of Western Dominance
A combination of economic and political transformations in Europe that began
in the 1450 to 1750 era converged between 1750 and 1914 to allow the
"west" (including the United States and Australia) to dominate the
rest of the world. From China
to the Muslim states to Africa, virtually all other
parts of the world became the "have nots"
to the west's "haves." With political and economic dominance came
control in cultural and artistic areas as well.
NEW EUROPEAN NATIONS
A major political development inspired by growing nationalism was the
consolidation of small states into two important new nations:
- Before the second half of the 19th century, Italy
was a collection of city-states that were only loosely allied with one
another. A unification movement was begun in the north by Camillo di Cavour,
and in the north by Giuseppe Garibaldi. As
states unified one by one, the two leaders joined, and Italy
became a unified nation under King Vittore Emmanuele II. The movement was a successful attempt to
escape the historical domination of the peninsula by Spain
in the south and Austria
in the north.
- The German Confederation was created by the Congress of Vienna in 1815,
but it had been controlled by the Austrian and Prussian Empires. In 1848
major rebellions broke out within the confederation, inspired by liberals
who envisioned a German nation ruled by parliamentary government. The
revolutions failed, and many liberals fled the country, but they proved to
be an excuse for the Prussian army to invade other parts of the
Confederation. The Prussian military leader was Otto von Bismarck, who
subjugated the rebels and declared the beginning of the German Empire. The
government was a constitutional monarchy, with Kaiser Wilhelm I ruling,
but for a number of years, Bismarck
had control. He provoked three wars &endash;
&endash; and appealed to German nationalism
to create a strong new nation in the heart of Europe.
He pronounced it the "2nd Reich" or ruling era (the 1st was the Holy
Roman Empire and the 3rd was set up by Adolph Hitler in the
These new nations altered the balance of power in Europe,
causing established nations like Britain
concern that their own power was in danger. Nationalism, then, was spurred on
by a renewal of deep-rooted competition that European nations carried to the
ends of the earth. They competed with one another through trade, industrial production,
and colonization, setting up worldwide empires to bolster their attempts to
outdo all the others.
The Russian and Ottoman Empires - two land-based powers in Eurasia
- suffered the disadvantages of being neighbors to the rising nations in Europe.
Russia had its
wins and losses during the era yet managed to retain its power, but the
Ottomans were in steep decline during most of the period and on the brink of
destruction by 1914.
THE RUSSIAN EMPIRE
The Russian Empire turned its attention to the west under the late 17th and
early 18th century rule of Peter the Great. His moves to build Russia
into a great western empire were reinforced by tsar
Catherine the Great in the late 18th century. Although the tension between
Slavic traditions and the new western orientation remained, Russia
retained its growing reputation as a world power, especially after resisting
Napoleon's invasion in 1812. However, Russia
in the mid-19th century was a huge, diverse realm that was very difficult to
rule from a central location, even with the power granted to an absolute tsar.
Its economy remained agriculturally based, with most people as serfs bound to
the land that they cultivated.
into trouble with powerful England
when its formidable army attacked the Ottoman Empire to
seize access to warm water ports around the Black Sea.
Fearful of an upset in European balance of power, England
supported the Ottomans in defeating Russian troops in the Crimean War
(1853-1856). This defeat clearly showed Russian weakness, and it led Tsar
Alexander II to attempt reform by emphasizing industrialization, creating
elected district assemblies called zemstvos, and
emancipating the serfs.
instability became apparent when Alexander II was assassinated by one of the
many revolutionary groups that were growing rapidly within the country. Some of
these revolutionary groups were Marxist, and their influence would eventually
take over the country in 1917. However, Russia
continued on under absolute rule until then, with an intense state-run
industrialization program that did modernize Russia
by the end of the 19th century.
THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE - "THE SICK MAN
The Ottoman Empire reached its peak during the 16th
and 17th centuries when they won many of their encounters with European
kingdoms, although their attack of Europe was stopped
with their unsuccessful siege of Vienna.
By the early 1800s the Ottoman Empire had many internal
problems, including these:
- Economic problems - Military
officers owned most of the land, a fact that created a great deal of
resentment from others. Since military were exempt from taxes, the
government had problems getting enough revenue to keep the army and government
functioning. "Tax farming" &endash;
or relying on middlemen to collect taxes &endash;
became corrupt, and their demands created resentment from the taxpayers.
- Problems with the Janissaries
- The Janissaries originally were Christian boys from the Balkans that had
been recruited by the Ottomans to fight in their armies. By the early
1800s, the Janissaries were well established as military and political
leaders. They often operated separately from the weakening sultan's court
and gained a reputation form brutality and corruption.
- Revolts in the Balkans and Greece
- At their heart, these revolts were evidence of nationalism &endash; Balkan and Greek people who had loyalties to
their ethnic identities, not the Ottoman Empire.
Many people in these Christian areas resented Ottoman control, and they
were inspired to revolt when janissary governors treated them brutally.
The Balkans appealed to Russia
for help, which eventually led Russia
to invade the Ottoman Empire, sparking the Crimean
gained its independence, supported in large part by western European
nations. Most famously, the English poet Lord Byron, who fought and died
in the Greek Revolution, saw the battle as one between western
civilization (with roots in Ancient Greece) and the Islamic Ottomans.
When the Russians attack started the Crimean War, the Ottomans were aided by
England and France.
Even though Russia
was defeated, an important result of the war was that the Ottomans found
themselves increasingly dependent on western Europe. Even
before the war, weak Ottoman rulers tried to restore their power by imposing
western reforms, such as trials, rules of law, separation of church and state,
and a Magna Carta type document. Young people were
sent to France
to learn modern military techniques and medicine. Education reforms featured
textbooks written in French, and the army adopted French-style uniforms. The
nickname that western nations bestowed on the Ottomans reflected their
attitudes about the empire: "the sick man of Europe."
The decline of Ottoman power and prosperity had a strong impact on a group
of urban and well-educated young men who protested European domination of the
empire's political, economic, and cultural life. Inspired by the European
nationalist movements, they began to call themselves the Young Turks, and they
pushed for a Turkish national state. A constitution was granted in 1876, but
was later rescinded under a new sultan. However the Young Turk movement
continued on through the era.
Empire 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.
TYPES OF IMPERIALISM
Europeans began building their empires in the western hemisphere in the
early 1500s, but by the 1800s, Spain
were no longer powerful countries, and the largest British colony had become
the United States.
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 imperialist power.
Types 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
- 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.
IMPERIALISM IN AFRICA
Between 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
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 Ali¸ and his grandson Ismail¸
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.
In 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 imperialists.
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 Congo.
This event set off the Scramble for Africa, in which Britain,
and Italy competed
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.
IMPERIALISM IN INDIA
With 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 America
during 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.
The British "Raj" - 1818-1857
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
British Rule - 1857-1947
The 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.
Rising Indian Nationalism
With 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.
Were 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.
IMPERIALISM IN CHINA
After 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 times.
The Opium Wars (1839-1842)
In 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.
The 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.
The Unequal Treaties
The 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
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.
The Taiping Rebellion - 1850-1864
The 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.
Although 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
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.
NEW IMPERIALIST NATIONS
By the late 1800s, two non-European nations- the United
States and Japan
&endash; were rising to power through
industrialization and imperialism. Both were destined to become important world
powers in the 20th century.
The United States
As 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
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.
After 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.
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
The 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
The 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.