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A History of World Societies, Sixth Edition
Web Exercises
Chapter 27: Asia in the Era of Western Imperialism, 1800-1914

Between 1800 and 1914 Asia, like Africa, confronted Western imperialism.  During this period Britain fully absorbed India into its empire and ruled it both directly through British and native bureaucrats and indirectly by native surrogates.  Britain, France, and the Netherlands annexed most of Southeast Asia, leaving Siam the only independent state in the region.  Despite its size and vast population, China could not withstand Western expansionism.  After defeating China in the Opium War, Britain claimed economically important areas as "spheres of influence" in which China lost all rights of sovereignty.  Other Western powers soon followed Britain's lead, so that by the end of the nineteenth century nearly all of China's important coastal cities were controlled by one of the great European powers, the United States, or Japan.  Its relative isolation broken by the U. S., Japan endured unequal trade agreements with Western powers for years.  At the same time, however, Japan learned all it could about Western technology, industrial production, and administration.  Japanese reformers then adapted what they had learned to their country's needs and thus rapidly transformed it into a formidable imperial power.  The example of Japan inspired other reformers throughout Asia who hoped similarly to modernize their countries and throw off exploitative Western rule.  The exercises below will help you build upon what you have already learned about Asian responses to Western expansion during this period.

Helpful Hints:
  • You may want to begin by printing this page. As you explore different sites, use the printout to refer back to the instructions and questions detailed in each activity.
  • On many web sites you can increase the size of the images by clicking on them. Whenever possible, use the larger images to examine fine details in photographs.
Activity One:
  • As you read in chapters 26 and 27 of McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition), Asian and African military resistance to Western imperialism was usually futile. Many other societies turned to other alternatives. Go to The New Nationalist Movement in India by Jabez T. Sunderland. This article appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, a popular journal in the United States, in 1908. According to its author, what was the legacy of British rule in India? Consider the following questions. How had the economy developed? What new technologies had been introduced into the subcontinent? What were living standards like for the average Indian? The author puts the blame for these results squarely on British rule. What specific policies does he blame for India's condition? What is his remedy? Does he advocate turning back the clock and restoring India to old traditions, or does he advocate a more Western-style solution? Does he appeal to India's past to support the idea of a modern Indian nation state?
  • The author of "The New Nationalist Movement" claims that there is a generation of Indians ready to govern the subcontinent more justly, especially the Indian National Congress party. Read the essays at History of India: Social and Cultural Awakening, The Indian National Congress [1885 AD - 1905 AD], The Indian National Movement [1905 AD - 1914 AD], and Western Education in Nineteenth-Century India. Which groups made up the Indian National Congress? How had their lives been affected by British rule? What impact did Western ideas have on their sense of Indian nationalism? Write a brief essay that analyzes how India resisted British imperialism from 1885 to 1914. Consider the following questions. What alternatives to direct British rule did the Indian Congress propose? What ideas influenced this demand for more autonomy? Were the ideas strictly Western, or did they also draw from India's past? Which groups led the Congress party? What role did they play in Indian society during British rule?
Activity Two:
  • The Indian National Congress party eventually led India to independence, and India  evolved into a major world power in the twentieth century. Japan had a head start. Its history in the nineteenth century confirmed the ideas espoused by the Congress party. By blending of Western ideas and technology and native traditions Japan transformed itself into a modern industrial state. For more on this strategy, go to Meiji Restoration. (Be sure to visit the hyperlinks at this site.) According to this page, what kind of government did Japanese reformers create in the 1860s and 1870s? How did it reflect Western ideas? How did it reflect native traditions?
  • Read the Profile of the Taisei Corporation, and then study the timeline of the corporation's history. When you finish read the text and examine the images at Business.  Who was Kihachiro Okura? What role did his business play in the Meiji era? What do his efforts demonstrate about the ability of non-Western peoples to adapt Western technology?
  • Finally, read the essay at Modern History Sourcebook: Okuma: from Fifty Years New Japan, 1907-08. How does Okuma explain Japan's success at developing a modern nation state? Does he indicate that the Japanese strategy can work in other places that are trying to avoid Western imperialism, or does he believe that the Japanese were successful because of innate qualities? What do you think? Write a brief essay that analyzes whether India, had it been politically unified like the Japanese, could have avoided British domination by adapting a Japanese style of resistance, considering what you learned in Activity One. You might also want to consult "India and the  British Empire in Asia," pages 864-867, and "Japan," pages 874-878, in McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition).
Activity Three:
  • The Chinese government tried to emulate the Japanese, ironically after losing a war to Japan in 1895. To review some of the reforms the Chinese instituted, go to East Asian History Sourcebook: Emperor Kuang Hsu: Attempted Reforms, 1898 and East Asian History Sourcebook: Emperor Kuang Hsu: Abolition of the Examination System, 1898. Describe how these reforms were modeled on the Japanese experience.
  • Unfortunately, these reform efforts failed, and China, although technically independent, remained dominated by foreign powers in the early twentieth century. Go to Map of China in 1910. Which foreign powers dominated China in 1910? How successful were the reform efforts of the late nineteenth century at challenging this interference? For answers, go to Ch'ing China: The Boxer Rebellion. Analyze the problems in China that prevented the implementation of a Japanese-style modernization campaign in the early twentieth century. Consider the following questions. How politically unified was China? How much control did foreigners already have in China at the turn of the century? How much respect was there for the Qing Dynasty? Summarize your answer in a paragraph or two.