19th Century  The Doors Open

view of 19th century section of the exhibit


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) for themselves.

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 devils."

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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close up of exhibit case
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 of:
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



cartoon of western powers carving up the "pie" that is china

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 Western imperialists.

The Chinese people were furious and humiliated. A secret society of common peasants formed an underground movement to fight the "foreign devils."



case showing Taft items

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 Taft
Photograph - portrait of Emilio Aguinaldo, 1903 - leader of the revolt against U.S. power in the Philippines.
The photo was taken over one year after he was captured and was inscribed, "to the unforgettable Mr. W.H. Taft ..."
Photograph - Taft, his son Charlie, and daughter Helen, with friends at home in the Philippines.
Photograph - Taft with the Second Philippine Commission.
Artifacts on loan, courtesy of the William Howard Taft National Historic Site, Cincinnati, Ohio


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