Fix Bayonets! by Mustang
The United States’ first interest in China was demonstrated in 1784 when an American flagged merchant ship departed from New York bound for Canton, China. Denied access to British markets, which, given the number of ports then controlled by Great Britain, had a stifling effect on an emerging American economy. Americans went to China looking for new markets to buy goods. They were well received by the Chinese, and in fact some historians have suggested that the Chinese preferred dealing with Americans who wanted to purchase Chinese made goods, while the European nations were only interested in selling to the Chinese.
By the mid-1800s, Sino-American relationships had grown. The interest in markets continued, but so too did an interest in converting millions of Chinese to the Christian faith. Christian missionaries were among the first Americans to study Chinese language, culture, and history—and it was these missionaries that helped to shape America’s overall perceptions of Imperial China.
As for the Chinese, America was seen as a land of opportunity. Thousands of Chinese migrated to the United States during the California gold rush, and labor was in high demand to help build transcontinental railway systems. Some Chinese leaders were so inspired by the American political system that they sought to model a new China on the American Republic.
Thus, for much of America’s history, relationships between the United States and China were positive. In the late Nineteenth Century, however, European powers and Imperial Japan were expanding their colonial interests. Some of these wanted to break China up into colonies, each of these controlled by one European power or another.
Discontent with foreigners had been on the rise in China since 1898, when the “I Ho Ch’uan Society” (Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists) began gaining popularity in northwest China. This group, commonly referred to as Boxers, opposed foreign influence and developed strong opposition to Christian missionaries. As the Boxers became better known, their ranks swelled with farmers and laborers who were adversely affected by droughts that had come on the heels of devastating floods. The Boxers believed that these misfortunes were the result of foreigners and Christian missionaries.
Over time, Boxer activity spread to additional provinces; provincial leaders, as well as the Imperial Court were inconsistent in their stand relative to the issues. On some occasions, Chinese authorities sought to protect foreigners and Christians. At other times, these same officials stood by and watched the resentment escalate. Tzu Hsi, the empress dowager of the Manchu Dynasty, was publicly anti-Boxer, but privately she encouraged the Boxers[…]