China Station


Figure 1.--This American sailor was on China Station, serving aboard the treaty ship, heavy cruiser 'USS Augusta' (CA-31). The press photo caption read, "Hello American: A rotund Chinese youngster makes friends with an American Tar. George L. Coleman of Central Falls R.I., aboard the 'USS Augusa', moored off Shanghi, China. " Thhe photograph was taken July 1, 1935. A year earlier, 'Augusta' called at Yokahama to participate in the funeral of Japan's great naval hhero, Admiral Togo. Four months before the Japanese Pearl Harbor attack, President Roosevelt and Primeminister Churchill would meet aboard 'Augusta' to issue the Atlanic Charter (August 1941).

China for several centuries after the first European ships arrived (16th century) restricted foreign traders desiring to do business in China. One major concern was that the Europeans had little the Chinese wanted. This ended with the British Opium Wars (mid-19th century), forcing the Chinese to permit imports of opium. The British and other Europeans forced the Chinese to open their ports. The Europeans also forced territorial concessions and extra territoriality. The Chinese who had for centuries been the dominant power in Asia, suddenly found that their armies and navy were impotent against European forces with modern weapons. The Chinese lost the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) with the rapidly modernizing Japanese. The United States had an interest in trade as well as after the Spanish American War (1898-99) possession of the Philippines also maintained a squadron in China. The traditionalists, in contrast, dominated China. The Boxer Rebellion was a reflection of Chinese frustration (1900), but only deepened the decline of Chinese power. The Europeans controlled Hong Kong, Wei Hai Wei, and Tsingtau, or had concessions in ports like Canton and Shanghai. The United States promoted the Open Door Policy. The European powers to protect their commercial interests and citizens in China maintained naval forces in various places in the Far East, including China. This became known as China Station. Of particular concern was Shanghai, China's principal port, located at the mouth of the Yangtze River which led into the inteior. To ensure that the river was kept open, a new clas of vessel with shallow drafts were developed--China gunboats. The purpose was to 'show the flag', fight pirates, and protect foreign-owned vessels plying the river. Small ships like destroyers and mindsweepers could also enter the lower Yangtze up to Nanking. The China Station proved to be colorful duty, but there were dangers. The Yangtze is one of the world's geat rivers. It is also wild and unpredictable in many areas. Small craft like gunboats could be driven ashore or smashed on the rocks in the towering gorges. Pirates were a continuing problem in the unsettled conditions of the early-20th century. And this increased as the Imperial regime came apart. Then there was for several years the problem of war lords. There were several incidents during the 1920s when foreign ships were attacked. There were several such attacks during 1927. Japan invaded China (1937). Foreigners were caught between Chinese and Japanese forces, especially in the first year of the War which involved conventional operations and centered on Shanghai and the Yangstze river ports leading to Nanking. The Americans and Europeans continued to maintain a presence in China as best they could. The USS Panay incident was a clear indication of Japanese intentions (1937). European warships called at Shanghai and were fired on or threatened by the Japanese. With the outbreak of World War II in Europe, the British and French graduallywithdrew removed their forces from China. Only leaving only a few small vessels to show the flag. As the European and American presence waned and the Japanese occupied most of coastal China, they became increasingly assertive, imposing control over movement of foreign warships in Chinese waters. The United States by late-1941 also largely withdrew.

China Trade

It was the European desire to trade with the East, especilly China, that led to the European voyages of discovery and unintentially, the discovery of America. China at the time was the richst, most fvnced country in the world. Europeans desired the producrs made in china like silks nd fince porcelin. China for several centuries after the first European ships arrived (16th century) restricted foreign traders desiring to do business in China. One major concern was that the Europeans had little the Chinese wanted. So the trade was often based on silver. This ended with the British Opium Wars (mid-19th century), forcing the Chinese to permit imports of opium.

British Role

The British were by far the most importnt couuntry engaged in the China trade. And the British as part of a policy of free trade adopted after losing the Amnerican colonies pursued an open trade policy in China. The basic principle that all nations should have equal access to any of the ports open to trade in China was established in the Anglo-Chinese treaties of Nanjing/Nanking (1842) and Wangxia/Wanghia (1844). Britain maintained the open door policy for several decades (late-19th century). The United States was the greates benificiary of the policy. The United States never demanded a treaty port and instead supported the British open door policy. This worked well until the First Sino-Japanese War (189495). The is set in motion a scramble for national 'spheres of influence' over coastal China. The primary contenders were Russia, France, Germany, and Britain. The treaty power claimed exclusive investment rights.

