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Robert Kennedy's United States History Class

Learning Objective I

Describe the “Open Door Policy” and its significance to understanding the development of the American Empire.

  • Consider the Following Questions:
  • What was the open door policy?
  • What was the Boxer Rebellion?
  • How did the United States gain the confidence of Chinese leaders?  

Learning Objective I

Describe the “Open Door Policy” and its significance to understanding the development of the American Empire

American Expansionism

Americans had always sought to expand the size of their nation, and throughout the 19th century they extended their control toward the Pacific Ocean. However, by the 1880s, many American leaders had become convinced that the United States should join the imperialist powers of Europe and establish colonies overseas. Imperialism—the policy in which stronger nations extend their economic, political, or military control over weaker territories—was already a trend around the world.

McKinley and Roosevelt China


When Theodore Roosevelt took over the presidency in September 1901, after the assassination of William McKinley, he inherited many of McKinley’s policies and programs. During McKinley’s second run for office, he promised to continue programs of prosperity intended to lift the U.S. out of the depression of 1893.

An important issue during McKinley’s presidency was U.S. involvement in China. In a war that started in 1894 and ended in 1895, Japan defeated China, and for the next several years China was in disarray. In the aftermath of the war, Japan and major European powers moved in to take control of China’s substantial resources. Many U.S. leaders feared that if America did not join in, we would miss out on a huge economic opportunity. McKinley’s Secretary of State, John Hay, sent a note to the countries with an economic stake in China requesting an “Open-Door Policy” that respected Chinese rights and promoted fair competition among those interested in Chinese resources. Britain, Germany, France, and Japan agreed to the policy, assuming that all of the other key countries would commit. Russia declined to commit to the plan, which caused dissension among the other countries and made the “Open-Door Policy” weak and relatively ineffective. Still, the “Open Door” continued to be the primary approach that the U.S. took toward China.

By 1900, a group of Chinese patriots known as Boxers, rebelled against what they viewed as European exploitation. They killed 200 foreigners with the battle cry “kill foreign devils.” A multinational task force of 18,000 troops, including American soldiers, was quickly assembled to quell the rebellion. The Boxer group was disorganized and easily suppressed by the superior allied forces. The leaders of this multinational force assessed cash-poor China an indemnity of $300 million payable immediately. America realized that this reparation was excessive and would only punish and further repress the Chinese. As an act of friendship, the U.S. remitted $18 million to the Chinese, who as a sign of appreciation, sent students to the U.S. to study. These students later returned to China and were key players in the move to “westernize” China and help improve