American Imperialism in Hawaii, China & the Philippines

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  1. 0:05 Overview
  2. 0:29 Hawaii
  3. 2:42 China
  4. 4:55 Japan and the Gentlemen's Agreement
  5. 6:13 The Philippines
  6. 7:44 Lesson Summary
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Taught by

Clint Hughes

Clint has taught History, Government, Speech Communications, and Drama. He has his master's degree in Instructional Design and Technology.

American imperialism had a major effect on the world. In this lesson, find out how a nation became a part of the U.S. for almost 50 years and how one kingdom became a U.S. state. The effect of U.S. imperialism in Asia and the Pacific had a long-lasting and far-reaching effect that we can still see today!


So, as an overview, in this lesson, we are covering a diverse amount of influences of imperialism. Imperialism is when a nation works to expand its power and influence. The two primary methods of imperialism are military conquest and political diplomacy. The four affected areas we will talk about are: Hawaii, China, Japan and the Philippines.


So, to start with Hawaii: If the issue of how Hawaii became a part of the U.S. wasn't so alarming, it could almost be comical. Believe it or not, the president of the U.S. wanted Hawaii to retain its sovereignty. It was basically taken over by an American fruit baron!

Let's take this one from the top! In 1849, Hawaii became a protectorate of the U.S. This happened through economic treaties. These treaties led to a buildup of American business people operating in Hawaii. Over time, these business people pressured the king to limit voting rights to wealthy land owners. Most of these people were foreigners. From this time on, the Hawaiian legislature was pretty much dominated by foreign influence.

The Bayonet Constitution: In 1887, the American, European and elite Hawaiian natives in the Hawaiian government passed a new constitution, stripping the monarchy of its power. They used military force to make the king sign it.

Queen Lili'uokalani: After her brother's death, Queen Lili'uokalani ascended to the throne in 1891, and in response to her people, she started to work on a new constitution for Hawaii, which would reinstate the veto power of the monarchy. It would also give voting rights back to the disenfranchised, poor native Hawaiians. Basically, prominent American and European business people, most prominently, Sanford B. Dole, who didn't want to lose control, seized power and had the Queen imprisoned. These business people wanted Hawaii annexed to the U.S. This would get rid of taxes on goods from Hawaii and make a lot of money for Dole and his cohorts. Hawaii had enjoyed a tariff-free, favored trade status through a treaty signed in 1875. When the McKinley Tariff went through in 1890, it drastically raised the price of imports.

The Republic of Hawaii was officially established on July 4, 1894. Sanford B. Dole was the first president. The President of the United States, Grover Cleveland, and his administration, researched and found that the overthrowing of Queen Lili'uokalani was illegal, and actually wanted the Queen returned to power. But, Hawaii became a protectorate of the United States and in 1897, under President McKinley, was made an American Territory.


Moving on to China: Dealing with Hawaii in the era of U.S. imperialism in this short form was tough, and Hawaii was only a small island kingdom. China is one of the largest and oldest kingdoms on earth, so we are going to stick to the main points.

Through much of the 19th century, imperialistic powers were vying for financial dominance in China, most notably France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Japan, Russia and, of course, the U.S. The U.S. began to worry that their financial interests were in jeopardy. So, the U.S. Secretary of State, John Hay, contacted the nations involved and asked for an agreement that all these powers have equal access to China. This is known as the Open Door Policy. Notice in all of this, the party that was not engaged was the Chinese. There were pro-Western Chinese, but many were not happy about these foreign powers doing as they wished in their home country.

It is worth noting that in China the Yuan Dynasty had been a foreign power, Mongolian to be specific, and they ruled for 100 years. And, the Qing Dynasty, in power during the Open Door Policy, was actually Manchurian. China had certainly dealt with foreigners interested in China for a long time!

The Boxer Rebellion: A group of Chinese nationalists, the Righteous Harmony Society, fed up with foreign imperialists and Christianity encroaching on their homeland, began to grow! At first the Dowager Empress who ruled China did not back the Boxers, but in time the Chinese government basically secretly worked with the Boxers in an attempt to oust the foreign invaders. The Society members were referred to as Boxers because of their vigorous physical and martial arts training. The Boxers were told that their training would protect them from bullets - that's right, bullets. In actuality, they were able to be killed by bullets.

The foreign powers came together with an international force and brutally crushed the Boxers. Even though the Boxers were basically destroyed, they had one major accomplishment. The Boxer Rebellion created a swell of Chinese nationalism. Because of the Boxers, many Chinese nationalists continued to fight the imperial powers.

Japan and the Gentlemen's Agreement

OK, so here's a little add-on about Japan and the Gentlemen's Agreement. In the late part of the 19th century, there was a large amount of Japanese immigration to the U.S., particularly to California. By 1906, Japanese immigrants made up about one percent of California's population. This began to cause a great deal of prejudice against Japanese in San Francisco. They even began to insist that the Japanese be educated in segregated schools.

After the Japanese had a big victory over Russia, they felt they deserved to be treated equally on the world stage. The fix to the tensions was simple. Between 1907 and 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt and Japan made an agreement that Japan would not issue any new passports to those wishing to work in the U.S., and the U.S. would tolerate the Japanese already in the U.S. They would allow the wives and children of Japanese immigrants to join their families, and they would stop the discrimination against Japanese children in California schools. The agreement was never passed in Congress, so it ended 1924. It allowed the issue to be handled in a way that Japan could hold its position on the world stage, but the U.S. did effectively curb immigration.

The Philippines

Moving on to the Philippines, this is one island nation that was not new to imperialism! This archipelago was under Spanish rule since the 16th century! It is even named for King Philip II of Spain! From the beginning of American imperialism, the U.S. didn't really have their eyes on the Philippines. In the midst of the Spanish-American War, the U.S. engaged the Spanish fleet in the Philippines. After defeating the Spanish fleet, American ships first docked in the Philippines.

Completely separate from the Spanish-American War, Filipinos had engaged in their own revolution in the 1890s. Under the leadership of Emilio Aguinaldo, they were fighting for their independence. Following the concept that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, the U.S. aided the Filipinos in their rebellion. Then, with the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish-American War, Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States.

Much to the surprise of at least some of the Filipinos, the U.S. did not recognize the First Philippine Republic, the government established by Aguinaldo. The Philippine-American War followed. The Buffalo Soldiers, made up of African-Americans soldiers, were a large portion of the U.S. forces in the war. The total number of Filipinos killed in the war is very large, but estimates vary. In the end, the U.S. came out on top and the First Republic of the Philippines was dissolved. The United States maintained control of the island nation. It was 1946 before the Philippines gained independence.

Lesson Summary

So, in summary:

  • In Hawaii, American businessmen basically overthrew Queen Lili'uokalani and established their own government. The Cleveland administration said the actions were illegal, but Hawaii was annexed by the U.S. under President McKinley.
  • In China, the imperial world powers agreed to an Open Door Policy, meaning no single foreign nation would get sole rites to China. Angered by the foreign imperialists, the Righteous Harmony Society, or Boxers, rebelled. The Boxer Rebellion was crushed by the foreign powers, but it led to a buildup in Chinese nationalism.
  • Japan and The United States entered into the Gentlemen's Agreement of 1908. In the agreement, Japan agreed to curb Japanese emigration to the U.S., and the U.S. agreed to curb discriminatory policies toward Japanese living in the States.
  • And lastly, the U.S. helped the Philippines defeat Spain in rebellion, and then after Spain ceded the Philippines to the U.S., they entered into the Philippine-American War. The result was that the Philippines did not gain independence from the U.S. until 1946.
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