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Europe's scramble for Africa did not leave South and East Asia at peace. Beginning in the seventeenth century, Great Britain formed and maintained an economic relationship with India. By the end of the eighteenth century, British rule of India was firmly planted and London came to view India as the jewel of its empire. This view guided its foreign policy. For decades, Britain used its military victories and naval superiority to ensure uninterrupted routes to India and beyond, hence its island holdings in the Mediterranean, along the west African coast, at the southern tip of Africa, and, most importantly, the Suez Canal. By the end of the eighteenth century, Indo-British economic ties were so entrenched in a neo-mercantile system that India provided a stepping stone for British trade with China. Britain traded English wool and Indian cotton for Chinese tea and textiles; however, as Chinese demand slackened, Britain sought other means of attracting trade with China.
By the 1830s, Britain realized it could make up the trade deficit with China by selling Indian opium into the Chinese market, making opium Britain's most profitable and important crop in world markets. Eventually, opium poured into China faster than tea poured into British hands; soon, Chinese merchants, already addicted themselves and buying for an addicted population, paid British opium traders in pure silver.
Concerned with the sharp rise in opium addiction and the associated social costs and rise in criminal acts, the Chinese government, led by the aging Manchu dynasty, took action against the British. In 1839, the Chinese destroyed British opium in the port city of Canton, sparking the Opium Wars of 1839- 1842. Easily dominating the backward Chinese forces, the British expeditionary force blockaded Chinese ports, occupied Shanghai, and took complete control of Canton. The 1842 Treaty of Nanking granted Britain extensive trading and commercial rights in China, marking the first in a series of unequal treaties between China and European imperial powers. By the end of the century, after five wars between China and various European powers, France, Britain, Germany, Japan, and Russia held territorial and commercial advantages in their respective spheres of influence. These spheres of influence comprised territories, ports, shipping lines, rivers, et cetera in which one nation held exclusive rights to profits and investment. In 1899, the United States, freshly anointed as an inernational force by its crushing victory over Spain in the 1898 Spanish-American War, objected to the prevalence of spheres of influence. The US advocated and pushed through a new Open Door Policy, an effectively imperial policy that demanded that all nations be given equal and complete rights to Chinese markets.
In addition, and most irritating to the Chinese, Europeans maintained extraterritoriality inside thousands of Chinese port cities. Extraterritoriality meant that foreigners were exempt from Chinese law enforcement and that, though on Chinese land, they could only be judged and tried by officials of their own nation who generally looked the other way when profit was the goal. The resulting lawlessness on the part of the Europeans, combined with the actuality of European economic, political, and military domination of the Chinese, contributed to a virulent anti-imperial sentiment. In 1900, the Boxer Rebellion saw that sentiment explode into mass social unrest and war. With secret encouragement from the Chinese empress, the Boxers, dedicated to ending foreign exploitation in north China, killed scores of European and seized the large foreign legation in Beijing. Reacting immediately, an international expeditionary force of Japanese, Russian, British, American, German, French, Austrian, and Italian troops put down the revolt and sacked Beijing to protect the interests of their respective countries. Afterward, the European powers propped up a weak central government for their own economic benefit.
Beyond China, European imperialism in Asia remained strong. Britain moved into Hong Kong in 1842, into Burma in 1886, and into Kowloon in 1898. France took direct control over the provinces of Indochina--Annam, Tonkin, and Cochinchina (which together make up modern day Vietnam), Laos, and Cambodia.
What were the effects of the European imperial adventure? Some look at the world today through an economic lens and see both great successes and great disasters that emerged from the imperial era: some primitive nations received the necessary infrastructure to develop, as the successful capitalist states in east Asia seem to suggest, while others were destroyed by economic and social exploitation, as the countries of Africa seem to suggest. However, we are looking in the very long run. Let us consider a few contemporaneous consequences of imperialism for European and world society.
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