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The Beginnings of Colonialism

The first half of the nineteenth century witnessed the growth of Europe’s economic and military superiority over the rest of the world. Although, since the late fifteenth century parts of the world had been controlled by the various European powers. But from 1870 there commenced a race for colonies on an unprecedented scale. There were a number of reasons for this which included economic forces, nationalist prestige, missionary and humanitarian impulses, Social Darwinism, military advantages, population pressure and exploration.

Africa was completely swallowed up by Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Spain and Portugal. The British government took direct control of India which had been controlled by the East India Company since the seventeenth century. The beleaguered Manchu dynasty in China had been defeated by Britain in the Opium War (1839-1842). As a result certain Treaty ports were opened to foreign trade and the British secured a predominant position. China embarked on a short and disastrous campaign against Japan in 1894-1895 which weakened the country and left it open to a series of demands for bases and trading concessions. The European powers moved in with France leasing the base of Kwang-Chow, Germany seized Kiao-Chow, Russia established a protectorate in Manchuria and Britain’s sphere of influence was the Yangtze.

China was saved the fate of Africa because the USA insisted on an Open Door policy in 1899 that stated that all states should have equal opportunity and that China’s territorial integrity should be respected. In addition, Chinese nationalism was a powerful force, as the anti-foreign Boxer Revolt proved. Other parts of the Far East were gobbled up by the European powers with France seizing Annam and Cochin in China and Tonkin (Vietnam), Laos and Cambodia and labelling them all French Indo-China while Britain controlled Malaysia and Burma. The powers didn’t stop at the Far East but breached deeper into the Pacific with Britain annexing the Fiji Islands, Germany taking Northern New Guinea, Samo and the Marshall Islands while also purchasing the Marinas and Carolines from Spain. France took Tahiti, New Caledonia and the South Solomon Islands while Britain sweeped up Sarawak, North Borneo and Tonga. Even America couldn’t resist a quick grab of Hawaii, the Philippines, Guam and the port of Samoa.