Carving Up the Pie of China: In this French cartoon from the late 1890s, the Great Powers of the day (from left to right: Great Britain’s Queen Victoria, Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm, Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II, a female figure representing France, and the Meiji emperor of Japan) participate in dividing China, while a Chinese figure behind them tries helplessly to stop the partition of his country. (Gianni Dagli Orti/The Art Archive)
In the early twenty-first century, Japanese history textbooks became a serious issue in the relationship between Japan and its Chinese neighbor. From a Chinese point of view, those textbooks had minimized or whitewashed Japanese atrocities committed against China during World War II. In particular, many Chinese were outraged at the treatment of the so-called Rape of Nanjing, which witnessed the killing of perhaps 200,000 people,most of them civilians, and the rape of countless women. “Nanjing city was soaked with bloodshed and piles of bodies were everywhere,” declared one survivor of those events. “Japanese rightist groups distort history and attempt to cover the truth of Nanjing Massacre. This makes me extremely angry.”1Another issue was the Japanese use of Chinese “comfort women,” perhaps 200,000 of them, sexual slaves forced to service Japanese troops. Japan, they argued, had not sufficiently acknowledged this outrage in their history textbooks, nor had the Japanese government adequately apologized for it.
To an observer from, say, the fifteenth century or even the eighteenth century, all of this—Japanese aggression during World War II, its enormous economic success after the war, and the continuing fear and resentment of Japan reflected in the textbook controversy—would have seemed strange indeed. For many centuries, after all, Japan had lived in the shadow of its giant Chinese neighbor,borrowing many elements of Chinese culture. Certainly it was never a threat to China. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, however, a remarkable reversal of roles occurred in East Asia when both China and Japan experienced a series of internal crises and, at the same time, had to confront the novel reality of an industrialized, newly powerful, intrusive Western world. It was their very different responses to these internal crises and external challenges that led to their changed relationship in the century or more that followed and to the continuing suspicions and tensions that still characterize their relationship.
CHINA AND JAPAN WERE NOT ALONE IN FACING THE EXPANSIVE FORCES OF EUROPE AND THE UNITED STATES. During the nineteenth century, and in some places earlier, most of the peoples of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, as well as those living in the newly independent states of Latin America, were required to deal with European or American imperialism of one kind or another. Whatever their other differences, this was a common thread that gave these diverse peoples something of a shared history.
But—and this can hardly be emphasized too strongly—dealing with Europe was not the only item on their agendas. Many African peoples were occupied with Islamic revival movements and the rise and fall of their own states; population growth and peasant rebellion wracked China; the great empires of the Islamic world shrank or disappeared; Hindus and Muslims persisted in their sometimes competitive and sometimes cooperative relationship in India; and rivalry among competing elites troubled Latin American societies. Encounters with an expansive Europe were conditioned everywhere by particular local circumstances. Those encounters provided a mirror in which the peoples of Asia and Africa viewed themselves, as they alternately celebrated, criticized, and sought to transform their own cultures.
This chapter examines the experience of societies that confronted these crises while retaining their formal independence, with China, the Ottoman Empire, and Japan as primary examples. The following chapter turns the spotlight on the colonial experience of those peoples who fell under the official control of one or another of the European powers. In both cases,they were dealing with a new thrust of European expansion, one that drew its energy from the Industrial Revolution.
Four dimensions of an expansive Europe confronted these societies.First, they faced the immense military might and political ambitions of rival European states. Second, they became enmeshed in networks of trade,investment, and sometimes migration that radiated out from an industrializing and capitalist Europe to generate a new world economy.Third, they were touched by various aspects of traditional European culture, as some among them learned the French, English, or German language; converted to Christianity; or studied European literature and philosophy. Finally, Asians and Africans engaged with the culture of modernity—its scientific rationalism; its technological achievements; its belief in a better future; and its ideas of nationalism, socialism, feminism,and individualism. In those epic encounters, they sometimes resisted, at other times accommodated, and almost always adapted what came from the West. They were active participants in the global drama of nineteenth-century world history, not simply its passive victims or beneficiaries.
The External Challenge: European Industry and Empire
More than at any other time, the nineteenth century was Europe’s age of global expansion. During that century, Europe became the center of the world economy, with ties of trade and investment in every corner of the globe. Between 1812 and 1914, millions of Europeans migrated to new homes outside Europe. Missionaries and explorers penetrated the distant interiors of Asia and Africa. European states incorporated India, Africa, Southeast Asia, and the islands of the Pacific into their overseas colonial empires and seriously diminished the sovereignty and independence of the once proud domains of China, the Ottoman Empire, and Persia. Many newly independent states in Latin America became economically dependent on Europe and the United States (see pp. 846–48). How can we explain such dramatic changes in the scope, character, and intensity of European expansion?
