building is an old theme in world history. Societies have sought to dominate
weaker neighbors as long ago as ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, all the way through to the present.
Motivations have been similar - to obtain natural resources, to subdue enemies,
to accrue wealth, to win power and glory - but until the rise of the west, most
empires have expanded to territories next to their borders. With the
combination of sea power, centralized governments, and industrialized
economies, European nations set out to build empires all over the world, like
none that had been seen before. They were driven by the need to provide raw
materials for their industrial capacity, and the types of goods exchanged were
determined by that need.
began building their empires in the western hemisphere in the early 1500s, but
by the 1800s, Spain and Portugal were no longer powerful countries, and
the largest British colony had become the United States. Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and the Netherlands continued to colonize during this era,
but they also devised other ways to spread their empires. In the late 19th
century Japan and the United States joined the European nations as an
of imperialism in the 1800s included:
- Colonial imperialism - This
form of imperialism is virtual complete takeover of an area, with
domination in all areas: economic, political, and socio-cultural. The
subjugated area existed to benefit the imperialist power, and had almost
no independence of action. In this era, almost all of Africa
and southern and southeast Asia were colonized.
- Economic imperialism - This
form of imperialism allowed the area to operate as its own nation, but the
imperialist nation almost completely controlled its trade and other
business. For example, it may impose regulations that forbid trade with
other nations, or imperialist companies may own or have exclusive rights
to its natural resources. During this era, China
and most of Latin America were subjected to
- Political imperialism -
Although a country may have had its own government with natives in top
political positions, it operated as the imperialist country told it to.
The government was sometimes a relatively permanent "puppet
government," as happened in late Qing China, and other times the
control was temporary, as occurred in the Dominican Republic when the
United States ran its government until it got out of debt.
- Socio-cultural imperialism -
The dominating country deliberately tried to change customs, religions and
languages in some of the countries. A good example was British
India, where English was taught in schools, Indian soldiers
dressed British-style, and western trading rules were set up. Generally,
the imperialist countries assumed their cultures to be superior, and often
times they saw themselves as bringing about improvements in the society.
1450 and 1750 Europeans traded with Africa,
but they set up very few colonies. By 1850, only a few colonies existed along
African coastlines, such as Algeria (French), the Cape Colony (Great Britain,) and Angola (Portugal). Instead, free African states
continued, and after the end of the slave trade in the early 1800s, a lively
exchange took place between Europeans and African states, such as the Sokoto
Caliphate in western Africa and Egypt and Ethiopia in northeast Africa. They traded manufactured goods for
gold, ivory, palm oil (a substance used in soap, candles, and lubricants).
Under the leadership of Muhammad Aliž and his grandson Ismailž Egypt grew to be
the strongest Muslim state of the 19th century, producing cotton for export and
employing western technology and business methods. They benefited from the
American Civil War, when cotton shipments from the southern U.S. were cut off, but the Egyptian cotton
market collapsed after American shipments resumed after the Civil War was over.
the latter half of the 19th century, dramatic changes occurred, as Europeans
began to explore Africa's interior, and by 1914, virtually the
entire continent was colonized by one or the other of the competing European
countries. European imperialists built on the information provided by
adventurers and missionaries, especially the famous Dr. David Livingstone and
Henry Stanley. Livingstone, a Scottish missionary, went to Africa in the 1840s and spent three decades
exploring the interior of Africa and setting up missionary outposts all
the way from central Africa to the Cape Colony on the southern tip. When people in Britain lost contact with Livingstone,
journalist Henry Stanley became a news sensation when he traveled to Africa and found Livingstone. The two sparked
interest in Africa and others followed, including the
Belgium was one of the first countries to
sponsor expeditions to develop commercial activities, first establishing the Congo Free State under the direction of Belgium's King Leopold II, and eventually
seizing it as the Belgian
event set off the Scramble for Africa, in which Britain, France, Germany, and Italy competed with Belgium for land in Africa. The Berlin Conference of 1884-5, in an
effort to avoid war, allowed European diplomats to draw lines on maps and carve
Africa into colonies. The result was a
transformation of political and economic Africa, with virtually all parts of the
continent colonized by 1900.
the Mughal Empire significantly weakened, the French established trading cities
along the Indian coast during the 18th century, but the British East India
Company had pushed them out by the early 1800s. The British were still
following the model of government support for private companies that they had
used in colonizing North
the 19th century. The company forced the Mughals to recognize company rule
first over Bengal, and when the old Mughal Empire was
defeated in the 18th century by Iranian armies, the British pushed for economic
control over more and more areas. Again India fell into the familiar pattern of
decentralized independent states ruled by nawabs, native princes who had
nominally supported the Mughal emperor, and the company made agreements with
them that were economically advantageous to the British.
