A History of World Societies,
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.
- 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
- 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
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?
- 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
- Read the Profile of
the Taisei Corporation, and then study the timeline of the corporation's
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).
- 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
Asian History Sourcebook: Emperor Kuang Hsu: Abolition of the Examination
System, 1898. Describe how these reforms were modeled on the Japanese
- 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.