China: A Helpless Giant

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The western nations and Japan fought over trade rights with an ever-weaker China. Austria, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, and Russia all divided China into spheres of influence, claiming exclusive trading rights within their spheres. China was well on the way to being carved up into colonies by imperial powers. 

The United States, which had recently acquired an Asian interest in the Philippines, also hoped to trade with China and acquire some of her valuable and attractive resources. The foreign spheres of influence, however, stood in its way.

In 1899, the Americans proposed to the other powers an "Open Door" policy, which would allow all nations to trade freely with China in the spheres of influence. That way all the foreign powers could benefit from China's wealth. Although not formally accepted by the other powers, they did agree to the policy in principle. 

Some Confucian scholars urged studying the "barbarian" technology of the west in order to resist western intervention. One of these was Feng Guifen (Feng Kuei-fen). In his work On the Adoption of Western Learning, he suggested adopting western technology while retaining what was uniquely Chinese in their culture. Others felt that China could not make these changes without losing its own values. Unlike Japan, which did successfully adopt western technology, China made no significant changes - this turned out to be a fatal decision.

On the Adoption of Western Learning - Primary Source

Part of The Decline of Imperial China exhibit

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