The Industrial Revolution, a time of great technological advancement leading to machine production, factories, and other new technologies, fundamentally changed the world power structure. This allowed those countries who industrialized, mainly European nations, to increase their economic power, technological might, and military prowess. This economic, technological, and military strength combined with the European idea of white superiority, that white culture and skin tone was inherently better than others, ultimately created the climate for imperialism to flourish. Imperialism is a foreign policy strategy involving conquering foreign areas to create an empire. The Europeans employed colonialism and imperialism for three general reasons: to increase access to resources and customers for European products, to increase patriotic pride by gaining territory over other European powers, and to perpetuate the economic and social systems created by the Industrial Revolution. In this spirit, Europeans tried to colonize China which fit all three reasons colonialism occurred. Prior to Europeans, China faced inadequate food production and labor creation for their population as well as ineffective governing. In addition, China was controlled by the Manchu who were ethnically opposed by the Han. China’s current state combined with European imperialism would prove an interesting mix. While the positives for China were few and far between, the negatives of imperialism were very defined.
Firstly, the Europeans encouraged unfair trade with China. From the year 1835-1836 at the port of Canton, the British had a 9,330,524 deficit in Spanish dollars in trade, that is without opium. With opium, the British had a trade surplus of 8,573,724 in Spanish Dollars. This shows the economic exploitation that China experienced; they consistently lost money on trade with Britain, while Britain gained money. This can be seen in the increase in opium imports; from 1773 to 1832 opium imports in barrels went from a measly 1,000 to 23,000.Even normal Chinese people suffered because imperialism made people lose their jobs and pay higher taxes along with less trade between the Chinese people.
Much to China’s dismay, these negatives are only the beginning. Positives in the Chinese-European mix were few and short-lived, although they did exist. Firstly, European rule prompted the Chinese to “self-strengthen,” which involved building telegraph lines, solving problems with irrigation systems, creating textile factories, and creating larger coal mines along with creating steel mills. The Chinese also tried to modernize militarily with new ships and weapons as well as educating their people in other languages.“ Self-strengthening” could help China resist European colonial rule, another positive for China. In addition, the Taiping Uprising due to European imperialism and dissatisfied Han led to new gender roles such as women being soldiers and leaders, owning property, and being free from familial marriage control.
Finally, the downsides of European rule combined with Qing problems inspired individual Chinese to help their ailing nation by creating a number of groups interested in China’s welfare such as the Society to Protect the Nation and the Understand the Shame Society, organizations for European modernization both politically and intellectually.
Sadly, “self-strengthening” failed and the ideas of the Taiping Uprising perished when the uprising failed, although the very introduction of these new ideas and practices in China is a long-term positive which could lead to positive change both socially, politically, and economically. Although the opium trade presented economic problems to China, it manifested itself primarily as a social one. British introduction of opium created a Chinese drug crisis where all classes and groups were involved. The opium trade increased government corruption, since its import was banned. The Chinese tried, and failed, to resist the opium trade, with disastrous results; the British waged and won two wars aptly named the First and Second Opium Wars. Terms agreed to after these wars allowed the for British property rights, cultural penetration through missionary work, and military waterway control. China effectively lost control of its own land, including five ports which were now open to Europeans, and allowed further European cultural penetration in China.
After the first Opium War, the angry Chinese, motivated by both the Qing versus Han ethnic divide and European imperialism, rose up in the Taiping Rebellion. At the rebellion’s close, 20-30 million people died. The weakness of China is further demonstrated by their loss of Vietnam, Korea, and Taiwan. China lost to European imperialism when their government collapsed in 1912.No positives stand out as overwhelming so in this section. Although China had internal problems prior to European imperialism, Europeans caused massive damage both economically, politically, and socially to the Chinese by creating a drug crisis, starting two wars and contributing to a third, and exploiting China economically. China would not have been fine either with or without European imperialism, but European imperialism made already existing problems worse. While there were positives, many did not occur immediately or never even gained traction such as women’s rights, while the negatives were much more here and now for the Chinese people. Additionally, the positives did not increase the standard of living in my opinion while the negatives led to mass death and social uprising.
After looking at the evidence, I must conclude imperialism was overwhelmingly bad although China had been in turmoil politically, economically, and socially prior to European contact, Europeans exacerbated those problems, allowing blame to be placed on them for the fall of China’s government.
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