As he surveyed East Asian affairs in the first months ofSecretary of State John Hay saw few reasons for optimism. America's main rivals for influence in that part of the world — RussiaJapanGermanyFranceand Great Britain — bristled with imperial ambition as Chinaweakened by war and rebellion, steadily lost its capacity to resist them. The great powers laid claim to special privileges in various parts of the country, a process that recalled the subjugation of Africa and suggested that China might be similarly partitioned.
What worried Hay most was the prospect that the United States would be shut out of this new scramble as the Europeans and Japanese, with strong footholds in the area and a far greater taste for territorial conquest, divided up China and protected their new possessions with impenetrable barriers to American trade.
Like many of his contemporaries, Hay imagined China as a vital and nearly limitless market for the burgeoning output of America's rapidly industrializing economy. By the United States had made little progress toward realizing that dream, but the vision beckoned powerfully. Preserving access to the China market ranked high on the McKinley administration's foreign policy agenda even as the prospects seemed to dim.
In a bold move to reverse this alarming trend, Hay dispatched his famous Open Door Notes to the leading imperial powers. Buoyed by his country's victory over Spain the previous year, Hay demanded that each of the powers respect the principle of equal commercial opportunity in the spheres of influence they were consolidating in China.
The notes neither challenged the spheres' existence nor demanded equal access for American investment. Hay's dispatches stood firm, however, on the matter about which Americans cared most — the transport and selling of American goods. The door to trade, in other words, must remain open to everyone who wished to pass through. Hay's proclamation of the Open Door policy was a landmark moment in the history of U.
For one thing, it reflected the rise of the United States as a major power prepared to assert its interests in a distant part of the world where Europeans had reigned supreme. Hay set in motion a process that led ineluctably if fitfully to America's emergence as the predominant outside power attempting to shape Asia 's economic and political destiny.
Hay's policy also established a pattern of U. With its annexations of HawaiiPuerto Ricoand the Philippines inthe United States had demonstrated a clear interest in territorial acquisition as the means of satisfying its expansionist impulse.
But Hay's notes indicated a shift toward a different approach: The United States would expand its influence through economic hegemony rather than imperial control. The idea proved to have enormous staying power, partly because it fit with America's self-conception as a nation founded on the twin principles of anti-colonialism and individual opportunity.
Over the following century, Americans scorned the imperial intentions of others even as their own leaders made ambitious efforts to secure economic opportunity abroad. So characteristic was this pattern that some scholars regard it as the dominant attribute of U. Beginning with William Appleman Williams in the late s, a controversial but highly influential group of materialist historians elaborated the "open door interpretation" to explain America's extraordinary record of international activism since the s.
In the view of these scholars, Hay's initiative epitomized a quintessentially American approach to foreign policy. On the one hand, Hay invoked high-minded principles such as anticolonialism, self-determination, and equal opportunity to advance his proposals.
On the other hand, he showed a hardheaded determination to protect the interests of American capitalists by promoting access to overseas markets. Advocates of the open door interpretation argue that a similar blend of proclaimed selflessness and relentless self-interest runs through the history of American diplomacy. From through the Cold Warthese scholars assert, the U. Ironically, for all its indisputable importance as a watershed, an idea, and an interpretive tool, the Open Door policy produced scant results in practice.
Through the period of the Open Door policy, the United States never obtained the markets about which late-nineteenth-century politicians and businessmen dreamed.
Between and exports to China never exceeded 4 percent of the value of America's total annual exports and more often hovered around 1 percent. Nor did the Open Door policy discourage other powers from grabbing new chunks of Chinese territory or excluding American trade. Indeed, international compliance with American demands was always grudging and tenuous at best before collapsing completely in the s as Japan unilaterally shattered Hay's vision.
Even during its heyday in the early twentieth century, the Open Door proved more an illusion maintained by its promoters than a policy with real force and meaning. Moreover, the Open Door policy failed the United States by fueling resistance against foreign meddling in China. Americans clung devoutly to the belief that their policy, in contrast to European imperialism, would benefit China by preserving its integrity and bringing American know-how to its benighted masses.
From the Chinese standpoint, however, the United States was often just another foreign country determined to prevent China from controlling the terms of its relations with the outside world.
Chinese leaders sometimes attempted to manipulate the United States to serve their interests but rarely proved willing to play the passive and cooperative role arrogantly scripted for them by Washington. The Open Door policy originated in the treaty port system that emerged in China during the s. For centuries, China had resisted the efforts of Western traders to penetrate the country, restricting their activities to the port of Canton Guangzhou and subjecting them to severe punishment for violation of Chinese law.
International Competition In China 1899 1991 The Rise Fall And Restoration Of The Open Door Policy R
Following Britain 's sweeping military victory over China in the First Opium War from tohowever, the Qing dynasty had no choice but to grant major concessions. British negotiators also insisted upon two privileges that would become hallmarks of Western imperialism in China. First, they demanded extraterritoriality, the right to subject British offenders to British rather than Chinese law. Second, they demanded most-favored-nation status, meaning that Britain would automatically benefit from concessions that China granted to any other country.
In fact, as the historian Warren I. Cohen has observed, this demand for equal opportunity meshed well with Chinese calculations at the time. The imperial government, hoping to garner the goodwill of other Western powers to resist further British pressure, declared that all nations would have equal privileges in the treaty ports. The treaty system became more elaborate in the following years as Qing authority continued to deteriorate amid civil wars and new military humiliations by Britain and France.
