Founded in 1838 by merchant and philanthropist Nathan Dunn (1782-1844), the Chinese museum informed and entertained Philadelphians from 1838-1841 with its variety of objects, art, and life-size figures in recreated Chinese room settings. For the 50,000 or so people who visited, the museum provided a window into a world that few of them ever would have the chance to experience firsthand.
In his 1986 B.A. thesis at the University of Pennsylvania, Aaron Caplan described American diplomatic, commercial, and religious involvement in China and how the experiences of Anglo-American traders and missionaries influenced public perceptions of China and the Chinese. He explored how, in this context, Nathan Dunn's Chinese Museum educated and entertained the public and how it fit into the world of Philadelphia museums in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.