In what ways did the Industrial Revolution shape the character of nineteenth-century European imperialism?
Behind much of Europe’s nineteenth-century expansion lay the massive fact of its Industrial Revolution. That process gave rise to new economic needs,many of which found solutions abroad. The enormous productivity of industrial technology and Europe’s growing affluence now created the need for extensive raw materials and agricultural products: wheat from the American Midwest and southern Russia, meat from Argentina, bananas from Central America, rubber from Brazil, cocoa and palm oil from West Africa,tea from Ceylon, gold and diamonds from South Africa. This demand radically changed patterns of economic and social life in the countries of their origin.
Furthermore, Europe needed to sell its own products. One of the peculiarities of industrial capitalism was that it periodically produced more manufactured goods than its own people could afford to buy. By 1840, for example, Britain was exporting 60 percent of its cotton-cloth production,annually sending 200 million yards to Europe, 300 million yards to Latin America, and 145 million yards to India. This last figure is particularly significant because for centuries Europe had offered little that Asian societies were willing to buy. Part of European and American fascination with China during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries lay in the enormous potential market represented by its huge population.
Much the same could be said for capital, for European investors often found it more profitable to invest their money abroad than at home.Between 1910 and 1913, Britain was sending about half of its savings abroad as foreign investment. In 1914, it had about 3.7 billion pounds sterling invested abroad, about equally divided between Europe, North America, and Australia on the one hand and Asia, Africa, and Latin America on the other hand.
Wealthy Europeans also saw social benefits to foreign markets, which served to keep Europe’s factories humming and its workers employed. The English imperialist Cecil Rhodes confided his fears to a friend:
Yesterday I attended a meeting of the unemployed in London and having listened to the wild speeches which were nothing more than a scream for bread, I returned home convinced more than ever of the importance of imperialism… In order to save the 40 million inhabitants of the United Kingdom from a murderous civil war, the colonial politicians must open up new areas to absorb the excess population and create new markets for the products of the mines and factories… The British Empire is a matter of bread and butter. If you wish to avoid civil war, then you must become an imperialist.2
Thus imperialism promised to solve the class conflicts of an industrializing society while avoiding revolution or the serious redistribution of wealth.
The Gatling Gun
The Gatling gun, which was designed by the American Richard Gatling during the Civil War, was one of the earliest machine guns. By the late nineteenth century,this weapon, together with breech-loading rifles, gave European powers and the United States an enormous military advantage. (Courtesy, Royal Artillery Historical Trust)
But what made imperialism so broadly popular in Europe, especially in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, was the growth of mass nationalism. By 1871, the unification of Italy and Germany made Europe’s always competitive political system even more so, and much of this rivalry spilled over into the struggle for colonies or economic concessions in Asia and Africa. Colonies and spheres of influence abroad became a symbol of national “Great Power” status, and their acquisition was a matter of urgency, even if they possessed little immediate economic value. After 1875, it seemed to matter, even to ordinary people, whether some remote corner of Africa or some obscure Pacific island was in British, French, or German hands.Imperialism, in short, appealed on economic and social grounds to the wealthy or ambitious, seemed politically and strategically necessary in the game of international power politics, and was emotionally satisfying to almost everyone. It was a potent mix.
If the industrial era made overseas expansion more desirable or even urgent, it also provided new means for achieving those goals. Steam-driven ships,moving through the new Suez Canal, allowed Europeans to reach distant Asian and African ports more quickly and predictably and to penetrate interior rivers as well. The underwater telegraph made possible almost instant communication with far-flung outposts of empire. The discovery of quinine to prevent malaria greatly reduced European death rates in the tropics. Breech-loading rifles and machine guns vastly widened the military gap between Europeans and everyone else.
New Perceptions of the “Other”
What contributed to changing European views of Asians and Africans in the nineteenth century?
Industrialization also occasioned a marked change in the way Europeans perceived themselves and others. In earlier centuries, Europeans had defined others largely in religious terms. “They” were heathen; “we” were Christian. Even as they held on to this sense of religious superiority,Europeans nonetheless adopted many of the ideas and techniques of more advanced societies. They held many aspects of Chinese and Indian civilization in high regard; they freely mixed and mingled with Asian and African elites and often married their women; some even saw the more technologically simple peoples of Africa and America as “noble savages.”
With the advent of the industrial age, however, Europeans developed a secular arrogance that fused with or in some cases replaced their notions of religious superiority. They had, after all, unlocked the secrets of nature,created a society of unprecedented wealth, and used both to produce unsurpassed military power. These became the criteria by which Europeans judged both themselves and the rest of the world.
