Correspondence Concerning American Commercial Rights in China

Author: John Hay  | Date: 1900

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The Open Door (1899)


Washington, September 6, 1899.

. . . IN 1898, when His Imperial Majesty had, through his diplomatic representative at this capital, notified this Government that Russia had leased from His Imperial Chinese Majesty the ports of Port Arthur, Ta-lien-wan, and the adjacent territory in the Liao-tung Peninsula in north-eastern China for a period of twenty-five years, your predecessor received categorical assurances from the Imperial Minister for Foreign Affairs that American interests in that part of the Chinese Empire would in no way be affected thereby, neither was it the desire of Russia to interfere with the trade of other nations, and that our citizens would continue to enjoy within said leased territory all the rights and privileges guaranteed them under existing treaties with China. Assurances of a similar purport were conveyed to me by the Emperor’s Ambassador at this capital; while flesh proof of this is afforded by the Imperial Ukase of

last, creating the free port of Dalny, near Ta-lien-wan, and establishing free trade for the adjacent territory.

However gratifying and reassuring such assurances may be in regard to the territory actually occupied and administered, it can not but be admitted that a further, clearer, and more formal definition of the conditions which are henceforth to hold within the so-called Russian "sphere of interest" in China as regards the commercial rights therein of our citizens is much desired by the business world of the United States, inasmuch as such a declaration would relieve it from the apprehensions which have exercised a disturbing influence during the last four years on its operations in China.

The present moment seems particularly opportune for ascertaining whether His Imperial Russian Majesty would not be disposed to give permanent form to the assurances heretofore given to this Government on this subject.

The Ukase of the Emperor of August 11 of this year, declaring the port of Ta-lien-wan open to the merchant ships of all nations during the remainder of the lease under which it is held by Russia, removes the slightest uncertainty as to the liberal and conciliatory commercial policy His Majesty proposes carrying out in northeastern China, and would seem to insure us the sympathetic and, it is hoped, favorable consideration of the propositions hereinafter specified.

The principles which this Government is particularly desirous of seeing formally declared by His Imperial Majesty and by all the great Powers interested in China, and which will be eminently beneficial to the commercial interests of the whole world, are:

First. The recognition that no Power will in any way interfere with any treaty port or any vested interest within any leased territory or within any so-called "sphere of interest" it may have in China.

Second. That the Chinese treaty tariff of the time being shall apply to all merchandise landed or shipped to all such ports as are within said "sphere of interest" (unless they be "free ports"), no matter to what nationality it may belong, and that duties so leviable shall be collected by the Chinese Government.

Third. That it will levy no higher harbor dues on vessels of another nationality frequenting any port in such "sphere" than shall be levied on vessels of its own nationality, and no higher railroad charges over lines built, controlled, or operated within its "sphere" on merchandise belonging to citizens or subjects of other nationalities transported through such "sphere" than shall be levied on similar merchandise belonging to its own nationals transported over equal distances.

The declaration of such principles by His Imperial Majesty would not only be of great benefit to foreign commerce in China, but would powerfully tend to remove dangerous sources of irritation and possible conflict between the various Powers; it would reestablish confidence and security; and would give great additional weight to the concerted representations which the treaty Powers may hereafter make to His Imperial Chinese Majesty in the interest of reform in Chinese administration so essential to the consolidation and integrity of that Empire, and which, it is believed, is a fundamental principal of the policy of His Majesty in Asia.

Germany has declared the port of Kiao-chao, which she holds in Shangtung under a lease from China, a free port and has aided in the establishment there of a branch of the Imperial Chinese Maritime Customs. The Imperial German Minister for Foreign Affairs has also given assurances that American trade would not in any way be discriminated against or interfered with, as there is no intention to close the leased territory to foreign commerce within the area which Germany claims. These facts lead this Government to believe that the Imperial German Government will lend its cooperation and give its acceptance to the proposition above outlined, and which our Ambassador at Berlin is now instructed to submit to it.

That such a declaration will be favorably considered by Great Britain and Japan, the two other Powers most interested in the subject, there can be no doubt; the formal and oft-repeated declarations of the British and Japanese Governments in favor of the maintenance throughout China of freedom of trade for the whole world insure us, it is believed, the ready assent of these Powers to the declaration desired.

The acceptance by His Imperial Majesty of these principles must therefore inevitably lead to their recognition by all the other Powers interested, and you are instructed to submit them to the Emperor’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and urge their immediate consideration.

Department of State, (Washington, 1900), 15–17.

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Chicago: John Hay, Correspondence Concerning American Commercial Rights in China in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1903), Original Sources, accessed February 23, 2024,

MLA: Hay, John. Correspondence Concerning American Commercial Rights in China, in American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Vol. 4, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1903, Original Sources. 23 Feb. 2024.

Harvard: Hay, J, Correspondence Concerning American Commercial Rights in China. cited in 1903, American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 23 February 2024, from