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America in China

Dating from the 19the Century, the US policy toward China had been commercial and not political, but the Japanese expansion began changing the old political realities. American attitudes did not change until the Japanese expanded into the European colonies of Southeast Asia and culminated with the raid on Pearl Harbor.

A ship called the Empress of China became the first vessel to sail from the United States to China, arriving in Guangzhou (Canton) in August 1784. The vessel's supercargo, Samuel Shaw, had been appointed as an unofficial consul by the U.S. Congress, but he did not make contact with Chinese officials or gain diplomatic recognition for the United States. Since the 1760s all trade with Western nations had been conducted at Guangzhou through a set group of Chinese merchants with official licenses to trade. Some residents of the American colonies had engaged in the China trade before this time, but this journey marked the new nation's entrance into the lucrative China trade in tea, porcelain, and silk.

Three Chinese sailors arrived in Baltimore in 1785, where they were stranded on shore by the trading ship that brought them there from Guangzhou. There is no record of what happened to them after that.

In 1843, Secretary of State Daniel Webster sent Caleb Cushing to China as Minister Plenipotentiary to negotiate a treaty with the Qing. Cushing hoped to journey to Beijing to conduct these negotiations, but the Qing refused to grant an imperial audience, which delayed the negotiations. He thus spent several months waiting in Macao for permission to travel to Beijing before finally giving up on that hope. Once he did so, the Qing negotiator, Qiying, quickly agreed to all the American terms (which were mostly the same as the British) and the two countries signed a treaty. The terms included extraterritoriality for U.S. citizens in China, most favored nation status, and a guarantee for treaty revision in twelve years. This marked the beginning of official diplomatic relations between the United States and China.

From the early 1800's, brave clipper ships crossed the ocean, catching the wind to deliver their cargoes of tea and silk. Tea imports grew exponentially in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The golden age of the China clipper ships in the mid-19th century was created by the tea trade. The famous Scotsman, Sir Thomas Lipton, used them to export his "brisk" blend of black tea to the U.S. during this period, packing his tea leaves in tins to prevent mold. Lipton Instant Tea flavor creations Lipton became a household word, however, after successfully capitalizing on two American tea innovations: the invention of the tea bag in 1908 and the introduction of iced tea at the Louisiana State Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Mo.

The first ship carrying Chinese laborers, known as "coolies," arrived in Cuba in 1847 with workers for the sugar plantations. Soon thereafter, coolie traders began to dock at U.S. ports, prompting the U.S. Congress to pass a law prohibiting U.S. citizens from engaging in the trade and guaranteeing the freedom of all Chinese laborers who came to the United States. After the California Gold Rush broke out in 1849, more and more Chinese laborers arrived to work in mines, on railroads, and in other mostly menial tasks. Over 100,000 Chinese came to the United States within the first 20 years. In 1875 the U.S. Congress passed the Page Act, which barred entry for Chinese coolie laborers and women brought in for prostitution. This law contradicted the treaty of 1868, but it was merely the first in a series of increasingly restrictive acts on the part of the United States. In 1892 the Geary Act extended the Chinese Exclusion Act's prohibition on Chinese immigration for another ten years (until 1902), and required all Chinese and Chinese descendents in the United States to carry residence permits or face deportation. It stripped Chinese in the United States of additional legal rights.

The earliest Western missionary schools were set up in South China, in Macao and Hong Kong in 1839. For example, the Morrison Education Society School was opened at Macao in 1839, transferred to Hong Kong in 1842, and lasted for only ten years. It was not until after the end of the Second Opium War in 1860 that private missionary education in English started to expand elsewhere in China owing to the establishment of more treaty ports and the persistent efforts of missionaries to convert the Chinese. The rapid expansion of such missionary education can be seen from the following figures: by the 1870s there were only 20 mission schools with around 230 students across the country, but by 1925, there were over 250,000 children in 7,000 Christian elementary schools, and about 26,000 in Christian middle schools.

In September 1899 and July 1900, Secretary of State John Hay issued the two Open Door Notes to all foreign powers with interests in China. The United States had become concerned over recent developments in China, where many foreign powers had claimed exclusive spheres of influence. Fearful that the long-standing free trade system in China would be compromised and that a weakening China might be carved up like Africa had been, Hay acted to defend U.S. interests in the area. The Notes aimed to preserve both the existing system of trade, with equal opportunity for all foreign powers, and to maintain China's territorial integrity so that no foreign power would have an advantage. This was the first clear and official statement of US China policy.

Bryan directed "strict noninterference" by American diplomatic officials in China when revolutionary disturbances occurred in the summer of 1913 and assumed the attitude that, although "American enterprise should have opportunity everywhere abroad to compete for contractual favors on the same footing as any foreign competitors," the government was "not the endorser of the American competition and ... [was] not an accountable party to the undertaking."

In handling the Twenty One Demands, US Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan faced reality and recognized Japan's "special and close relations, political as well as economic," with several provinces of China. But he would maintain America's interests in China, asserting that the United States "cannot recognize any agreement or undertaking . . . between the Governments of Japan and China, impairing the treaty rights of the United States and its citizens in China, the political or territorial integrity of the Republic of China, or the international policy relative to China commonly known as the open door policy." The proposition gained its greatest fame when discovered by Secretary Stimson and transformed by him in 1932 into the famous nonrecognition doctrine.

From the beginning, the early European settlers in North America viewed their presence and their future to be one of exceptionalism, centered on their faith, and with a missionary “call” only just below the surface. This remarkable internal missionary expansionism evolved by 1850 or so into an updated “errand” for American Christianity: that is, an “errand to the world.” The American entry into the foreign missionary movement began in 1810, with the establishment in New England of the pan-denominational American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). China was not its first target; the first American to go to China, Elijah Bridgman, arrived only in1830. Pearl Buck did much to shape American popular attitudes toward China.

As the missionaries, including Americans, became entrenched in China, they gradually concerned themselves with improving Chinese life and society through medicine, education, famine relief, and so forth. Trained missionary nurses, following in the footsteps of missionary pioneers, penetrated into all parts of the country to start dispensaries and hospitals literally from nothing. In 1923, China had 53 percent of the missionary hospital beds and 48 percent of the missionary doctors in the world. Missionary nurses constituted 32 percent of the total number of nurses in China in 1923 and their number reached a peak of nearly 700 in 1927.

In economics and international diplomacy, the US government and public opinion also fancied itself as a special protector of China’s interests, and as having a special relationship with China. In the last years of the 19th century the responsibility to evangelize the ‘heathen” merged even more strongly with the concomitant representation of the US as a special model of civic virtue and republican civilization. Their hopes were buoyed by the conversion to Christianity and baptism of President Chiang Kai-shek in 1930 after he married into one of China’s most prominent and well-connected Christian families.

Born in China in 1898 to missionary parents, from a young age Henry Luce developed a strong faith in the transformative power of U.S. ideals. His father was part of a growing group of U.S. missionaries who believed that it was their calling to save China through a combination of Christianity, modern science, democracy, and the sorts of freedoms enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Raised among people who shared in this belief, Luce internalized a similar view of China as a place that both needed and wanted U.S. assistance to bring it into the modern world. The founder of Time, Life, and Fortune magazines, Luce presented a powerful vision of the United States leading and transforming the world.

The “China dream” of the American missionary movement in China ended about 1949.

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Page last modified: 17-03-2021 18:02:59 ZULU