• While the two words, imperialism and colonialism, are often used synonymously, Imperialism refers to an ideology which emphasizes on strengthening and expansion of state power and dominion by territorial acquisition or by gaining political and economic control of other areas. It always involves use of state power. That is why imperialism is understood as a policy of a country in which that said country influences other countries or territories through military force, as well as other means of power. So, the key point to understanding imperialism has to do with the emphasis on the idea of overtaking others based on power. It is using their power to control others outside of their mother state.
  • Colonialism is defined as a practice in which a state sets up colonies or settlements elsewhere for the political and economic benefit of the mother state. So, this state will often take over other areas, setting up their own political and economic systems, with the intent of using the colonies’ materials, land, etc., to benefit the colonizing country. So, it is a policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.
  • Thus, a core difference between colonialism and imperialism is , imperialism is a theory, whereas colonialism is a practice. Imperialism is a broader concept whereas colonialism is a subset of the same. Or we can say that imperialism serves as the underlying ideas, whereas colonialism is an established form of imperialism.
Imperialism and Colonialism

History: Imperialism and Colonialism

  • It is hard to put an exact date from where imperialism or colonialism started. Imperialism is as old as idea of state because it involves extending state power to areas not part of empire/ state originally. Although imperialist practices have existed for thousands of years, the term ‘Age of Imperialism’ generally refers to the activities of European powers from the early 18th century AD to the middle of the 20th century AD. It was the time in which industrializing nations (generally European) were engaged in the process of colonizing, influencing, and annexing other parts of the world in order to gain political power. But it is also true that many parts of the world were occupied not to exploit them economically, which will make it a case under heading of colonialism, but for strategic reason or for as a matter of national prestige or to increase state power through enlargement of geographical area.
    • Example being Afghan campaigns of British in the 19th century AD. But since imperialism is a theory and colonialism is a practice, it is hard to deal with them separately. They were practices which were going on simultaneously and more often than not taking form of colonialism.
  • In modern age, the colonialism has been practiced by European powers and the comparatively smaller countries of Europe had virtually colonized whole of the world. The process of colonization was triggered by many politicoadministrative, socio-cultural and economic factors.
  • The process started with the emergence of nation states which were an outcome of breaking of the Holy Roman Empire. When these nation states France, Britain, Spain, Portugal etc. emerged on the scene they all started the process of colonization as per their capacity and situation.
    • The colonization of northern coast of Africa by Spain and Portugal in the beginning and Britain and France later on during late medieval period was an example of the same.
  • At first these colonies were used as trading posts and naval stations. The elements of direct economic exploitation were absent during this period. The fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453 was responsible for the beginning of the age of geographical explorations and discoveries. Till 1453, Constantinople was the main centre where Asian and European merchants used to exchange their goods. Many Asian products were in great demands in European markets and prominent among them were spices. Spices were also used to preserve foods to be consumed during winters.
  • This spice trade got blocked with the fall of Constantinople and European nations started looking for a direct route between Europe and South-East Asia. In 1487 Bartholomew Dias discovered the Cape of Good Hope. Vasco Da Gama reached India successfully in 1498 by following the route tracked by Bartholomew Dias. The success of Vasco da Gama marked the beginning of a new age of explorations.
  • The Portuguese trading company reached India in 1500. The Dutch company reached India in 1602, English company in 1608, Danish company in 1616 and French company in 1664. These European companies gradually colonized the whole of South-East Europe.
  • In 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered American continent. Discovery of America started the gold rush. By the end of seventeenth century, whole of American continent had been colonized by European powers. Most northern part of American continent was a colony of France, down below Britain had thirteen colonies on eastern coast. Brazil was a Portuguese colony and rest of Latin America was under colonial control of Spain.
  • In 1521, Ferdinand Magellan reached Philippines. Within few years, Philippines was captured by Spain and her colonial rule continued up to 1898 when it was replaced by American control.
  • Spain occupied most of South America, Central America, Mexico, West Indies and parts of what is now the USA. England and France occupied parts of North America. This was the period of slave trade where European slave traders enslaved and transported Africans to America for slavery.
  • The period between the 16th to 18th Century was a period of naked plunder. During the period of Industrial revolution the pursuit of colonies had slowed down but re-emerged in the last quarter of 19th century. This phase is often described as New Imperialism. The power of some of the imperialist powers such as Spain and Portugal declined and new countries like Germany, Italy, Belgium, USA, Japan etc emerged.
Portuguese Explorations Around Africa, A.D. 1418-1498
Explorations of New World
colonization of the americas