Treaty Ports

The British and other Europeans forced the Chinese to open their ports. The Europeans also forced territorial concessions and extra territoriality. The Chinese who had for centuries been the dominant power in Asia, suddenly found that their armies and navy were impotent against European forces with modern industrial weapons. The Chinese lost the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) with the rapidly modernizing Japanese. The Europeans controlled Hong Kong, Wei Hai Wei, and Tsingtau, or had concessions in ports like Canton and Shanghai. Generally the British who were the primary country involved in the China trade allow merchants of other countries access to its treaty ports. After the First Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese began to restrict foreign ccess to its treaty port and European countries with trety ports began doing the same. The British were by far the most importnt couuntry engaged in the China trade. And the British as part of a policy of free trade adopted after losing the Amnerican colonies pursued an open trade policy in China. The basic principle that all nations should have equal access to any of the ports open to trade in China was established in the Anglo-Chinese treaties of Nanjing/Nanking (1842) and Wangxia/Wanghia (1844). Britain maintained the open door policy for several decades (late-19th century). The United States wa tge greates benbficuary of the policy. The United States never demanded a treaty port and instead supported the British open door policy. This worked well until the First Sino-Japanese War (189495). The is set in motion a scramble for national 'spheres of influence' over coastal China. The primary contenders were Russia, France, Germany, and Britain. The treaty power claimed exclusive investment rights. The United States was concerned thst they that the treaty powers would monopolize trade. It was unclear just where this woukd lead. China might have been broken up into economic sectors dominated by the various great powers and the eventual colonization of China. These developments in China coresponded to an economic dwnturn in America. American misionries had inspired an interest in China. The 1890s Deoression generated increased interest in foreign markets. And after the Spanish American War and the acquisition of the Philippines, Guam, and Hawaii generated increased interest in China. as a result of the Spanish-American War and was becoming increasingly interested in China. American textile manufacturers were very sucessful selling inexpensive cotton textiles. merican Secretary of State John Hay attempted to counter the spread of treaty ports and increasingly restictive policies. .

Chinese Traditionalists

The traditionalists, in contrast to Japan, continued to dominate Imperial China. The Boxer Rebellion was a reflection of Chinese frustration (1900), but only deepened the decline of Chinese power. Europeans seized control of treaty ports in China to ensure access to the invaluablke Chinese market. The Opium Wars and the imposition of the opium on China was a great historical injustice. The behavior of foreign powers and the use of gunboat diplomacy to secure favorable trade terms and treaty port concessions profoundly affected Chinese attitudes toward foreigners. Europeans and Americansalso sponsored Christian missionaries in China. Many Chinese saw the missionaries as part of the overall Europe effort to subgegate the Chinese. European racial attitudes was also a factor.

Open Door Policy

The United States promoted the Open Door Policy when Japan and European countries began enforcing restrictive policies in their treaty ports. The United States was concerned that the treaty powers would monopolize trade. It was unclear just where this woukd lead. China might have been broken up into economic sectors dominated by the various great powers and the eventual colonization of China. These developments in China coresponded to an economic downturn in America. American misionries had inspired an interest in China. The 1890s Depression generated increased interest in foreign markets. And after the Spanish American War and the acquisition of the Philippines, Guam, and Hawaii generated increased interest in China. as a result of the Spanish-American War and was becoming increasingly interested in China. American textile manufacturers were very sucessful selling inexpensive cotton textiles. merican Secretary of State John Hay attempted to counter the spread of treaty ports and increasingly restictive policies. The United States after the Spanish-American Sar also maintained a squadron in China.

Missionaries

The history of Christian missionaies is extensive and an important chapter of European and Chinese history. It is at first largely an account of the Catholic Church. This did not change until the 19th century when Victorians, especially the English, began to evangelize the Gospel. British missionaries set out to bring the Gospel to the new Empire. The interior of China was opened by the treaties following the Opium Wars. Protestant missionaries were different from the Catholic missionaries in that they brought their families with them. British colonial officials by the 19th century were also bringing their families, but were more likely to live in cloistered foreign communities. The missionary families were more likely to live with the local population since their mission was to convert them. American Protestants also took up this mission, especially after the Civil War (1861-65). American missionzaries went to many foreign locations, but no country fired the American missionary zeal more than China. The missionaries themselves were concerned with salvation. There effort was, however, much more significant. With them they brought modernity and opening to a wider world. Opinions vary. Some see the missionaries as a modernising force. Others see them as a disruptive force, resonsible for Chinese xenephobia. The missionaries set up the first modern schools and hospitals. In their wake came businessmen. They brought with them European products, stimulating a demand for these goods. Europeans seized control of treaty ports in China. The United States did not do this, instead opting for an Open Door Policy. There were military consequences. The Japanese invasion of China (1937) was accompanied with horendous attrocities against Chinese civilians. Reports from missionaries in China had a profound impact on American public opinion. Thus when President Roosevelt began a series of diplomatic efforts including embargoes to force Japan out of China, he received considerable support in a still largely isolationist America.