What had been a trickle of Chinese concessions to the imperial powers grew into a torrent with the Treaties of Tientsin in Under those agreements China opened eleven new ports and for the first time permitted foreigners to navigate the Yangtze River and to travel throughout China's interior. The agreements also dictated a low tariff on foreign goods entering China, essentially robbing the Chinese government of the right to set its own trade policy. As in the s, Americans were well placed to benefit from these concessions.
The United States maintained a minimal diplomatic staff in China and had no military presence whatsoever. Yet under most-favored-nation provisions reaffirmed in the new treaties, American merchants received all of the advantages extracted by Britain and France.
Historians have labeled Americans "hitchhiking" imperialists or, in a different formulation, "jackals" fattening up thanks to the British lion and other European predators. The scavenger's role served American merchants well for half a century. In relative terms, U. But American merchants managed to gain a significant toehold in a period when the U.
By the International Competition In China 1899 1991 The Rise Fall And Restoration Of The Open Door Policy R s Americans operated about twenty-five of the two hundred Western firms doing business in China, and American ships carried one-third of all Western trade with the country.
American shipping boomed, especially in Shanghai, the busiest treaty port, where U. Over time, American merchants obtained important shares of the Chinese market for textiles, oil, metals, and tobacco, all by exploiting what the Europeans made possible. Two developments in the s — one in the United States, the other in the Far East — drove Washington to seek far more formal assurances of American trading rights. In the United States, the staggering economic collapse of led to a surge of interest in China as a market for American goods.
The depression bankrupted more than fifteen thousand businesses, sent commodity prices plummeting to new lows, and fed unemployment rates as high as 25 percent in many American cities.
Most alarming to the political and economic elite, the crisis touched off a wave of strikes and protests that shook the foundations of the freewheeling Gilded Age economy. Industrialists, politicians, and intellectuals naturally sought to explain the cause of such a cataclysm, and by the mids most had their answer: overproduction.
The United States, they believed, simply produced more than its population could absorb and was choking on the surplus. The closing of the Western frontier left these men with little hope of expanding the domestic market, and none of them entertained demands from organized labor to increase the purchasing power of ordinary Americans. The only solution seemed to lie in exporting more to new markets abroad. Few potential markets appealed as strongly as China. Since the eighteenth century Americans had commonly imagined China as a vast market peopled by millions of consumers eager for American goods.
Along with IndiaChina represented "an extensive field for the enterprise of our merchants and mariners," Alexander Hamilton wrote as far back as in his Report on Manufactures, proclaiming the distant Asian lands "an additional outlet for the commodities of the country. What a market! Social Darwinists stressed that China was an ideal stage on which the United States could demonstrate its competitive vigor.
Widespread fretting about national stagnation following the end of continental expansion also encouraged Americans to view China as a vast new frontier to absorb American energies. The second event that altered American thinking about China was the Sino-Japanese War of — Tension between China and Japan had mounted for several years amid obvious Japanese designs on Koreawhich maintained an ambiguous tributary relationship with the Qing court.
A political crisis in Korea sparked war in Within six months Japan dealt the crumbling Qing dynasty yet another humiliating defeat, destroying the Chinese military on land and at sea.
The lopsided settlement awarded Japan a sphere of influence in Korea and outright possession of Taiwan and the Pescadores, major gains for a rapidly industrializing power that, like the United States, sought new markets and influence abroad.
At first many Americans sympathized with Japanese demands, hoping that a badly defeated China would open more treaty ports and seek Western goods and expertise in a desperate attempt at modernization. Before long, however, Americans came to see the Japanese victory in a much different light. By further weakening Chinese authority, the Japanese victory, far from creating new opportunity, set off an intense three-year period of great-power jockeying that threatened to partition China and close off American opportunities once and for all.
With a newly wounded China floundering as never before, the smell of blood was in the water. The sharks — imperial powers hoping to take a bite of Chinese territory — gathered quickly.
Russia made the first in a complicated series of moves. The Sino-Japanese War had exposed Japanese designs on Manchuriawhere the Russian government also harbored long-standing economic and political ambitions.
Playing skillfully on Chinese vulnerabilities, Moscow extracted extensive concessions in a treaty signed in May In return for a Russian guarantee to aid China against Japanese or other foreign aggression, the Qing rulers granted Russia permission to extend its transcontinental railway through northern Manchuria.
Furthermore, China awarded Russia political authority along the rail line, free right of public domainand a tariff reduction on goods entering China along the railroad. Jealous of Russia's gains, Germany made a far more dramatic move inseizing the port of Tsingtao Qingdao on Kiao-chow Jiaozhou Bay and demanding exclusive railroad-building and mining rights in Shandong province.
China had little choice but to accede, spurring further exactions. This feeding frenzy confronted the United States with an ominous situation.
With American leaders increasingly convinced of China's importance to the American economy, the country seemed in serious jeopardy of being entirely consumed by the imperial powers. To be sure, few of the concessions granted to Japan, Russia, Germany, or France immediately infringed upon American commercial privileges; for the moment, at least, the most-favored-nation principle remained intact. But the situation was agonizingly unsettled, and heightened competition for privileges raised the prospect that the imperial powers would soon transform relatively porous spheres of influence into exclusive possessions.
Intense concession-hunting also raised the specter of a great-power war in the Far East, another scenario that boded nothing but ill for U. American merchants worried especially that imperial rivalries were concentrated in northern China and Manchuria, regions that absorbed a high percentage of U. With key ports under their control, Germany or Russia could easily impose new tariffs and railroad rates that would discriminate against American goods.
But it was not the threat to any particular port or railroad that alarmed Americans so much as the apparent challenge to the whole principle of equal opportunity enshrined in the treaty port system.