History Brief: The Boxer Rebellion and Open Door Policy
The Boxer Rebellion
When the US gained control of the Philippines (a result of the Spanish-American War), many
saw the possession of the islands as a gateway to large markets in mainland Asia. American
products could be sold there, and many capitalists envisioned a new and untapped market for investors
in large-scale railroad construction. At the dawn of the 20th Century, American factories
were producing more goods than the country could consume, and the continued growth of
the American economy depended on exports to foreign markets.
China had been weakened by war and enormous amounts of foreign intervention. Britain,
France, Germany, Russia, and Japan had all established settlements along China’s coast.
These nations also managed sizeable spheres of influence where each country maintained
strict economic control. The US government and American investors began
to fear a future in which China would be carved into European colonies that were closed to
American products and companies. With American interests in mind, the US Secretary of State
John Hay issued a series of policy statements that became known as the Open Door notes.
These were letters, addressed to the leaders of the European powers, suggesting that nations
share trading rights in China. This would create what Hay referred to as an “open door”.
It would be in the best interest of all, he argued, if no one country held a monopoly
on trade in any part of China. As foreign intervention in China continued
to grow, so did the resentment of many Chinese. Although China had managed to maintain its
independence, large sections of major cities were completely under foreign control. Resentment
of foreigners continued to swell amongst the Chinese, and secret societies began to form,
pledging to rid their country of what they referred to as “foreign devils.” The most
famous of these groups would give the coming Chinese Rebellion its name. This group became
known as the Boxers because many of its members practiced martial arts.
The Boxer Rebellion began with an attempt to expel all foreigners from China. The Boxers
surrounded the European section of Beijing and kept the area under siege for several
months. Hundreds of missionaries and other foreigners were killed, along with any Chinese
who had converted to Christianity. Seeing American interests threatened in the area,
the US government prepared to respond. In August of 1900, the US sent 2,500 soldiers
to China to protect American citizens and interests there. The soldiers fought alongside
troops from Britain, France, Germany, and Japan to put down the rebellion. Within two
months, the Boxer Rebellion was squelched. Thousands of Chinese died as a result of the
fighting. After the conflict ended, John Hay issued
a second series of Open Door notes, stating that the US would “safeguard” the principle
of open trade in China for all nations. This action established the US as a major player
in post-Boxer Rebellion China, as well as on the global stage.