Imperialism and Its Onset
“Imperialism is any instance of a more powerful nation or group of nations acting, or being perceived to be acting, at the expense of a lesser power, usually when the more powerful nation dominates through military action or economically”(Elder and Roberts 231).
Imperialism started with the search for a direct route to Asia, prior to the nineteenth century. Pushed by the needs created by its commercial growth, as well as the desire for raw materials and wealth, Europe took to the establishment of colonies in India, the Americas, the coasts of Africa and China, South Africa and the East Indies.
However, the popularity of colonialism began to dwindle towards the middle of the nineteenth century. Many resources were being committed to the Napoleonic Wars, industrialization was becoming too energy-consumptive, and the cost of administration of the colonies began to outweigh the benefits. Imperialism collapsed under the weight of those reasons, but only temporarily; an economic revival in Europe in the middle of the ninetieth century revived imperialism and colonialism.
The Rebirth of Imperialism
The second stage of imperialism, or New Imperialism as it is commonly called, owes its birth to the economic revival in Europe from the middle of the nineteenth century; its impetus, however, arose from other reasons as well: political motives, religious missions, humanitarian and military reasons, technological advances and social Darwinism.
By the year 1870, Europe’s industrialization was inching towards it pinnacle; its growth came with its challenges. There was need for an uninterrupted and adequate supply of raw materials as well as cheap labor. Consequently, Europe sought to grab and maintain control on unexplored lands. On the other hand, there was a lot of capital floating around, making foreign investment in the colonies very attractive.
Political and Military Motives
The scramble among European countries for new colonies, the invasion of those colonies and their administration initiated the development of military equipment, vessels and personnel. At that time, military prowess-rather than either politics or diplomacy, or both-was the basis on which a great power was measured. Safe harbors and coaling stations for military and trade vessels were some of the benefits that came with the ownership of colonies. Military superiority was used as a political weapon.
Darwin’s Origin of Species
Darwin’s theory of evolution transformed the European’s perception of other races and tribes. In the theory of natural selection, Darwin put it that survival was reserved for the fittest. The Europeans later applied it to human societies, arguing that the white race was fitter than other races and for that reason, to improve mankind, the ‘less fit’ races were to be conquered and destroyed, and that was a reason for the imperialistic behavior (Etherington 49).
Technological Advancement in the West
Advancement in medicine, invention of the telegraph and the steamboat and the machine gun softened the Europeans’ penetration into and acquisition of foreign lands/colonies. The steamboat and the telegraph facilitated mobility and coordination; the machine guns conquered lands and thwarted resistances; and the medicines cured the diseases they caught in foreign lands.
European Imperialism in Africa
It was not until towards the end of the nineteenth that efforts were made to penetrate the African continent. Its exploration had initially been hampered by its jungles, deserts, mountains and plateaus. That changed with the penetration into the Congo by Belgium and the occupation of Egypt by Britain.
Britain’s occupation of Egypt began with its purchase of and control of the Suez Canal, thanks to the then bankruptcy of the Egyptian ruler-ship that made Egypt unable to repay the loan that had been used for its construction. The importance of the Suez Canal was its shortening of the route to Asia. Britain made Egypt its protectorate in 1882 and later acquired Sudan.
In the year 1878, the king of Belgium, Leopold II sent an American journalist, Henry Stanley, to explore the Congo. Stanley sold his services to Leopold. Leopold’s formation of a financial syndicate The International African Association made other European countries rush for the scramble, in fear that the entire continent would be under the control of Belgium.
A conference intended to prevent the domination of the entire continent of Africa by a single European country, and establish a means occupation that was acceptable to all European states was held in Berlin, famously known as the scramble for Africa. The entire continent was split among European countries except Liberia. Liberia was/is a resettlement for free slaves. Ethiopia successfully resisted invasion attempts by Italy.
European Imperialism in Asia
British imperialism in India stretches back to 1763, when they defeated the French and took control of India. The harshness of the British administration in the country caused a revolt that led to an uprising, the Sepoy Mutiny, by the locals. The British successfully countered the rebellion and incorporated India into it empire in 1858. India came to be known as the “Crown Jewell of the British Empire” for its profitability; on the other hand, Indian culture was not respected and the lives of the natives were basic at their best.
