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10-08-2015, 16:19

The Open Door

During the next two years, foreign pressure on the dynasty intensified. With encouragement from the British, who hoped to avert a total collapse of the Manchu Empire, U.S. Secretary of State John Hay presented the other imperialist powers with a proposal to ensure equal economic access to the China market for all nations. Hay also suggested that all powers join together to guarantee the territorial and administrative integrity of the Chinese Empire. When none of the other governments flatly opposed the idea, Hay issued a second note declaring that all major nations with economic interests in China had agreed to an “Open Door” policy in China. Though probably motivated more by a U.S. desire for open markets than by a benevolent wish to protect China, the Open Door policy did have the practical effect of reducing the imperialist hysteria over access to the China market. That hysteria—a product of decades of mythologizing among Western commercial interests about the “400 million” Chinese customers—had accel- erated at the end of the century as fear over China’s imminent collapse increased. The “gentlemen’s agreement” about the Open Door (it was not a treaty but merely a pious and nonbinding expression of intent) served to deflate fears in Britain, France, Germany, and Russia that other powers would take advantage of China’s weakness to dominate the China market. In the long run, then, the Open Door was a positive step that brought a measure of sanity to imperialist behavior in East Asia. Unfortunately, it came too late to stop the domestic explosion known as the Boxer Rebellion. The Boxers, so called because of the physical exercises they performed, were members of a secret society operating primarily in rural areas in North China. Provoked by a damaging drought and high levels of unemployment caused in part by foreign economic activity (the introduction of railroads and steamships, for example, undercut the livelihood of boatworkers who traditionally carried merchandise on the rivers and canals), the Boxers attacked foreign residents and besieged the foreign legation quarter in Beijing until the foreigners were rescued by an international expeditionary force in the late summer of 1900. As punishment, the foreign troops destroyed a number of temples in the capital suburbs, and the Chinese government was compelled to pay a heavy indemnity to the foreign governments involved in suppressing the uprising.