On the iconic American writer’s avowed anti-imperialism.
After residing for almost a decade in Europe, Mark Twain sailed back to the United States in October 1900. He had not only combated financial losses from his untimely investment in the Paige typesetter, but he had also made a name for himself on both sides of the Atlantic. The sixty-four-year-old writer had become a national hero and a celebrity figure, one whose homecoming was a much-anticipated event across the country. Newspapers lauded his success in overcoming bankruptcy and achieving fame and popularity in Europe, hailing him as “the bravest author in literature.” Harper’s Weekly heralded him as the “the most advertised man in the world.”
While in the United States, Twain is largely viewed as a humorist, in China his principal reputation is that of an anti-imperial polemicist and a cherished advocate.
While writers and reporters were expecting the humorist to delight the American audience with funny stories or the wonders of his travels, Twain took them by surprise with a decidedly pointed political declaration almost immediately after he landed; he remarked to a New York Herald reporter on October 16: “I am an anti-imperialist, I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.”
Twain would follow up on his unequivocal verdict a month later, speaking up against the foreign occupation in Manchuria and in support of the anti-imperialist uprising in China known as the Boxer Rebellion. “I am a Boxer, too” he announced to a standing room at the Berkeley Lyceum in New York City. The following year, Twain assumed the vice presidency of the American Anti-Imperialist League, an organization which he helped found and included such prominent members as Jane Addams, Ambrose Bierce, and Andrew Carnegie; Twain served in this post until the end of his life.