World History 2 140 - 9.3.3 Asia

Despite Britain’s expansion into Africa, India remained its most important overseas territory. India had been a possession of the British East India Company, which directly ruled approximately half of India. In 1857, however, Muslim and Hindu soldiers in the company’s employ, known as sepoys, rose in revolt. In 1858, following the British army’s suppression of the revolt, Parliament disbanded the British East India Company and took control of the territory it had ruled. Local rulers whose authority the East India Company acknowledged and who had remained loyal were left in nominal control of their kingdoms, but in reality, they became subservient to Britain. Queen Victoria was officially proclaimed empress of India in 1876, and the last Mughal emperor, who had not been active in the revolt, was sent into exile. This transfer of power began the period of direct British rule called the British Raj.

India supplied Britain’s lifeblood, without which it likely could not have maintained the wealth and power that enabled it to assume supremacy over the rest of the world for most of the nineteenth century. Refusing to impose high tariffs as many industrialized nations did, England was flooded with foreign-made goods that dominated the market. Having converted its economy largely to manufacturing by the mid-nineteenth century, England also depended on trade with other countries for its food supply. As a result, it maintained a negative balance of trade with most of the world; that is, it purchased more from other nations than they purchased from it. This imbalance threatened Britain with economic ruin.

India saved Britain from this fate, though at great cost to the Indian people. To reduce Britain’s trade imbalances, Indian farmers were forced to grow cash crops such as cotton and tea to maintain British factories and households. High excise taxes were imposed on Indian textiles, making English fabrics cheaper for Indian consumers to buy than those made in their own country. British officials imposed high taxes on the Indian people to pay the British soldiers and officials stationed in India. The tax revenue also went to purchase rails, locomotives, and wire from Britain for railroads and telegraph lines in India. Built primarily to transport British manufactured goods into the interior for sale and Indian cash crops to the coast for transport to the British Isles, the new infrastructure benefited the colonizers far more than the colonized.

British attempts to gain control over regions of Asia beyond India and Hong Kong were often frustrated by Russia, which also sought to expand its influence there. The ongoing struggle between the two was called The Great Game. From the 1850s through the 1870s, Russia gained control of kingdoms occupied by Turkic-speaking peoples in central Asia and incorporated them into its empire as a region called Turkestan (Figure 9.22). Russia argued that its actions were necessary to “civilize” the region’s inhabitants and protect important trade routes. Britain feared Russia would try to absorb India as well. To protect its prized possession, Britain sought to use the Emirate of Afghanistan as a buffer zone. When its diplomats were refused admission to Afghanistan in 1878, the British army invaded. Britain emerged victorious, gaining the right to act as a go-between for Afghanistan and Russia. When Russia gained control of much of what is now Turkmenistan in 1881, the two European nations jointly established the boundary line between an independent Afghanistan and Russian territory, ending a serious conflict between the two powers.

Part a is a drawing of a man with a long black beard, hunched over with his arms crossed, his feet apart, dressed in a long coat, fur hat, thick belt and tall boots, standing between a bear on the and a lion. The bear has his tongue out and is salivating while standing upright looking at the man, while the lion is looking stern and watching the man as well. The words “Save me from my friends!” is written along the bottom. Part b is a map labeled “Turkestan in 1900” and shows the region in Central Asia around the Caspian Sea. India is highlighted pink and covers most of the north and southeast parts of the map. The northern portion is labeled “Russian Empire,” the eastern portion is labeled “Chinese Empire,” and the southeastern portion is labeled “British Empire.” To the right of the Caspian Sea is a dark blue area labeled “Transcaspian Oblast.” Below that is an area labeled Persia. To the right of the “Transcaspian Oblast” is a very small area labelled “Khivan Khanate,” highlighted yellow. Above that is the Aral Sea. Next to that is Turkestan Syr darya Oblast” highlighted light green and below that is the “Emirate of Bukhara” in pink and “Samarkand Oblast” in dark gray. To the right highlighted beige is “Ferghana Oblast” and to the right of that the “Semirechie Oblast” is highlighted seafoam green.
Figure 9.22 (a) This 1878 cartoon shows the Afghan Emir Sher Ali Khan poised between the competitors Russia and Britain. (b) In the middle of the nineteenth century, Russia added the region it called Turkestan to its empire by conquering Turkic-speaking kingdoms in central Asia. (credit a: modification of work “Great Game cartoon from 1878” by Punch/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain; attribution b: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY 4.0 license)

