For most of its 4,000-year history, China allowed very
few Westerners into the "Dragon Empire" except to do limited
business at trading posts along The Silk Road and at a few seaports. But
by the 1800s, Western powers were building their colonial empires and
wanted a piece of the Qing Dynasty (formerly Ch'ing Dynasty, 1644-1911)
The empire was vast, over 4 million square miles. It included
Manchuria, Turkestan, Burma, Tibet and Nepal. And other neighboring countries
paid tribute to China's power. The West found a Chinese weakness, however
- an addiction to opium. Opium smuggling into
China created huge profits for foreign merchants, including prominent
Americans, but it nearly destroyed the Chinese economy. The Opium Wars
of the 1840s to 1850s ended in a humiliating defeat for the Qing Dynasty
and foretold the end of the empire.
Great Britain, France, Russia, Japan, and others expanded
their "spheres of influence" along
the China coast and into neighboring countries. But until the Spanish
American War of 1898, the American presence in China was limited to missionary
work or trade (legal and illegal). After annexing the Philippine
Islands, however, the United States also joined the ranks of "foreign
The humiliation of Western imperialism suffered by a proud
Chinese people erupted into violence in 1900. And this imperialism was
never forgotten. Suspicion of the West has strongly influenced China's
history in the 20th century, even to the present day.
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||By the 1840s, many Chinese were addicted to opium produced in India (ruled by Britain), and the drug trade reaped huge profits for Western drug smugglers, including Americans. When the imperial throne tried to stop the opium trade, British ships bombarded the port cities of the Chinese empire. After years of intermittent Opium Wars, the Qing Dynasty accepted defeat.|
|Artifacts on loan, courtesy
Painting on ivory - depicts "The Old Factory Site" waterfront at Canton, c. 1843.
"The Clipper Ship Surprise" - on voyage to Hong Kong, copy of 1872 painting.
Sword - with a carved wooden hilt, was taken from a pirate near Macao, 1849.
--Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park, New York
Walking stick - carved ivory, supposedly given to Ulysses S. Grant, 1879
--Harry Truman Presidential Library and Museum, Independence, Missouri
Opium Smoking Materials - Pipes, opium scale, metal box containing poppy seeds, and poppy pods.
--University of Iowa College of Pharmacy, Iowa Cit, Iowa
After the Opium Wars reduced the Qing empire to near bankruptcy, Western
imperialists cracked open China's "closed door" policy. China
was forced to open more ports to trade and also cede adjacent territories
to the West.
The triumphant West soon colonized these territories. England annexed
Hong Kong and Kowloon to add to its existing Asian colonies; France took
over Indochina (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos); Russia moved into Chinese
Turkestan and Manchuria; Japan grabbed Taiwan and won dominance over Korea.
To guarantee America's share, the U.S. negotiated The Open Door Policy
in 1899 to ensure "equal and impartial" Chinese trade among
The Chinese people were furious and humiliated. A secret society of common peasants formed an underground movement to fight the "foreign devils."
During the Spanish American War in 1898, the United States aided Cuban
revolutionaries and Filipino rebels in their rebellions against Spanish
control. Victorious against Spain, the U.S. annexed the former Spanish
colonial territories in the Pacific.
William Howard Taft was sent to the Pacific in 1900 by President William McKinley to be the first Governor-General of the Philippine Islands. Sympathetic toward the Filipinos, Taft worked toward improving the economy. He built roads and schools, and gave the people at least some participation in government. Nevertheless, the Filipinos fought for their independence from the U.S. as they had against Spain. The insurrection was not successful, however, and the leader of the revolt was captured in March of 1902. Taft later became the 27th President of the United States in 1909.
Medical First Aid Kit - used by Governor-General
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Political Evolution of China"