By such standards, it is not surprising that their opinions of other cultures dropped sharply. The Chinese, who had been highly praised in the eighteenth century, were reduced in the nineteenth century to the image of “John Chinaman,” weak, cunning, obstinately conservative, and, in large numbers, a distinct threat, the “yellow peril” of late-nineteenth-century European fears. African societies, which had been regarded even in the slave-trade era as nations and their leaders as kings, were demoted in nineteenth-century European eyes to the status of tribes led by chiefs as a means of emphasizing their “primitive” qualities.
Increasingly, Europeans viewed the culture and achievements of Asian and African peoples through the prism of a new kind of racism, expressed now in terms of modern science. Although physical differences had often been a basis of fear or dislike, in the nineteenth century Europeans increasingly used the prestige and apparatus of science to support their racial preferences and prejudices. Phrenologists, craniologists, and sometimes physicians used allegedly scientific methods and numerous instruments to classify the size and shape of human skulls and concluded,not surprisingly, that those of whites were larger and therefore more advanced. Nineteenth-century biologists, who classified the varieties of plants and animals, applied these notions of rank to varieties of human beings as well. The result was a hierarchy of races, with the whites,naturally, on top and the less developed “child races” beneath them. Race,in this view, determined human intelligence, moral development, and destiny. “Race is everything,” declared the British anatomist Robert Knox in 1850; “civilization depends on it.”3 Furthermore, as the germ theory of disease took hold in nineteenth-century Europe, it was accompanied by fears that contact with “inferior” peoples threatened the health and even the biological future of more advanced or “superior” peoples.
European Racial Images
This nineteenth-century chart, depicting the “Progressive Development of Man” from apes to modern Europeans,reflected the racial categories that were so prominent at the time. It also highlights the influence of Darwin’s evolutionary ideas as they were applied to varieties of human beings. (The Granger Collection, New York)
These ideas influenced how Europeans viewed their own global expansion. Almost everyone saw it as inevitable, a natural outgrowth of a superior civilization. For many, though, this viewpoint was tempered with a genuine, if condescending, sense of responsibility to the “weaker races” that Europe was fated to dominate. “Superior races have a right,because they have a duty,” declared the French politician Jules Ferry in 1883. “They have the duty to civilize the inferior races.”4 That “civilizing mission,” as Europeans regarded it, included bringing Christianity to the heathen, good government to disordered lands, work discipline and production for the market to “lazy natives,” a measure of education to the ignorant and illiterate,clothing to the naked, and health care to the sick,while suppressing “native customs” that ran counter to Western ways of living. All of this was defined as “progress” and “civilization.”
Another, harsher side to the ideology of imperialism derived from an effort to apply, or perhaps misapply, the evolutionary thinking of Charles Darwin to an understanding of human history. The key concept of this “social Darwinism,” though not necessarily shared by Darwin himself, was “the survival of the fittest,” suggesting that European dominance inevitably involved the displacement or destruction of backward peoples or “unfit” races. Referring to native peoples of Australia, a European bishop declared:
Everyone who knows a little about aboriginal races is aware that those races which are of a low type mentally and who are at the same time weak in constitution rapidly die out when their country comes to be occupied by a different race much more rigorous, robust, and pushing than themselves.5
Such views made imperialism, war, and aggression seem both natural and progressive, for they were predicated on the notion that weeding out “weaker” peoples of the world would allow the “stronger” to flourish. These were some of the ideas with which industrializing and increasingly powerful Europeans confronted the peoples of Asia and Africa in the nineteenth century. Among those confrontations, none was more important than Europe’s encounter with China.
Reversal of Fortune: China’s Century of Crisis
In 1793 in a famous letter to King George III, the Chinese emperor Qianlong sharply rebuffed British requests for a less restricted trading relationship with his country. “Our Celestial Empire possesses all things in prolific abundance…,” he declared. “There was therefore no need to import the manufactures of outside barbarians” (see Document 19.1). Qianlong’s snub simply continued the pattern of the previous several centuries, during which Chinese authorities had strictly controlled and limited the activities of European missionaries and merchants. By 1912, little more than a century later, China’s long-established imperial state had collapsed, and the country had been transformed from a central presence in the Afro-Eurasian world to a weak and dependent participant in a European-dominated world system. It was a stunning reversal of fortune for a country that in Chinese eyes was the civilized center of the entire world—in their terms, the Middle Kingdom.
The Crisis Within
What accounts for the massive peasant rebellions of nineteenth-century China?