The Dutch grabbed Indonesia and the Dutch East Indies, the France took over Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (or Indochina) and Russia’s control was extended as far as Iran.
Imperialism in China
The infiltration of imperialism into China started with the 1839 to 1842 First Opium War which was instigated by the Chinese government’s prohibition of the importation of Opium into China by the British (Narsimhan 21). The industrial and military superiority of the British easily crashed the Chinese forces. At the end of the war, china gave Britain Hong Kong, opened up more ports that came with such privileges as the freedom to trade with the China’s Interior and the supervision of the Chinese custom offices. The West could also set up their courts in China where westerners could be tried.
Between the years 1870 and 1914, France, Germany, Russia and Britain took control of parts of china. For the fear that the carving of China might be harmful to its commerce, rather that take a part of china, the United States opted to promote the Open Door Policy which proposed that all nations have equal trading rights with china and that the sovereignty of China be respected. The imperial nations did not comply with it, though they accepted it in principle.
The denial of economic and political rights to China by the Imperialist nations started to brew hatred for foreigners by the Chinese by the 1900s. In June, 1900, a rebellion called the Boxer Uprising supported by the Manchu government started attacks on Chinese Christians and foreigners, with the goal of restoring the pre-imperialism Chinese isolation. Imperialist nations sent in international forces. The rebels were defeated in two weeks.
The failure of the rebellion pushed for reforms in china. Revolutions took place in 1911 in the country during which was the overthrow of the Manchu emperor. Sun Yat-Se proclaimed china a republic and became its president. He sought to free china of the imperialists, advocated democracy and raised livelihood. For nearly almost four decades that followed, china was confronted with problems both internal and from outside itself, fighting wars against itself as well as against foreigners.
Imperialism and Japan
The Japanese are the only Asians who proved impervious to imperialism. In the early centuries, they drove Europeans out of their country and closed trade ports except Nagasaki where only the Dutch were allowed to trade. An American naval expedition in 1853 convinced a Japanese ruler, the shogun, to reopen ports for trade with the US.
Unlike the Chinese, the Japanese abandoned their policy of isolation and, instead, opened up to the west both for the fear of domination and the desire to modernize by learning and borrowing from the west. In the drive to advance Japan enough to rival the west, the feudal rulers were replaced with a new leadership and the emperor’s powers increased. The new administration militarized and industrialized Japan. The intention was to equal the west.
Japan so advanced that it became an Imperialist itself. It engaged china militarily between 1894 and 1895, defeated China and made it release its grip on Korea (Hodge 222). It went as far as gaining its own colonies, the Pescadores Islands and Taiwan being its first ones. Between 1904 and 1905, Japan surprised the world when it militarily humiliated Russia.
The German Imperialist Dream
In 1921, a new party, the Nazi party, was founded under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, and it went on to rule Germany through totalitarian means from 1933 until 1945. The party was based on the promotion of anti-Semitism and German superiority, and the disapproval of the terms attached to the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War One (Klein 49). Hitler had been frustrated by German’s defeat and the political instability as well as the economic depression that befell the country. Hitler’s dream was to drive out all Jews from Europe and create a German empire that would last for a thousand years-an empire under the master Aryan race, and based on German culture.
When the party came into power, Hitler directed German’s foreign policy towards restoring Germany’s place in the world and undoing the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. He withdrew Germany from the League of Nation, built the German military to an extent beyond that allowed by the treaty and started occupying European countries, driving Jews out as he did. Germany’s invasion of Poland finally led to the declaration of war on Germany by France and Britain, causing the start of the Second World War. The Nazi’s were finally defeated in 1945.
The End of Imperialism
The war left the imperialist nations economically devastated and for that reason, it was becoming difficult for them to manage foreign colonies. There were also movements in the colonies as well as international pressure. The Imperialist started to offer their colonies independence, ending imperialism.
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