Q: What were pre-WWII relations between China and the United States like? A: Good question, but a very complicated one. In order to properly answer the question, I must first divide it into three major sections, they are: Political Relations with the Qing Dynasty; Political Relations with the Republic of China; and Relations with the Chinese People. This blog post will talk about the Political Relations with the Qing Dynasty, because I'm very passionate about this subject, I'll write a lot, like a lot! So if you're short on time, you can just read the essential parts in yellow.
Brief history of China [Qing Dynasty ---(overthrown and became)--->Republic of China(nationalists) ---(Fought civil war and lost to communists)--->People's Republic of China (Modern communist government)]
Political Relations with the Qing Dynasty (1784/1844-1912):
Empire of the Great Qing, in dark yellow are the real provinces and territories. In light yellow are militarily occupied areas and self-autonomous regions. And in orange are vassal/puppet states. And in the pink are disputed regions.
The Qing Dynasty was the last Chinese Dynasty ruled by an emperor, and official diplomatic relations between the Qing Dynasty and the United States started on June 16 (American time), 1844, with the signing of the Treaty of WangHia; however, this was not the first time China has made contact with the United States, the first Americans to meet the Chinese happened right after the American war of Independence, on 1784, a team of Americans aboard the "Empress of China" became the first Americans that visited China [Heritage]. The period between 1784 and 1844 is often called the "Old China Trade", a period of strong Chinese isolationism. During the time of the "Old China Trade", political relations between the Qing dynasty and the United States were relatively small, with only small amounts of trade between the two countries [penobscot]. But even this small amount of trade was important, because at that time although America had many trading partners, most of them liked to sell goods to America but hated to buy from her. China was an exception, China liked to both sell AND buy from America, and this only strengthened after 1844. [Heritage] The "Old China Trade" did not last long though, after the outbreak and the humiliating defeat of the Qing dynasty in the First Opium War from 1839-1842, the Qing government stopped its isolationist attitude and entered a new era of trade with the west. But before we talk more, some background is needed on the Opium War, I'll elaborate on this war much more in future blogs, this war is very important because it signifies the beginning of China's "Century of Humiliation"; this war was caused by the Qing government trying to stop the Opium trade because of the epidemic of addiction it was causing in China, but the foreign powers, especially Britain, disagreed, and after the Qing government sealed its ports to the Opium trade, the British, along with other European countries, invaded the Chinese coast and opened the ports by force [Encyclopedia Britannica]. In the end, China had to open many of her coastal land to European occupation, and European Legations were opened in China. The Opium War marked a turning point in relations between the Qing dynasty and America, before the war, there was little communication between the United States and China, and us Americans were viewed by the Chinese as just another western country. After the war, however, when many Chinese coastal cities and ports were opened, the relations between the Qing and us Americans grew significantly well, as the Americans were the only major European nation that did not exploit the Qing government's weakness after the Opium War (ex. America banned her merchants from trading Opium in China and banned all Opium trading in areas that she controlled in China).
The Opium War, the British started this war because of imperialism to expand their power in Asia, and they won a massive victory against the Chinese navy. This war ended Chinese isolationism and started a new era for China, an era of western thinking and ideals, which directly lead to the fall of the monarchy in China. Remember this war, for we will be talking about it, a lot, in future blogs.