In many ways, China was the victim of its own earlier success. Its robust economy and American food crops had enabled massive population growth,from about 100 million people in 1685 to some 430 million in 1853. Unlike Europe, though, where a similar population spurt took place, no Industrial Revolution accompanied this vast increase in the number of people, nor was agricultural production able to keep up. The result was growing pressure on the land, smaller farms for China’s huge peasant population, and, in all too many cases, unemployment, impoverishment, misery, and starvation.
Furthermore, China’s famed centralized and bureaucratic state did not enlarge itself to keep pace with the growing population. In 1400, the lowest administrative unit, a county, encompassed perhaps 50,000 people and was governed by a magistrate and a small staff. By 1800, that same magistrate had to deal with 200,000 people, with no increase in his staff. Thus the state was increasingly unable to effectively perform its many functions,such as tax collection, flood control, social welfare, and public security.Gradually the central state lost power to provincial officials and local gentry. Among such officials, corruption was endemic, and harsh treatment of peasants was common. According to an official report issued in 1852,“[D]ay and night soldiers are sent out to harass taxpayers. Sometimes corporal punishments are imposed upon tax delinquents; some of them are so badly beaten to exact the last penny that blood and flesh fly in all directions.”6
This combination of circumstances, traditionally associated with a declining dynasty, gave rise to growing numbers of bandit gangs roaming the countryside and, even more dangerous, to outright peasant rebellion.Beginning in the late eighteenth century, such rebellions drew upon a variety of peasant grievances and found leadership in charismatic figures proclaiming a millenarian religious message. Increasingly they also expressed opposition to the Qing dynasty on account of its foreign Manchu origins. “We wait only for the northern region to be returned to a Han emperor,” declared one rebel group in the early nineteenth century.7
The culmination of China’s internal crisis lay in the Taiping Uprising,which set much of the country aflame between 1850 and 1864. This was a different kind of peasant upheaval. Its leaders largely rejected Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism alike, finding their primary ideology in a unique form of Christianity. Its leading figure, Hong Xiuquan(1814–1864), proclaimed himself the younger brother of Jesus, sent to cleanse the world of demons and to establish a “heavenly kingdom of great peace.” Nor were these leaders content to restore an idealized Chinese society; instead they insisted on genuinely revolutionary change. They called for the abolition of private property; a radical redistribution of land;the equality of men and women; the end of foot binding, prostitution, and opium smoking; and the organization of society into sexually segregated military camps of men and women. Hong fiercely denounced the Qing dynasty as foreigners who had “poisoned China” and “defiled the emperor’s throne.” His cousin, Hong Rengan, developed plans for transforming China into an industrial nation, complete with railroads, health insurance for all,newspapers, and widespread public education.
With a rapidly swelling number of followers, Taiping forces swept out of southern China and established their capital in Nanjing in 1853. For a time,the days of the Qing dynasty appeared to be over. But divisions and indecisiveness within the Taiping leadership and their inability to link up with several other rebel groups also operating separately in China provided an opening for Qing dynasty loyalists to rally and by 1864 to crush this most unusual of peasant rebellions. Western military support for pro-Qing forces likewise contributed to their victory. It was not, however, the imperial military forces of the central government that defeated the rebels. Instead provincial gentry landowners, fearing the radicalism of the Taiping program, mobilized their own armies, which in the end crushed the rebel forces.
Thus the Qing dynasty was saved, but it was also weakened as the provincial gentry consolidated their power at the expense of the central state. The intense conservatism of both imperial authorities and their gentry supporters postponed any resolution of China’s peasant problem,delayed any real change for China’s women, and deferred vigorous efforts at modernization until the communists came to power in the mid-twentieth century. More immediately, the devastation and destruction occasioned by this massive civil war seriously disrupted and weakened China’s economy.Estimates of the number of lives lost range from 20 to 30 million. In human terms, it was the most costly conflict in the world of the nineteenth century,and it took China more than a decade to recover from that devastation.China’s internal crisis in general and the Taiping Uprising in particular also provided a highly unfavorable setting for the country’s encounter with a Europe newly invigorated by the Industrial Revolution.
How did Western pressures stimulate change in China during the nineteenth century?
Nowhere was the shifting balance of global power in the nineteenth century more evident than in China’s changing relationship with Europe, a transformation that registered most dramatically in the famous Opium Wars. Derived from Arab traders in the eighth century or earlier, opium had long been used on a small scale as a drinkable medicine, regarded as a magical cure for dysentery and described by one poet as “fit for Buddha.”8It did not become a serious problem until the late eighteenth century, when the British began to use opium, grown and processed in India, to cover their persistent trade imbalance with China. By the 1830s, British, American, and other Western merchants had found an enormous, growing, and very profitable market for this highly addictive drug. From 1,000 chests (each weighing roughly 150 pounds) in 1773, China’s opium imports exploded to more than 23,000 chests in 1832.