Russia also desired to expand control over the far eastern end of its empire, on the Pacific coast. Here, however, it found itself in conflict with a new imperial power—Japan. Lacking many of the raw materials necessary for industrialization, Japan, like other industrialized nations, began to seek them abroad. It first took control of the Ryukyu Islands and also claimed the Kurile Islands and Sakhalin Island (Figure 9.23). Russia, however, also laid claim to these territories, and for a while the two nations shared Sakhalin Island. In 1875, Japan relinquished its claims to the island in exchange for complete control over the Kurile Islands.

Two maps are shown. The smaller map at the top right shows the world, with Japan, Korea, and Formosa highlighted in pink. The larger map in the lower left shows the countries of Russia, Manchuria, China, Japan, Korea, Formosa, the Ryuku Islands north of Formosa, and the Kurile Islands north of Japan. The map is labeled “Japanese Empire, 1875–1910.” All of Japan is highlighted light pink indicating “Japanese Empire in 1875.” All of Korea, the island of Formosa, and half of the island Sakhalin, north of Japan, are highlighted dark pink indicating “Acquired lands from 1875–1910.”
Figure 9.23 Unlike many European nations, Japan sought colonies closer to home, including the Ryukyu, Kurile, and Sakhalin Islands. (attribution Japanese Empire map: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY 4.0 license; credit world map: modification of work “Japan Seychelles Locator” by “Bobamnertiopsis”/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Japan’s most desired prize was Korea, then a largely isolated tributary state of China. Japan traded with Korea but in a limited way. In 1873, however, Korea’s King Gojong began to consider opening the nation to the outside world. Anxious to gain an advantage, in 1876 Japan sent a gunboat to force Korea to sign the Japan-Korea Treaty of Amity (Ganghwa Treaty) before it could make commercial treaties with other nations. Among other provisions, the treaty allowed the Japanese to establish trading ports in addition to the one to which they already had access. It also let Japanese merchants live and work in Korea while subject only to Japanese law. In addition, Korea was declared to no longer be a tributary state of China (Figure 9.24).

A photograph shows seven ships with tall masts in water. They have black hulls and no sails up. A stone breakwater is shown in the foreground and the background shows small hills.
Figure 9.24 Ships from the Japanese navy sail to Ganghwa Island, Korea, in this photograph made in 1876. Soon, Japan controlled all of Korea. (credit: modification of work “Kanfado Kantai” by Unknown/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

China did not wish to relinquish its control so easily, and a series of uprisings and mutinies in Korea in the 1880s gave it the opportunity to reassert its authority. In 1885, however, both Japan and China agreed to withdraw military forces from the peninsula in 1885. Although this temporarily prevented armed conflict between Japan and China, hostilities between the two soon commenced. In 1894, the pro-Japanese Korean leader Kim Ok-Kyun was murdered in Shanghai, and an outraged Japan awaited an opportunity to confront the Chinese. That same year, the Donghak Rebellion swept Korea as disgruntled peasants demanded social reforms, giving China an excuse to dispatch a military force to Korea in violation of its agreement with Japan. Japan in turn sent troops to confront the Chinese, and the First Sino-Japanese War began.

Although China had the larger military force by far, Japan’s navy was much more modern and defeated the Chinese handily. Humiliated, China signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895, which recognized Korea’s independence and conceded to Japan territory on the Liaodong Peninsula in Manchuria as well as Taiwan and the Penghu Islands. Japan had now acquired an empire. Japan quickly realized, however, that it would have to defend its gains from its old rival Russia. In 1896, Koreans, angered by the assassination of their pro-Chinese queen by Japanese agents, overthrew the pro-Japanese government then in power. As Japanese influence waned, Russian influence grew, and Russia soon acquired mineral and timber rights in the northern Korean peninsula.

