The Oxford History of the British Empire - Vol. 4

By Alaine Low; Judith M. Brown et al. | Go to book overview

28

China

JÜRGEN OSTERHAMMEL

Britain emerged from the First World War with her overall position in the East Asian structure of power diminished, but the institutions of formal and informal empire in China unharmed. By 1918 the international configuration in East Asia had changed dramatically. The tension-ridden united front of the six Great Powers confronting China that had marked the period from the 1870s to 1914 no longer existed. During the First World War Germany had been eliminated as a player in the 'Far Eastern Game', at least until her reappearance in the early 1930s. So had Russia, before the Soviet Union emerged as the guiding spirit behind the most radical wing of Chinese nationalism and as an adversary whom British intelligence rated the most determined enemy of the Empire in the East. France, still the protector of Roman Catholic missions, retained a considerable interest in Chinese property, controlled the Yunnan Railway between Haiphong and Kunming, and owned almost a quarter of China's secured foreign debt. Yet French trade with China stagnated at a low level, and fresh direct investment failed to materialize. The French tenaciously defended their pre-war position without playing a leading part in East Asia any longer. The United States, by contrast, was assuming a new role as the dominant power in the Pacific area as a whole. She took an important diplomatic lead in the Washington Conference of 1921-22. Its cultural and missionary involvement in China was extensive: Americans spent twice as much on Chinese education as did the French with their numerous Catholic institutions, four times as much as the British, and thirty times as much as the Japanese. 1

The United States was the only foreign country genuinely admired by the urban élites of Republican China. Her large cultural stake contrasted strikingly with a limited economic commitment. The Americans were minor creditors of the Chinese government. Their direct investments were concentrated in areas auxiliary to a dynamic import—export business. Little or no American capital was invested in Chinese mining, shipping, and manufacturing. The most important

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This chapter continues that in Vol. III.
1
Yu Changhe, 'Meiguo zai Yuandongjingji shili zhi jiepo' (American Economic Influence in the Far East), Dongfang zazhi, XXXIV, 10 (16 May 1937), p. 19.

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