silk and tea, earning the ship's owners about $30,000 in profits

1849 Following the discovery of gold in California, some 150,000 Chinese sail to the U.S. A few find fortune in the mines—San Francisco is still known as "Old Gold Mountain" in Chinese—but discrimination relegates most to menial labor, including construction of the transcontinental railroad

1868 China sends its first government delegation to the U.S. Years before, a Chinese official called America "an isolated place ... solitary and ignorant." But upon their arrival, China's emissaries marvel at American trains, steamships and weaponry

1941-45 The U.S. backs Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek in his fight against Japanese occupation. After World War II, Mao Zedong's Communists defeat Chiang's Nationalists, who flee to Taiwan. Mao founds the People's Republic of China, and more than two decades of isolation from the West begin

1950-53 U.S.-led forces in the Korean War are close to defeating North Korea when China sends troops to help its communist ally. The war ends in a stalemate

1971-72 American athletes head to China as part of a policy of "Ping-pong diplomacy." They pave the way for U.S. President Richard Nixon's historic visit to China. Seven years later, Washington normalizes relations with Beijing, and severs official diplomatic ties with Taiwan

1989 Chinese soldiers attack and kill hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators around Tiananmen Square, prompting a backlash in Washington, which imposes economic sanctions

1999 The U.S. Air Force bombs China's embassy in Belgrade; refusing to believe it was an accident, demonstrators take to China's streets

2001 A U.S. spy plane collides with a Chinese fighter jet, killing the Chinese pilot, then makes an emergency landing on the Chinese island of Hainan; the crew is held for 10 days until the U.S. issues a letter expressing its regret

2004 The U.S. surpasses Japan to become China's No. 1 trading partner, but conflicts over everything from the U.S. trade deficit to Chinese piracy of American goods will continue to strain the relationship