Russia also began to encroach upon Japanese territory in Manchuria. Russia’s one Pacific port, Vladivostok, was often frozen over. Seeking a harbor that was ice-free year-round, Russia leased land from China on the Liaodong Peninsula in 1897 and built a new port, Port Arthur. A wary Japan offered Russia free rein on the Liaodong Peninsula in exchange for Japan’s retaining control over Korea. When Russia refused to compromise, Japan attacked the Russian fleet at Port Arthur in the winter of 1904, beginning the Russo-Japanese War. Once again, Japan emerged victorious over a much larger nation. The Treaty of Portsmouth, signed in September 1905, acknowledged Japan’s right to Korea and awarded Japan control of southern Manchuria. Japan formally annexed Korea in 1910.

As Japan, Russia, and Britain competed for control of Asia, France largely refrained. Its principal interest on the continent of Asia was Indochina (now Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia). In 1858, the emperor of Vietnam ordered French missionaries in the country to leave. In response, Napoleon III sent gunboats to protect the missionaries and their Christian converts and forced the emperor to grant France control over three southern provinces. When the Vietnamese ruler proved unwilling to abide by the terms, troops returned in 1862, forcing him to concede yet more territory. By 1887, France had established protectorates over the remaining provinces of Vietnam and over Cambodia, a vassal state of the emperor of Siam (now Thailand). Laos, also Siamese territory, became part of French Indochina after a brief military conflict between Siam and France in 1893.

China could do little as Asia was devoured. By the second half of the nineteenth century, China was a shadow of its former self. Defeat in the Opium Wars of 1839 and 1856 had weakened it, and the peace treaties concluding the Second Opium War had forced it to open additional ports and allow British, French, Russian, and U.S. citizens to travel freely and enjoy the right of extraterritoriality, meaning that while in China they were subject only to the laws of their own countries. China was also forced to allow the practice of Christianity.

Alarmed by their nation’s inability to defend itself against foreign threats, many Chinese in the 1860s began to call for reform. Among them was Feng Guifen, a scholar and government official who advocated the adoption of western military technology and the study of western science. Military leaders such as Zeng Guofan and Li Hongzhang also supported these reforms. The reformist Self-Strengthening Movement was championed by Prince Gong, who had negotiated with the British and French invaders in 1860. Arsenals to build and house modern weapons and shipyards to construct modern warships were established (Figure 9.25). Efforts were made to build railroad and telegraph lines and to open iron and coal mines. Although they still clung to traditional Confucian values, the leaders of the movement also advocated educational reform with a new emphasis on mathematics, science, and foreign languages (so foreign books could be translated) instead of the Confucian classics. They regarded the Self-Strengthening Movement as a way of saving the Qing dynasty, not undermining it.

A photograph shows a tall tower in the middle surrounded by short buildings of various sizes and positioned in various direction throughout the picture. Smoke stacks are dispersed throughout the photo and a large ship is shown in the top right of the photo. Hills are seen in the back left.
Figure 9.25 The Fuzhou Arsenal in Mawei was built as part of China’s Self-Strengthening Movement. This photograph was taken in about 1880. (credit: “Foochow arsenal in Mawei” by Unknown/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Efforts to modernize did not go unopposed. Government officials steeped in Confucian learning regarded the new emphasis on science and technology as a threat to their power. Many Chinese were also reluctant to allow foreigners to invest in or own railways or factories. The Self-Strengthening Movement received a serious blow in 1895 with China’s defeat by Japan in the First Sino-Japanese War. Critics of the movement questioned why China was trying to change when the changes did not bring the military power reformers had promised.

Following China’s defeat in 1895, European nations and the United States pushed for even more advantages. France gained control over the provinces of Guizhou, Guangxi, and Yunnan. Britain extended its influence along the Yangtze River Valley. Germany was given control of the Yellow River Valley to the north as well as the Shandong Peninsula and Jiaozhou Bay. Soon nearly all the industrialized nations had been granted concessions, enclaves within port cities such as Tianjin and Shanghai, where they exercised the rights of extraterritoriality.

In 1900, several of these nations signed a treaty with the Chinese government at the urging of John Hay, the U.S. secretary of state. The treaty established an Open Door policy in which China agreed to trade with all countries on the same terms. In this way, none of the industrialized powers could gain an advantage over the others. In exchange, they promised not to annex any of China’s territory.

The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax