According to a liberal thesis, China may become prosperous and democratic at home as well as peaceful abroad if the United States integrates China into world trade. The thesis, however, is ahistorical because only after the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown was trade understood in salvationist terms. In the 1980s, U.S. leaders viewed trade as strengthening U.S.-China relations against Moscow. They also argued that Chinese economic reform could produce democracy (a discourse based on modernization theory). After Tiananmen, however, a pro-engagement coalition attached moral/liberal values to trade. Open trade, “engagers” argued, could not only induce Beijing to abide by the rules of the liberal world order, but it could also work from the outside in boosting Chinese politico-economic reform. Epistemologically, U.S.-China trade is a time-bound concept. Its meanings have been endogenous to the course of U.S. China policy. The current salvationist understanding of trade does not develop independently of the context of U.S. engagement with China.