Questions of periodization

Download 104.79 Kb.
Size104.79 Kb.
1   2   3   4

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.


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 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.

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 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.


By 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.

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 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.

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.


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.

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 education system.

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.

Share with your friends:
1   2   3   4

The database is protected by copyright © 2020
send message

    Main page