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The Americans

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 3 months ago

 

Americans in Shanghai

 

 

 

Americans have been present in the foreign settlements since the beginning, but it has only been since 1900 or so that they have come to Shanghai in large numbers. Due to the high level of British influence in the Settlement, many Americans consider themselves outsiders. They look askance at what they see as the stuffiness of the British. It is a point of pride that Americans are the biggest spenders at cabarets, the most exuberant revellers and the best dancers.

 

 

 

Traders and grifters

  

Like everyone else, the Americans first came to Shanghai to make some money. Initially, aside from the representatives of major trade concerns, these arrivals were the hustlers and opportunists, often fleeing trouble in the Philippines, with an eye for the main chance. Since the War, though, a new wave of Americans have arrived. They have set up their own institutions, such as the American Community Church and the China Weekly Review newspaper.

 

  

The earliest American consulate was in the Hongkew district and, even though the Chinese never officially gave it to them, the American district just grew until it finally merged with the British to become the International Settlement (the process started because the Americans wanted to use the British jail). American firms like Bates & Company, Wetmore’s and Russell & Company, linked to the great merchant families of Roosevelt, Delano and Forbes, traded opium along with their British contemporaries. On the seedier side of things, there is a long-standing tradition of American madams in the city. Exemplifying this type is Gracie Gale, the owner of The Line in Jiangxi Road. The most expensive prostitutes are 'American girls' – initially genuinely American, but nowadays as likely to be from Eastern Europe as from the U.S.

 

 

 

American Missionaries

 

 American missionaries have set up schools and universities for the Chinese, the most famous of which is St John’s College. Missionaries in the city live very well, with each having his own house, a large garden and a retinue of servants. Their quality of life has not been not matched by success at evangelism. In 1898, for example, there were 3,900 Protestant missionaries in China, and 700 Catholic missionaries. Despite a lack of numbers and funding, the Catholic missions had made half a million converts, while there were fewer than 200,000 Protestant converts. The Chinese are generally more impressed by the Jesuits than the American missionaries who, with their wives and easier living, are seen as somewhat indolent.

 

  

The American Protestants tend to support the cause of Chiang Kai-shek, in whom they see a chance to extend their own power and influence in China’s future. The Nationalist leaders are largely graduates of American universities, too, well known to the leading lights of the American missionaries. They need to propagandise in the U.S. as much as possible. At the end of the nineteenth century, cheap Chinese labour led to terrible race riots in the United States, and numerous local laws and ordinances against the Chinese. This culminated in the Exclusion Law of 1882, forbidding entry of Chinese into the country except for teachers, students, merchants and tourists. Chinese already in America were refused citizenship. Hollywood is still making ‘Yellow Peril’ movies, and it remains illegal in California for a Caucasian to marry a Chinese. To combat this, the American missionaries in China try to generate sympathy for the Chinese by association with things that Americans hold dear. This often becomes far-fetched, and is not helped by the Americans often falling for their own propaganda. They say, for example, that Shanghai is “like an American country town”, whose inhabitants will (with a little encouragement) exhibit the small-town behaviours that Americans believe make America great.

 

 

 Thus far, the missionaries have been very successful in America if not in China. Because of their influence back home, the missionary societies dictate American foreign policy in the region. Public opinion in America is very largely based upon and influenced by missionary information. And government action follows public opinion.

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