1840 - 1900 China’s history has typically been one of ‘isolation;’ meaning that China preferred to keep to itself and not bother with the rest of the world. They believed their culture was as good as it got (ethnocentrism) and therefore didn’t want to anything to do with other countries. All of this changed during the Age of Imperialism when Western countries looked to China and saw how valuable that country was. Filled with many valuable resources and goods, the Western countries wanted to gain access to that country so that they would have unlimited access to China’s goods (silks, porcelain, tea, etc.). Unfortunately, China did want to “open up” to the West and allow them to trade in the country. China wanted to maintain its isolated status so they could be the only country to control their government, resources, ports and culture.
Because the Chinese government would not LET the West come in, Great Britain came up with a sneaky plan to gain access to Chinese goods and establish trade with the country. Great Britain had access to an addictive drug called OPIUM. Like heroin, Opium is a very addictive drug that is extremely habit forming. Sneaking Opium into the country, Great Britain traded Opium for many of the Chinese goods they sought. Eventually, so many of the Chinese were addicted to the drug that they were willing to continue trading with the British because they were the only “dealers” on the scene.
1842: Opium Wars
The Chinese government was so angry that Britain had gotten their people hooked on opium – war was declared. China hoped to defeat the British and push them (and their opium) out of the country. However, Britain’s superior technology proved to be too much for the Chinese to handle, and the Chinese lost. The British greatly benefited from this win as it actually granted them MORE access to China and its resources. Britain won the right to trade freely in four Chinese ports.
While China was being used by the British, other European countries saw the value of the lucrative country as well.
Although access to a vast number of resources makes imperializing countries very rich, it is actually very costly to run a colony. To solve this problem, China was not made a colony of one particular country; instead, many countries each took a piece of China. These pieces were known as “spheres of influence.” While Russia, for example, did not control the entire country of China, it was able to control the trade, laws and culture of their own SPHERE. Likewise, Britain, France, Germany and Japan all controlled their own SPHERE in China.
1899: Open Door Policy
The United States saw all the European countries grabbing China and they got nervous that they would be shut out. The United States wanted to make sure that they would have access not only to China’s vast resources, but to their many markets. To prevent this from happening, the United States made a treaty with all the European nations (China was not asked for their opinion) to have an OPEN DOOR POLICY – where all nations (no matter if they had control of a sphere of influence or not) were able to freely trade in China. This added to the Western control of China.
1900: The Boxer Rebellion – Nationalism in China Many Chinese citizens were extremely upset with the foreigners controlling their country. They wanted to return to a time of isolation, where Chinese laws and customs were decided by Chinese people. To this end, a group known as the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists, organized in order to drive the foreigners out of China. This group, who practiced a mix of martial arts, looked funny to the foreigners who eventually nicknamed them the BOXERS. Although unsuccessful, the BOXER REBELLION was a nationalist movement that attempted to drive the foreigners out of China.