Imperialism in China
The Portuguese discovered China in 1514 and trade relations were established by setting up a trading center in Canton in 1557. By 1730s, all European nations were trading with China, while USA started trading in 1784. But China followed a policy of seclusion after Europeans started meddling in internal affairs, especially the Christian Missionaries from Rome (Rome was till 1870 supported by French Army. Thus France was also involved in China). China allowed only limited trade through selected Chinese traders and only via port of Canton.
Out of pride in their ancient culture, the Chinese looked down on all foreigners. In 1793, however, the Qing emperor agreed to receive an ambassador from England. The Englishman brought gifts of the West’s most advanced technology. The emperor was not impressed.
The basis of Qing China’s wealth was its healthy agricultural economy. Better nutrition, in turn, led to a population boom. China also had extensive mining and manufacturing industries. The Chinese people were essentially self-sufficient. Because of their self-sufficiency, the Chinese had little interest in trading with the West.
Two Opium Wars (1840-2 and 1858)
In the 19th century, China had a weak government in form of Manchu dynasty. Britain had become a major trade partner but it had a huge trade deficit as China was self-sufficient and imported little from the West. The British were facing the burden of this trade deficit as the Chinese accepted only precious metals like Gold as payment for exports to Britain (especially Tea and Silk). As a solution to this problem, the British started exchanging Opium as payment.
This was opposed by China and resulted in Opium Wars in 1840-2 and 1858
- For decades, the only place they would allow foreigners to do business was at the southern port of Guangzhou. And the balance of trade at Guangzhou was clearly in China’s favour. This means that China earned much more for its exports than it spent on imports. The British imported millions of pounds of tea from China every year and exported goods worth much less. They made up for the difference in silver.
This imbalance drained Britain’s silver supply. European merchants were determined to find a product the Chinese would buy in large quantities.
- Imperialist domination of China began with what are known as the Opium Wars Before these wars, only two ports were open to foreign traders British merchants bought Chinese tea, silk and other goods, but there was no market for British goods in China.
Eventually they found one—opium. Chinese doctors had been using it to relieve pain for hundreds of years. In the late 18th century, however, British merchants smuggled opium into China for nonmedical use.
- It took a few decades for opium smoking to catch on, but by 1835, as many as 12 million Chinese people were addicted to the drug. This growing supply of opium caused great social, moral, and monetary problems for the country. The Qing emperor was angry. The result was an open clash between the British and the Chinese—the Opium War of 1839.
The battles took place mostly at sea. China’s outdated ships were no match for Britain’s steam-powered gunboats and sophisticated cannons. As a result, the Chinese suffered a humiliating defeat. In 1842, they signed a peace treaty, the Treaty of Nanjing.
The Chinese were also forced to pay heavy damages to the British and to open five port cities to British traders. This treaty gave Britain the island of Hong Kong. After signing another treaty in 1844, U.S. and other foreign citizens also gained extraterritorial rights. These rights provided exemption from Chinese law at four Chinese ports besides Guangzhou.
- Foreigners were not the greatest of China’s problems in the mid-19th century, however. Its own population provided an overwhelming challenge. That population had grown to 430 million by 1850, a 30-percent gain in only 60 years. Yet food production had barely increased. As a result, hunger was widespread, even in good years. In the frequent bad years, the Huang He (Yellow River) broke through its dikes and flooded vast farming areas. Millions starved, Chinese government itself was riddled with corruption, and opium addiction rose and people began to rebel against the Qing Dynasty.
Soon France entered into similar unequal treaties with China. On the pretext that a French missionary had been murdered, England and France fought another war with China. China was defeated and was forced to grant more privileges to her conquerors.
- Hong Xiuquan led the rebellion that was to become China’s largest. Hong’s revolt was called the Taiping Rebellion, from the Chinese expression taiping, meaning “great peace.” Imperial troops, local militias, and British and French forces all fought against the Taiping. By 1864, they crushed the 14-year rebellion. Imperial troops, local militias, and British and French forces all fought against the Taiping. By 1864, they crushed the 14-year rebellion. But China paid a terrible price. Huge, hungry armies had destroyed fertile farmland in their search for food. At least 20 mil-lion—and possibly twice that many people died.
- China’s weak military technology and its economic and political problems were not a secret from the rest of the world. Throughout the late 19th century, many foreign nations took advantage of this weakness and attacked China.
The next important stage in the growth of imperialist control over China came after the war with Japan This came about when Japan tried to increase her influence over Korea which was under Chinese over lordship. China resented this rind the two countries went to war, which ended in victory for Japan China gave Korea her independence and ceded Formosa and other islands to Japan. She was also forced to pay Japan heavy war damages amounting to about 150 million dollars.
- France, Russia, Britain and Germany gave loans to China to help her to meet this payment. But not for nothing 1 These western countries then divided China into spheres of influence, which meant that each country had certain regions of China reserved exclusively for its purposes For example, in its sphere of influence, a country might have the right to build railways or work mines. Germany got Kiaochow Bay and exclusive rights in Shantung and in the Hwang Ho valley. Russia took Liao tung Peninsula, along with the right to build railroads in Manchuria, France received Kwangchow Bay and extensive rights in three southern provinces of China Britain got Weihi Wei in addition to her sphere of influence in the Yangtze valley
Open Door Policy
The United States feared that China would be completely parcelled out in exclusive spheres of influence and that its trade with China would be shut off.
The United States, therefore, suggested the policy known as the ‘Open Door’. This policy is also described as ‘Me too’ policy According to this policy, all countries would have equal rights to trade anywhere in China Britain supported the United States thinking that this policy would discourage the annexation of China by Japan and Russia, the two countries that could mast easily send their armies to the mainland
The scramble for privileges stopped in China after an uprising against the foreign powers known as the Boxer Rebellion. But the foreign powers were victorious and levied heavy damages on China as punishment Imperialism continued, with the cooperation of Chinese warlords. These military commanders were supported by the loans, which they got from foreign powers in exchange for more privileges. Though China was not conquered and occupied by any imperialist country, the effects of these developments on China were the same as in areas which had been colonized In a period of a few decades, China had been ‘educed to the status of an international colony. The division of China into spheres of influence has often been described as the cutting of the Chinese melon’
Poor peasants and workers particularly resented the special privileges granted to foreigners. They also resented Chinese Christians, who were protected by foreign missionaries. To demonstrate their discontent, they formed a secret organization called the Society of Harmonious Fists. They soon came to be known as the Boxers. Their campaign against the Dowager Empress’s rule and foreigner privilege was called the Boxer Rebellion.
In the spring of 1900, the Boxers descended on Beijing. Shouting “Death to the foreign devils,” the Boxers surrounded the European section of the city. In August, a multinational force of 20,000 troops marched toward Beijing. Soldiers from Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Russia, Japan, and the United States quickly defeated the Boxers. Despite the failure of the Boxer Rebellion, a strong sense of nationalism had emerged in China. At this point, even the Qing court realized that China needed to make profound changes to survive. In 1905, the Dowager Empress sent a select group of Chinese officials on a world tour to study the operation of different governments. The group travelled to Japan, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and Italy. On its return in the spring of 1906, the officials recommended that China restructure its government. They based their suggestions on the constitutional monarchy of Japan. In 1908, the court announced that it would establish a full constitutional government by 1917.