British "Raj" - 1818-1857
India was under "company" rule for
almost forty years, but they were not actually a British colony during that
time because the British East India Company was still private, even though the
British government supported it. However, the company administered governmental
affairs and initiated social reform that reflected British values. At the same
time, they depended on the nawabs to support them, and so they also had to
abide by Indian customs and rules as well. The contradictory roles they played
eventually erupted in the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857. The Sepoys were Indian
Muslims and Hindus who served the British as soldiers in the army that defended
the subcontinent. The rebellion took the British by surprise, but they found
out that the Indian fury could be traced to a new training technique that the
soldiers refused to follow. It required them to put a bullet shell in their
mouths that had been greased in either pork or beef fat, with the pork fat
being highly offensive to the Muslims and the beef to the Hindu. The British
changed the practice, but it was too late because nationalism had reached India, too, and a movement for a country based
on Indian identity was beginning. The leaders of the movement would have to
wait about 90 years, though, to fulfill their dreams.
Rule - 1857-1947
Sepoy Rebellion showed the British government how serious the problems in India were, and they reacted by removing the
British East India Company from control and declaring India a British colony. British officials
poured into India to keep control of its valuable raw
materials for industry and trade, particularly cotton and poppies for opium.
They expanded production, built factories in India, and constructed huge railroad and
irrigation, and telegraph systems.
growing industrialization and British controlled trade, a middle class of
Indian officials and managers began to rise during the late 1800s. By and
large, the British did not allow Indians to own companies or to hold top
government positions, but they did provide education for people to fill middle
level and professional jobs. Some Indians went to England for higher education, where they
absorbed western political values of liberty, equality, and justice, and they
began to apply those values to their own situations. For example, the Brahmo
Samaj movement, led by Rammouhan Roy, advocated unity for Indians by combining
traditional and modern ways. The Indian National Congress was formed in 1885,
with the goals of promoting political unity and appointing more Indians into
higher positions in the British Civil Service. The Congress was controlled by
Hindus, and in 1906 another nationalist group was established for Muslims
called the All-India Muslim League. Despite tensions between them, by 1914 both
groups were demanding Indian independence from the British.
the British merely exploiting Indians for profit, or were they trying to
"do the right thing" for India? Certainly the profit motive was strong,
especially apparent in the takeover in the early years by the British East
India Company, a profit-driven company. However, many British people of the
time insisted that a major goals for the government was to improve Indian lives
through modernization of their country. Perhaps the most famous defense for
British motives was The White Man's Burden, a poem by Rudyard Kipling that
promotes the vision of a British world leadership idealistically improving the
lives of people in the areas they dominated. Of course, the Indian National
Congress and the All-India Muslim League did not agree.
the long and prosperous rules of Kangxi and Qianlong in the 17th and 18th
centuries, problems of the Qing Dynasty began to mount during the early 19th century.
It suffered from many old land-based ailments, such as long borders to defend
and the challenge of keeping transportation and communication routes operating,
but they also faced other serious issues. The Manchu, rulers of the Qing
dynasty, were originally a northern group that conquered the Han Chinese under
Ming rule. Han Chinese, as they did under Mongol rule, pushed for restoration
of rule to the natives. The dynasty also began to experience significant
revolts from minorities, and the government, under an increasingly corrupt line
of rulers, was not able to deal with them properly. As the Chinese dynastic
cycle was clearly going into decline, Europeans sensed the problems, and began
to push for trading rights that China had been reluctant to grant in earlier
Opium Wars (1839-1842)
1759 Emperor Qianlong had restricted European commercial presence to Guangzhou, a port in the southeastern part of China. There the trade was very much
supervised by Chinese under the cohong system, with specially licensed Chinese
firms operating under government set prices. Trade with Europeans was also
restricted by the fact that Europeans had very little that the Chinese wanted
to buy, even though the reverse was far from true. So the British East India Company,
using Turkish and Persian expertise) grew opium in India and shipped it to China. As a result, trade boomed, especially
once the Chinese developed addictions to the drug. The weak Qing government
failed to act, even after some Chinese officials began to support the trade by
accepting bribes. In 1838, with about 40,000 chests of opium coming into Guangzhou that year, the government finally tried
to stop it.
Opium Wars began after the Qing refused to listen to British protests of the
trade ban. The British sent well-armed infantry and gunboats to attack first
Chinese coastal villages, and eventually towns along the Grant Canal. The British used the Canal to reach
inland areas, fought the ill-equipped villagers all the way to the Yellow River, when the Qing surrendered. Although the
British did not take over the government, they forced the Qing to sign a treaty
allowing the trade.
