Influence Through the American Consulate in 19th-20th Century China

Influence Through the American Consulate in 19th-20th Century China

Throughout the 19th century, although America never formally attempted to colonize China, the American government continued to expand its influence in China both through direct government involvement and by strongly encouraging indirect influence through business. Oftentimes, there is a tendency to talk about business as something that is not linked to politics, or ignore the direct link and involvement of the U.S. government in American business interests. The truth is that one cannot speak about any one of these things without speaking about the other; American business interests and government interests in China have always been and to this day are still intertwined. American businesses influenced the U.S. government and government policies; however government policies also influenced business. These policies encouraged more Americans to travel to China, further increasing influence. Today, overtly imperialistic policies and direct government interference have fallen out of favor, but the United States continues to promote its interests in China through government, business and the intersection between these areas. Additionally, the U.S. Consulates plays an important and direct role not only in government and business, but also in the lives of American citizens living abroad.

In Cornelius Gold's journal, Gold mentions meeting with the American Consul to obtain some letters. According to the Consulate General of Hong Kong and Macau website, the Consulate General has been in existence in Hong Kong since 1843, which is around the time that merchants increased their interests in China. The fact that Americans wishing to obtain their mail in Hong Kong in the 19th century had to go to the Consulate portrays a few things about the situation of infrastructure in Hong Kong at the time, as well as the impact of the United States government on its citizens living and working abroad in Hong Kong. Regardless of their reason for traveling to Hong Kong, Americans in the area could count on a government representative to provide some sort of services or guidance that had their interests and ideas of rights at heart. While one could point out that today, nearly all countries have consulates in other countries, there is a larger historical context of American interference in China.

In the mid-1800s, Americans in China were granted extraterritoriality through American treaties with China, to the point that by the early 20th century, the United States had constructed a concrete branch of the United States Court for China- a physical symbol of the U.S. government's power in China. Although embassies still exist and hold power in the countries that they are based in, extraterritoriality has been largely limited to diplomats and military, where it is still considered controversial in some cases.

One can see the direct relation between government and business in China through an article written by Julien H. Arnold, the American Consul in Amoy, China in the early 1900s.. Arnold wrote an article titled “Advancement of American Trade Interests in China” which asks and answers the questions “How is the American merchant to transform his dream of conquest in foreign fields into a reality?” and “In what way can the American exporter interest himself in China as a field for exploitation, and how is he to study the demands of this market most effectively?” This demonstrates the American Consul's direct interest in American export, viewing China as a “foreign field to be conquered” and “exploited” by American businessmen. The article continues by adding that “the American exporter looking to China for a market can secure much valuable assistance at the beginning of his investigation from the American Consuls stationed in this country. Extraterritorial jurisdiction has resulted in placing the foreign consuls in China in a position of greater relevant importance and prominence than foreign consuls enjoy in any other country.” The American consul looked to promote the extraterritoriality enjoyed by Americans as a business opportunity. Although extraterritoriality no longer exists in China on the scale that it did back then, the U.S. Consulate has branches in China that promote the idea of China as a market to be used by American businesses to boost profits and offer assistance to companies in a way similar to what Arnold writes about.

Incidents which put the spotlight on extraterritoriality are nothing new and existed at the time. In another situation involving American Consul Julien H. Arnold that shows the reach of the American Consul and extraterritoriality, The San Francisco Call ran an article titled “American Millionaire's Son is Jailed in China: Wealthy Youth Faces Charge of Murder in Amoy.” The article mentions that after a wealthy merchant of Amoy was murdered, authorities issued warrants for several suspects, one of which was an American. Julien H Arnold, as the American consul, insisted that if the suspect was to be held in custody and prosecuted for murder, it must be by American authorities.

Since the 19th century, the American government has played a role in business, the legal system and the personal lives of Americans living in China and Hong Kong through the U.S. Consulate. Although in recent years the amount of power wielded by Western governments in China and Hong Kong has been drastically reduced as extraterritoriality is no longer applicable to Americans aside from diplomats and Americans on a military base. Since the beginning, the American government has promoted exporting to China as a resource to be exploited for monetary gain.

- Stephanie Shannon

Works Cited

Arnold, Julian H. "Advancement of American Trade Interests in China." Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine No. 5 (1911): n. pag. Proquest. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.

Cornelius B. Gold Papers, 1861-1866. Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives, Connecticut College.

"China and America." Outlook 88.7 (1908): 374. Proquest. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.

"China and the Opium Trade." New York Observer and Chronicle (1851): 394. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.

“Trade Outlook in China.” New York Times, 11 Oct. 1898. Web.

”American Trade in China.” New York Times, 4 Sep. 1899. Web.

“American Millionaire’s Son is Jailed in China.” San Francisco Call, 7 Sep. 1909. Web.

Ruskola, Teemu. "A Response to Professor Tan’s Review of Legal Orientalism.” Harvard Law Review 128.6 (2015): 220-24. Proquest. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.