Pienso y Existo

diciembre 9, 2012

Sources and responses to imperial expansion around the world from 1860 to 1914

Filed under: Realidad — Wilmar Perez @ 5:10 pm
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The nineteenth century was characterized for the consolidation and expansion of dominant empires around the world: European powers granted themselves possession over the African and Middle East territories; the United States took over the American territory and seized control over some former Spanish colonies on the Caribbean and South Asia; Japan, Russia and China took control over the Asian landscape. These movements and shifting of powers had strong consequences not only in the geopolitical and economic shape of the globe but it also deeply affected the life of millions of people that were being ruled by new regimes and had to forcibly adapt to new realities according to the struggle of foreign powers .

By 1914 there was the sensation that even though the boom of expansion generated a good deal of wealth, the richness was not evenly distributed: there was a growing difference in income for peasants compared to that of those living in the cities; however, for those living in cities, only whoever was in the upper layer of society profited of a descent income and had access to the advantages of the metropolis (Tignor, et al., 2011, p. 670). New generations of artists started to question how the concept of modernization was being seen as westernization with the immediately consequence of the loss of cultural autonomy for those that didn’t embrace the change from traditional to western views and methods.

In Africa, as a result of the arbitrary repartition of the continent, some of its societies were divided into the territory of several colonial powers and some others, historically rivals, were put together into the same government scope. This situation, added to the realities described above, created unrests all across the continent with different outcomes. Usually the outcome was negative for the Africans that lacked the firepower and military training of the European rulers. Despite of this, Africans kept pushing for independence that their colonisers were not willing to grant owing to the increasingly supply of richness that were being discovered year after year in the conquered territories (Wikipedia, 2012). Despite the notorious advantages of the colonizers, the constant revolts had several consequences, among them the creation of war camps, where hundreds died owing to the difficult conditions of imprisonment; and the escalation of the conflict and the increment in the coercive use of the force that Europeans had to use in order to maintain the control of the colonies (Tignor, et al., 2011, p. 678). By the beginning of the World War I, Africa was still a continent controlled almost completely by the Europeans empires that managed to hold it against the ever increasing unrest of the native population.

China was suffering for the pressure of population increased that was resulting in more people that could not own any land and that were facing new level of poverty. People’s discontent led to decay of political authority of the Qing emperor. China also faced a strong foreign pressure owing to it defeat by the Japanese in the 1894-1895 war. Even if Japan was the direct beneficiary of China’s defeat, Britain, France, Germany and Russia took the opportunity to get more concessions. As a consequence, some Chinese elites developed anti-European ideas but embracing European technology to make China stronger. The strongest reaction came from what is known as the Boxer Uprising, led by several martial arts groups that convinced themselves of having a divine protection to combat the intervention of foreigners into Chinese society (The Economist, 2010). A weak response of the government allowed these groups to get out of control and eventually they declared war against the foreign powers ruling over the Qing government. As a result, a coalition force of Japanese, British, German, French and American troops crushed the boxers and imposed a heavy monetary sanction on the Chinese government. Even though the Boxers were out of the law, they were not confronting the Dynasty but the external powers, revealing the widespread opposition to westernization (Tignor, et al., 2011, p. 681).

Internally in Europe and the United States the uprising in Africa and China were not being regarded as important. They were seen more as a proof of the necessity of the involvement of the western powers in order to “civilize” those unable to rule themselves. There were a few people who warned about the increasing weaponization of foreign affairs but the mind of the public was more concern with the booms and bust of the economy that for most was a local affair (or, at the most, multinational companies affairs)  rather than a global state of geopolitics  production (Tignor, et al., 2011, p. 682).

In summary, as the colonized territories were fighting back to shape their own destinies, the colonial powers kept thinking they were the enlightenment and had the right to rule over non-western societies. Owing to the consequences of the free markets, geopolitics met industrialization at a global scale.

  • Tignor, R., Adelman, J., Aron, S., Brown, P., Elman, B., Kotkin, S., et al. (2011). Worlds Entangled, 1600-1750. Dans Worlds Together, Worlds Apart (p. 484). New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
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