After the Opium War, the Qing dynasty was humiliated. Not only did the peace treaty force the Qing government to open up more ports throughout China to further trade, the Qing government were also forced to secede Hong Kong to Britain, and open up space in Beijing for the delegations of the European countries. Determined to prevent another defeat, the Qing government modernized. And with modernization, came further relations with the Americans, who the Qing thought were useful allies considering America's strong animosity against Britain following the war of 1812 [personal experience and history class back in China], that is why the Qing signed the Treaty of WangHia with America, a summery of this treaty that I just won't shut up about is that Americans can visit mainland China through five specified coastal cities, and that America and China would set up a more efficient trading system. [Heritage] Chinese and American relations continued to improve, but not just because of politics, Christian missionaries also played an important factor, during the mid 19th to early 20th century, more than 8,000 missionaries arrived to China, their efforts were, generally, a failure, mainly because of the prevalent xenophobia and distrust of white people in China, but they did further help relations [Welch] (Most Chinese Christian coverts were also killed during the Boxer Rebellion.). But, there were challenges as well, the Second Opium War in 1839 fractured Chinese relations with all European countries (the Qing Dynasty lost in another humiliating defeat), but America quickly made up to the Qing government by using her money to build an university in Beijing-清华大学(Qing-Hua University), it is considered, even to this day, to be the second best university in all of China, right behind 北京大学(Beijing University). All was good for around half a century, but this period of great relations between the Qing government and America came to a abrupt halt, however, because of the boxer rebellion. [Personal Experience] Between the Second Opium War and the Boxer Rebellion, the Qing government also fought a war against Japan, the first Sino-Japanese war, which it lost, and with it, many islands in the Pacific Ocean including Taiwan.
The Boxer Rebellion, the final straw leading to the overthrowing of the Qing Dynasty and the rise of the new Republic of China. The name of this war is extremely misleading, as it was an open war by the Qing Dynasty against the "Alliance of Seven Nations". The memories of this great humiliation is engraved in the minds of every single Chinese person, imagine if during WWII, the Nazis burned down Washington, only America lost the war in the end as well, how would the American public feel?
The Boxer Rebellion is a very painful subject for all Chinese people, and to this day it still remains the strongest influencing factor in China's relations with all western nations. Because of the defeats suffered by the Qing Dynasty in the First and Second Opium Wars, a strong wave of anti-imperialism and nationalism swept China. This nationalism caused the rise of a paramilitary organization called the 义和团 (yi-he-tuan), at first the Qing government opposed this organization, but as it grew more and more popular with the general populous, the Qing government had no choice but to endorse them. The 义和团, now without opposition, started a mass murder spree throughout China starting with Christian Missionaries and Chinese Coverts and ending with the surrounding of the European legations in Beijing. But the European nation counterattacked, and after 3 years of brutal fighting (1899-1901), the Qing government lost in another humiliating defeat. After this defeat, the Qing government lost all prestige, and they were soon overthrown by the Republic of China in 1912. The peace treaty gave the European powers control over much of China's coast and started a spree of imperialism in China. [Encyclopedia Britannica] The Boxer Rebellion completely ruined China's Relation with all European nations, including America, because America was among one of the seven nations that invaded China. Relations will not restore until World War II.
As long as this might seem, this is still an extremely simplified version! A ten-page article can be written about every single sentence in this blog! Althrough the rules were supposed to be 1 article per month, I have decided to public 3 blog posts every month, you can just read the first one if you like, I'm doing this more for fun than for grades now.
Sources Citation: Pletcher, Kenneth. "Opium Wars." Opium Wars-Chinese History. Encyclopedia Britannica, 7 Apr. 2015. Web. 30 Sept. 2016. "The Complicated History of US Relations with China." The Heritage Foundation Research. The Heritage Foundation, 11 Oct. 2012. Web. 30 Sept. 2016. "The Old China Trade, Before 1842." Maine and the Orient. Penobecot Marine Museum, n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2016. Welch, Ian, and Division of Pacific and Asian History. "Missionaries, Murder, and Diplomacy In 19th Century China: A Case Study." A Paper Presented to the 2nd ANU Missionary Conference. Australian National University Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, 27-29 Aug. 2006. Web. 30 Sept. 2016.
And also all my history, politics, and communism ideology teachers in China, Party Education (Propaganda) Ministers, my Parents, Chinese oral history, Chinese-League of the Seven Nations (Boxer Rebellion) War Memorial, Chinese Opium Wars Memorial, Chinese Shame Memorial, and Chinese History books.
PS: I know some sources are very unreliable and tell a biased story, "cough" all Communist Education "cough", but some parts of their story are real and I tried to separate the truth and the Communist Propaganda.