China Station Posts

The Europeans used gunoat diplomacy to open access to China for their merchants and missionaries. [Cohen] The European powers to protect their commercial interests and citizens in China maintained naval forces in various places in the Far East, including China. This became known as China Station and began in the mid-19th century. It was not a specifically American term, but originated with the European navies involved in China. Here the British Royal Navy coined the term with the their Far East and China Station. It was one of the results of the First Opium War. Of particular concern to the British and other Europeans was Shanghai, China's principal port and comnercial center. Shanghai was located at the mouth of the Yangtze River which led into the inteior and was navigaable. This was the easiest way for the Europeans to project power into China's interior. And by controling Shnhai had a major lever on the Chinese economy. The European powers, especially Britain, had the International Settlement there. During the inter-War era (1920s-30s), the U.S, Navy Asiatic Fleet used Chefoo (now Yantai) as a summer station. Chefoo was located to the north of Shanghai on the Yellow Sea, about equal distance between Bejing and Korea. Chefoo had bars, restaurants, women, and a beach that the sailors on the American China Station found enjoyavle. The U.S. Navy while at Chefoo, rented Kentucky Island to provude the Fleet Marine Force an opportunity to maintain their field skill proficiency.

U.S. Asiatic Fleet

The U.S. Navy Asiatic Fleet was one of the Navy's geographic fleets and active during the first half of the 20th century. The fleet was tsked with protecting U.S. interests in the western Pacific, meaning primrily the Philippine Islands. It also deployed gunboat to protect American citizens and interests in China. The Asiatic fleet was created when its predecessor, the U.S. Navy Asiatic Squadron, was upgraded to fleet status (1902). The Admirals changed their mind and downgraded it to the First Squadron of the U.S. Pacific Fleet (1907). But then changed their minnds afain, reestablishing fleet status (1910). The U.S. Asiatic Fleet, based in the Philippine Islands, had full fleet status, organizationally independent of the U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet, which was based in San Diego on the United States West Coast. Although the Asiatic Fleet had fleet status, it was much smaller than the other U.S. Navy fleet organizations. And it ranked below what most navy experts would consider to be a serious fleet, having very few heavy units. Even so, the Asiatic Fleet beginning during World War was given to a four-star admiral, the highestnaval rank at the time (1916). The U.S. Navy was only authirized four four-star admirals. Thus the Asiatic Fleet was amall, light force, it had considerable prestige. And commonly, the poition was more influential and had more authority than the U.S. Ambassador to China. [Tolley] The Pacific Fleet was moved to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii as a move to address increasing Japanese aggresiveness (1940). American war planning called for the Pacific Fleet to sortee west and come to the aid of the Asiatic Fleet in time of war to defend the Philippines and battle the Imperial Navy in a major fleet enggement. After Pearl Harbor, the Pacific Fleet's battleships were sunk or destroyed. As a result, the small Asiatic Fleet had to fight it out with only avail ships from the Dutch and Australian Navy. Much of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet was destroyed in the resulting sharp battles with the Japanese Imperial Navy (December 1941-February 1942). The U.S. Navy disolved the Asiatic Fleet and incorporatd the surviving units into the battered U.S. Pacific Fleet.

China Gunboats

To ensure that the river was kept open, a new class of vessel with shallow drafts were developed--China gunboats. The purpose was to 'show the flag', fight pirates, and protect foreign-owned vessels plying the river. Small ships like destroyers and mindsweepers could also enter the lower Yangtze up to Nanking. One of the earliest China gunboats was the USS Monocacy (late-19th century). It was termed a 'double-ender' built during the American Civil War (1861-65). Momocacy was used for over three decades on the China Station (1868-1903). The original Monocacy was followed by a purpose-built gunboat of the same name and a sister ship--USS Palos. Both saw service into the 1930s. They were similar to the gunboats deployed by the British and other treaty powers. Theywere built with flat bottoms and thus had a very shallow draft, allowing them to move up the Yangtze, China's most important riber. They could operate year evren though there were dramatic seasonal changes in levels of the river. After World War I, the U.S. Navy began replaced some of its older gunboats with the six ships of the OAHU, PANAY, and LUZON classes. All six of these ships were similar in appearance and capabilities. Two ships of each class were built in slightly different lengths. USS Isabel served as a flagship in Chinese waters. Another China gunboat was the USS Tulsa. The most famous China gunboat was USS Panay which the Japanese sank when they invaded China resukting in a seriod international incudent (1937).

