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Charles R. Crane and Wilsonian Progressivism


Zacharie Leclair

This book presents a study of the career of Charles R. Crane, a central player in President Woodrow Wilson’s entourage. In the wake of the U.S. intervention in the Great War, Crane participated in important diplomatic and fact-finding missions. Leclair follows Crane through revolutionary Russia and on the Western front, in the emerging countries born out of the Ottoman Empire, and then in postwar China. In the process, Leclair’s book offers original insights into some of the major domestic and international decisions that define Wilson’s presidency and its legacy in the history of the United States and of international relations, most notably Wilson’s motivation and effort to bring about a new world order under American political and moral leadership. Leclair convincingly portrays Crane as a proponent of the principle of self-determination –one, indeed, whose aversion to colonialism predated Wilson’s international vision as formulated in his Fourteen Points. While a convergence of reform interest and humanitarian concerns brought Crane and Wilson together on some of the most complex issues of the time, Crane’s vision –propelled by a genuine philanthropic commitment—adds substance to what has largely been derided as empty Wilsonian idealism. The thematic structure of this book, the quality of its narration, and the wealth of information it contains, are added elements that make it an excellent contribution to the field of U.S. history. It could be used as a an assigned reading in college or university courses, especially in advanced American history, American Political thought and international relations courses.

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Chapter 6. Charles R. Crane’s Ministership in China: “To Promote Chinese-American Friendship,” 1920–1921


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Crane and the Crushing of Reform by the Powers in China

As was the case with the Ottoman Empire and Central Europe, China’s issues, in Crane’s mind, fit into a larger battle against the imperialistic policies of the great powers. Since the Russian-Japanese War of 1905, Japan’s presence in Manchuria and in the Shandong Peninsula seemed to him as an intolerable encroachment upon China’s sovereignty. Though he criticized Japan disproportionately while ignoring Russia’s even greater presence in Manchuria before 1905, Crane expressed his disgust at these rivalries over control of the opium trade and of the railway networks. In his inclination to side with China against Japan, he stood apart from his American peers even in progressive circles.1

In Progressivism and the Open Door, Jerry Israel presents two general views of Chinese affairs in America. Proponents of the first view, which was defended by the majority of the population, advocated cooperation with the other powers (mainly with Japan). Adherents of the second view, supported by a minority in which Israel includes Crane, sought an independent course for American policy in China that favored competition instead of ← 235 | 236 → cooperation. As we shall see, Crane would in fact successively endorse both strategies depending on circumstances while uncompromisingly stressing the importance of soliciting Chinese participation in the modernizing process that many Americans wished to generate in China.2...

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