Treaty of Nanjing, signed by the Chinese after the Opium Wars, was oriented
toward trade. The Chinese agreed to allow the trade of opium and open other
ports to exclusive trade with Britain. Beyond that, it gave the British
control of Hong
Kong (near Guangzhou), and it released Korea, Vietnam, and Burma from Chinese control. This was the first
of many unequal treaties signed by Asians with European nations, and they
eventually led to "spheres of influence." China was divided up into trading spheres,
giving each competing European nation exclusive trading rights in a particular
areas. By the early 20th century, virtually all of China was split into these areas, and the Qing
government was virtually powerless.
Taiping Rebellion - 1850-1864
Qing Dynasty was significantly weakened by the Taiping Rebellion, a revolt led
by Hong Xiuquan, a village schoolteacher who hated the Manchus as foreigners.
He gathered support among poor and unhappy farmers, and under his charismatic
leadership, his armies captured the city of Nanjing as their capital, and came very close to
toppling the government in Beijing. Hong was an unusual leader, believing
that he was the younger brother of Jesus, and advocating abolition of private
property and equality for women. The Chinese government finally ended the civil
war, with a great deal of help from the Europeans, but the cost to the country
was about 20-30 million killed in this 14-year struggle.
it is difficult to see the Taiping Rebellion as nationalism, its leader's ideas
were similar in many ways to the radical political movements in the west.
Chinese nationalism was more apparent in the 1900 Boxer Rebellion, in which a
group called the Boxers led an army against the Qing with the express purpose
of recovering "China for the Chinese." The group fed on
their efforts to rid the country of European interests, and even though the
rebellion was unsuccessful, the Boxers laid the foundations for the 1911
Chinese Revolution that finally ended the Qing Dynasty.
the late 1800s, two non-European nations- the United States and Japan; were rising to power through
industrialization and imperialism. Both were destined to become important world
powers in the 20th century.
industrialization enriched and empowered the United States in the late 19th century, the country
also began to experiment with imperialism. It began with the purchase of Alaska from Russia, and followed with a coup of the native
government in Hawaii, a plot sponsored by American planters
and growers in the Hawaiian
Islands. Both Alaska and Hawaii became territories, and although many
questioned the wisdom of the Alaska purchase, the Hawaii takeover clearly had an economic motive.
a quarrel over Cuban independence, the United States defeated Spain in the Spanish American War in 1898, a
fairly easy task since Spain was long past the peak of her colonial
power. The peace treaty gave the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and the Pacific island of Guan to the United States as protectorates, as well as
considerable economic control of Cuba. To keep their new empire intact, President
Theodore Roosevelt advocated the building of a powerful American navy, and the United States sponsored the building of the Panama Canal to allow the new Great White Fleet
access to both east and west coasts of the country.
United States sea captain Matthew Perry may take some
credit for the destruction of the Tokugawa Shogunate. By the mid 19th century
the Japanese were most concerned about European incursions in China, and so they kept up their guard against
Europeans trying to invade their islands from the south. They were most
surprised when Perry arrived from the east with his demands for opening of Japan to trade with the United States through an "unequal treaty."
That was all the daimyos needed to joint together in an insurrection against the
Tokugawa, who indeed signed such a treaty. To legitimize their cause, the
daimyos fought in the name of the emperor, and when they won, they declared
that the legitimate government had been "restored." The Meiji
Restoration took advantage of the fact that their geography made them less
strategically important than the Chinese, so that the Europeans and Americans
tended to leave them alone. They were left to their own devices - to create a
remarkable state that built the foundations for Japan as a world power.
Meiji (meaning "enlightened rule") claimed to have ended centuries of
shogun-dominated governments that made the emperor totally powerless. They
mystified and revered the position of the emperor, who became a very important
symbol for Japanese unity. However, the new state did not give the emperor any
real power, either. Japanese nationalism was built on the mysticism of the
emperor, anxiety over the foreign threat, and an amazing transformation of Japan's military, economy, and government. The
country was ruled by oligarchs, a small group of leaders who together directed
the state. They borrowed heavily from the west to industrialize their country
and to build a centralized, strong military. They gradually but systematically
dissolved the daimyo and samurai classes, and they placed a great deal of
emphasis on building a strong education system.
era from 1750-1914 was clearly one of growing European power and domination of
the globe. Industrialization created unprecedented wealth, and new western
political ideas spawned strong, centralized states that directed empires around
the world. However, the new political ideas encouraged nationalism, which on
the one hand strengthened the industrialized countries, but on the other hand
caused the people that they dominated to resent their control. The potential
for worldwide power and riches also intensified the conflict and competition
that had long existed among European states. In 1914 these conflicts came to
the surface and erupted into a Great War that ushered in the new, very
different era of the 20th century.