American Travel In China Prior To Ww1


Prior to World War 1, American travel to and within China was becoming increasingly popular. In the 1890s, entrepreneurs, missionaries, and military officers and their families had already begun arriving in China and exploring its vast and mesmerizing land. Although the vast majority of tourists to China during this period came from the United States, many other countries also had citizens visiting China– including England, Ireland, France, and Japan. Travel by sea was the major form of transportation during this period, as air travel was yet to be invented and train networks were not fully established at this time. This article will discuss the growth of American travel to China in the period leading up to World War 1, the increase in missionary activities, and the significance of this period in the development of international relations between the two countries.

Beginings of Growth

Prior to World War 1, American travel to China was beginning to take off. American merchants were becoming increasingly interested in China as a business destination, as the vast array of potential goods to be imported from China was seen as an immensely profitable endeavor. This increase in merchants travelling to China was also accompanied by a growth in missionary activities, as missionaries were keen to spread Christianity throughout China. Additionally, advances in transportation technology gave the growing number of American citizens hope of more easily and quickly travelling to and within China. As business opportunities and missionary activities increased in the late 19th century, so did the number of Americans deciding to visit China.

Advent of Air Travel

In the early 20th century, air travel began to become a viable means of transportation for travellers to and within China. Airlines became huge driving forces in the development of international relations between the two countries during the first few decades of the twentieth century. While air travel was expensive at first, the increased access to faster and cheaper ways of travelling to and within China had a dramatic impact on the number of American tourists visiting China. By the 1930s, as many as 8,000 Americans had chosen to visit or live in China and the numbers kept growing up until the beginning of World War II.


Travel by sea to and from China was, and still is, extremely expensive and time consuming, and only wealthy and well-established American merchants and missionaries could afford to make the voyage to China. The introduction of air travel, however, opened up a new era for American travel in China. Suddenly, anyone could experience the splendours of China, and it was the Chinese economy that benefitted most from the influx of American tourists. Businesses began to thrive and flourish and the Chinese economy experienced unprecedented growth as result of the surge in foreign tourism.

International Relations

The development of international relations between the United States and China throughout the 19th century can be largely attributed to the increased number of Americans travelling to and from China. The increase in the number of Americans visiting China caused the two countries to form many economic and cultural ties, which proved to be beneficial for both parties involved. This period of increased diplomacy between the two countries eventually gave way to a more peaceful international environment in the lead up to World War I.


The introduction of Americans to Chinese culture can be attributed to the huge increase in the number of Americans travelling to and living in China prior to World War 1. During this time, American citizens got a first-hand experience of the culture, customs, and beliefs of the Chinese people. This new-found understanding of the Chinese lifestyle contributed greatly to the growing bond between the two countries.


American tourists in China during this period were not only attracted to its rich cultural history but also to its alluring sports activities. Sports such as soccer, rugby, cricket, and even basketball were introduced to China through American travellers during this time period. American sporting teams often played against Chinese teams in friendly contests, allowing for the furthering of international relations, understanding, and respect between the two countries.

Touristic Industry

The surge in the number of American tourists visiting China during the late 19th and early 20th century saw the development of a whole new industry. As a result of the large influx of touristic activity during this period, hotels, restaurants, and other businesses catering to tourists began to crop up around major cities, such as Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou. This increased the overall quality of life in the cities, as businesses began to create jobs and generate revenue.

Health and Safety

Although American tourists generally experienced a safe and comfortable stay in China during this period, the health and safety risks of travelling to foreign lands were real and present. The Chinese government did its utmost to protect the health and safety of its visitors, but there was still a certain level of risk involved in travelling to this unknown land. As such, it is no surprise that many American tourists invested in medical care and safety precautions prior to embarking on their journey to China.

Conclusion of WWI

As World War 1 came to a close, the level of American travel to and within China decreased drastically. Although this period saw a surge in the number of Americans visiting China, this growth ended almost immediately following the war. Nevertheless, this period of American travel to China had a lasting impact on the international relationships between the two countries, as well as leaving behind a lasting cultural influence on Chinese society.

Impact of Railways

The dramatic expansion of railway networks across China during the late 19th and early 20th century had a major impact the increase in American travel to China. Suddenly, travelling to and within China had become much easier and cheaper, as trains provided the perfect balance between cost-effectiveness and speed. This allowed more American citizens the opportunity to explore the beauty and culture of China in a much shorter amount of time and with much less strain on the wallet.

Influence Over Chinese Society

The influx of American citizens to China during this period not only had an effect on the international relations between the two countries but also on the internal workings of China itself. American tourists provided Chinese people with exposure to foreign customs and lifestyles, which in turn had a major influence on Chinese society during this period. This exchange of cultural information contributed to the modernization and development of China during the late 19th and early 20th century.

Technology Adoption

The American tourists visiting China during this period were often accompanied by advanced pieces of machinery and technology. The Chinese government welcomed the use of these technologies with open arms, as they saw the potential for them to help modernize the country and make life easier for its population. Examples of this include the introduction of electricity, telephones, and telegraphs, which helped China make vast advancements in many areas of life.


The main attractions to China for Americans prior to WW1 were its natural and man-made wonders. Tourists visited some of the most iconic landmarks and buildings that China had to offer, such as the Great Wall of China, Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and the Summer Palace. Additionally, they also visited some of the country’s most stunning landscapes, including The Yangtze River and The Yellow Mountains.

Bernice Sorrells

Bernice A. Sorrells is a freelance journalist and travel writer from the United States. She has written extensively about China, covering topics such as culture, history, politics, and economics. Bernice has traveled extensively throughout China, visiting many of its provinces and cities.

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