Yangtze River

The Yangtze and the Yellow are China's two greatest rivers. The Yellow dominates the north and the Yangstze central China. The water level in the Yellow varies enormously, both seasinally and annually. Thus it is not importaht as a waterway for navigation purposes. The Yangtze is very different. And until the introduction of railroads, the Yangstze and the Great Canal was China's primary way of moving goods. It is one of the world's geat rivers, the third longest almost 4,000 miles. It originates in Tibet. The Yangtze is also wild and unpredictable in many areas. Small craft like gunboats could be driven ashore or smashed on the rocks in the towering gorges. But shallow draft vessels like gunboats can navigate long distances upriver. Even ocean-going ships can move hundres of miles upstream. The Yangtze provided a means for Europen gunboats to move deep into China. Gunboats were especially designed for this. Foreign naval vessels, primarily American and British, commonly during the inter-War era move upriver to the upper Yangtze (1920s-30s). This was not just the China gunboas, but minesweepers and destroyers as well. This meant as far as Nanking or even further.

Foreign Fleets

Foreign naval vessels usually congregated in the various important Chinese ports, especially Hong Kong ( a British colony) and Shanghai (an interntional treaty port). The British generally summered their ships at Wei Hai Wei (Weihei) in the north. The Americans were at nearby Chefoo (Yntai). British and foreign ships wintered in Hong Kong.

Dangers

The China Station proved to be colorful duty, but there were dangers. Pirates were a continuing problem in the unsettled conditions of the early-20th century. And this increased as the Imperial regime came apart. Then there was for several years the problem of war lords. There were several incidents during the 1920s when foreign ships were attacked. There were several such attacks during 1927. Japan invaded China (1937). Foreigners were caught between Chinese and Japanese forces, especially in the first year of the War which involved conventional operations and centered on Shanghai and the Yangstze river ports leading to Nanking. The Americans and Europeans continued to maintain a presence in China as best they could. The USS Panay incident was a clear indication of Japanese intentions (1937). European warships called at Shanghai and were fired on or threatened by the Japanese. With the outbreak of World War II in Europe, the British and French gradually withdrew removed their forces from China. Only leaving a few small vessels to show the flag. As the European and American presence waned and the Japanese occupied most of coastal China, they became increasingly assertive, imposing control over movement of foreign warships in Chinese waters. The United States by late-1941 also largely withdrew (late 1941). The Japanese after Pearl Harbor captured USS Wake at Shanghai (December 1941). USS Tutuila manage to escaped up river to Chunking where the U,S. Navy turned her over to the Chinese. The U.S. Navy had ordered USS Mindanao, USS Luzon, and USS Oahu as relations with Japan deteriorated to the Ohilippines. They were lost there after Japan invaded the Philippines.

U.S. Army

The U.S. Navy sailors assigned to the China station were not entirely on their own. There was a small U.S. Army detachment positioned at the strategic port of Tientsin. This was the port from which the Europen forces (including mricanbs and Japanese, relieved the foreign legations in Peking during the Boxer rebellion. It was one of the very few American military deployments outside American territory during the inter-war era (1920s-30s). Some 1,000 American Army troops were deployed there (1923). [Stewart] We are not entirely sure yet just why they were deployed to Tientsin. There were probably two primary factors. First, was to support the U.S. Navy Asiatic Fleet (actually more of asquadron) which had important shore facilities in the area. Second, was to provide a counter to agressive Japanese policies. The Japanese had designs on Tientsin. Another similar sized force was briefly deployed to Shanghai to protect the international quarter when after seiing Mnchuria, the Japanese attacked Shnghai to unish the Nationalists (1932). They were withdrawn. removed after 5 months. The Tientsin garrison was withdrawn (1938) after the Japanese invaded China proper, beginnung the Second Sino-Japanese War. The only other Amerian garrison in Asia, was the substantial force garrisoned in the Philippines. The short Shanghai deployment was men from the Philippines garrison. The small China deployment had little impact on China or efforts to curtail Japanese aggression. It did provide opertional experience for personnel that wouls serve as the professional core for the massive U.S. Army tht would fight World war II. [Stewart, pp. 56-57.]

Sources

Cohen, Paul A. China and Christianity: The Missionary Movement and the Growth of Chinese Antiforeignism, 1860-1870 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963).

Stewart, Richard W. General Editor. American Military History Vol. II The United States Army in a Global Era, 1917-2003 (Center of Military History, United States Army: Washington, D.C.. 2005). Washington, D.C., 2005

Tolley, Kemp. 'Forward' in W.G. Winslow. The Fleet the Gods Forgot: The U.S. Asiatic Fleet in World War II (Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1982).






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Created: 9:23 AM 9/12/2012
Last updated: 6:50 PM 9/26/2015