An Independent Woman: The Life of Lou Henry Hoover

By Anne Beiser Allen; Jon L. Wakelyn | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
A Chinese Adventure

The Hoovers reached Shanghai on March 8, having taken nearly a month to travel from San Francisco by way of Honolulu and Japan. Impressed by "picturesque" Kyoto, Lou reported the Chinese to be "more ostentatious and bizarre, but less picturesque than Japan -- and much dirtier."1 After four days in Shanghai's Astor Hotel, Bert and Lou sailed north to Tianjin (then known as Tientsin), where they would make their headquarters.

China in 1899 was in a state of flux. The Manchurian dynasty that had ruled the country since the seventeenth century was in decline. Military ineffectiveness, bureaucratic corruption, and widespread poverty in a steadily growing population all contributed to increasing political unrest. This governmental weakness had been exploited during the nineteenth century by European nations seeking cheap natural resources and new markets for their own burgeoning industrial economies. Using aggressive diplomacy backed by superior military power, the Europeans secured privileged status for their representatives. By the end of the century, agents of rival European powers were diligently vying for influence in a state torn between the forces of modernization, surrounding the weak but well-meaning Emperor Kuang Hsu, and of conservatism, gathered around his grandmother, the old Dowager Empress. Playing one faction against the other, both the Manchurian nobility and the European and Japanese diplomats contributed to the further weakening of the central government and a correlative increase in the inefficiency and corruption in the bureaucratic machine that administered the state.

Tianjin was the foreigners' capital in China at the turn of the century. A series of forced treaties had established a concession area two miles below the Chinese city

-23-

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