After the Opium War, Britain and France signed treaties with China that said they could establish "spheres of influence" over parts of China. Britain and France went this way, but why didn't America?

  • 9
    France colonized China??
    – Alex
    May 1 '16 at 20:47
  • I have hopefully clarified the question.
    – Tom Au
    May 2 '16 at 23:35

American attitudes toward China were best expressed in the Open Door Policy. This policy was, in fact, aimed at "rolling back" some of the special privileges others were trying to "rent."

American didn't want to "rent" parts of China because she didn't want other countries to "rent" (and thereby divide) China into 5-10 "special" regions.

America was on its way to becoming the world's foremost commercial force, and as such, preferred a unified, "open" China with a (theoretically) level playing field that would benefit her more than other countries.

Put another way, America preferred to have equal access to all of China, rather than special access to part of it. (But "some access is more equal than others.")


This French and British fleets were government-sponsored fleets containing official Navy ships. Their expeditions to China were conducted as part of official government policy with expansionist motives.

The large majority of American ships involved in the China trade were private merchantmen, not Navy warships. The Americans had a few isolated warships in the area, such as the USS Portsmouth, however those ships were only there to protect American vessels, not embark on an expansionist policy. They had orders to maintain American neutrality and the Americans moreover refused to make an alliance with the British and French in the wars, because we had a policy of neutrality and non-interventionism.

  • Yet the OP suggests the US did sign a treaty providing for such expansionism, what gives?
    – Relaxed
    May 1 '16 at 20:01
  • 1
    @Relaxed No, the US signed a neutrality treaty with China, the Treaty of Wangxia, which was a voluntary treaty. Although this guaranteed American trading rights, it was essentially a neutrality treaty and the Chinese entered into it willingly. May 1 '16 at 20:07
  • If I understand you correctly, the treaty between China and the US was very different from that between France and China? Note that I know next to nothing about the topic so I am not questioning anything... What puzzled me is that this seems to contradict the premise of the question, maybe this could be clarified in your answer?
    – Relaxed
    May 1 '16 at 20:26
  • @Relaxed The statement in the question that alleges that the United States signed a treaty allowing them to "take parts of China" is false. May 1 '16 at 20:58
  • 1
    Suggest adding that bit about the assumption being false into your answer -- that would clarify the answer. Not sure if these words are best, or a modification, but The statement in the question that alleges that the United States signed a treaty allowing them to "take parts of China" is false would fit in well your bit on the treaty the US actually had with China. May 2 '16 at 18:55

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