Colonisation: Reasons

  • Sociocultural: Socio-cultural factors also played their role in the process of colonization. Growing population and need to resettle some portion of population also triggered a rush among nations to capture favourable territories overseas. Policy of religious orthodoxy and religious prosecution practiced by Catholic Church had also forced a large number of Europeans to migrate to newly acquired foreign territories to practice their faith freely. Many of the Europeans were exiled forcibly by the Governments by way of punishments either due to criminal activities or due to radical political ideas.
    • Australia was used as a place to send convicts during initial years by the British government.
  • Commercial Revolution: The commercial revolution of sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was also responsible for the growth of phenomena of colonization. These centuries witnessed reforms and progress in accountancy and banking systems. These reforms facilitated the rapid growth of trade and commerce. The need of trade posts and factories had motivated the European trades to capture colonies in the different parts of the world.
  • Doctrine of Mercantilism: It was quite popular in the Europe during 17th -18 th century AD, also played its part in growth of colonialism. This doctrine emphasizes on the maximum accumulation of wealth in the form of bullion by maintaining a favourable balance of trade. It believed in the use of state power to ensure a favourable balance of trade. To achieve this objective the European traders started establishing their political control over the native territories. In this doctrine, government of state works in close cooperation with business class of mother country and ensures that colonies buy products only from the colonial masters.
  • Extreme Nationalism (Pride and Power): Nationalism in the 19th century came to be associated with chauvinism. Many nations developed myths about their superiority over other people. Imperialism became the fashion of the age. Acquiring a colony became a chain reaction i. e. to protect one colony they had to acquire other colonies surrounding it like Britain did to protect India from its rivals.
  • To Civilize the Population: In the minds of many Europeans, colonization was a noble idea. They considered it as bringing civilization to the ‘backward’ people of the world. Christian missionaries, dedicated to spreading Christianity also played their part in promoting the idea of Colonisation.
    • Rudyard Kipling called it ‘the Whiteman’s burden’. The most important condition favouring the colonization in Asia and Africa was that the Industrial Revolution had not come to this part of the world. In comparison with the production of Western countries in 19th Century, Asian and African methods of production, though in demand, were backward.


  • It is the phenomena which gained currency post completion of process of unification of Germany (1871). The term refers to the colonial extension carried out by the powers of Europe, USA and Japan. The 1870s and 1880s witnessed a retreat from the free market and a return to state intervention in economic affairs. The Great Powers of Europe suddenly shook off almost a century of apathy toward overseas colonies and, in the space of 20 years, partitioned almost the entire uncolonized portion of the globe. Books and pamphlets were written to show that colonies were a necessity and not a burden.
  • Colonial societies were organized to stimulate interest in imperialism. This neo-imperialism spread mainly in Africa and Asia. This expansion took place when the European nations were competing with one another.
  • There were many factors which were responsible for the revival of imperialism. Some of them were political ambition, military adventure, missionary enterprise, altruism (The White Man’s Burden), national prestige, desire to have control over strategic locations, use of new technologies and fear to be left behind. The argument of over-population in Europe was also given but it was pointed out that actual over population in Europe did not exist till the near end of the nineteenth century.
  • As regards the actual motives behind this imperialism, J. A. Hobson, British economist, attributed the colonial expansion of this period to the presence of ‘excessive capital in search of investment ’. Theories postulating Europe’s need to export surplus capital do not fit the facts. Only Britain and France were capital-exporting countries in 1880, and in years to come their investors preferred to export capital to other European countries (especially Russia) or the Western Hemisphere rather than to their own colonies.
  • Among the economic forces the search for markets to sell manufactured goods was more important than the quest for raw materials. Here also political factors were not less important.
    • Up to 1870, British manufacturers of textiles, machinery and hardware found good markets in European countries.
    • After 1870, Germany, France, Belgium and other nations were able to satisfy their own home markets and they began to protect against imports from Britain by tariff barriers. They even produced a surplus for which they wanted markets abroad. They found their respective governments responsive to national needs to undertake the political conquest of undeveloped territories.
  • The international anarchy prevailing at that time gave an impetus to the general race for colonies. In some countries like Russia and Italy, political considerations predominated. They both did not have a surplus of manufactures or capital to export, yet both of them joined in the race for colonies.
  • Application of new technological innovations of nineteenth century in the field of military also made it possible to capture large areas in shorter durations and a reason for revival of imperialism. The development in field of medical science had allowed European powers to venture into interior of Africa. Also use of steam boats was also an important fact in colonization of interiors of Africa and as a result use of these technologies, the European powers could carve out extensive empires.
Imperialism (1870-1914)
Map of the world in 1914 before the start of World War I

Scramble in Africa

  • The process of colonization of Africa had begun much before any other part of the world. From the fifteenth century onwards, many points on the African coast were occupied by the maritime nations of the Europe. But it is also true that Africa was the last habitable continent to be colonized by European powers. For a long time, Africa was regarded as the Dark Continent and not much was known about its people and natural resources. When explorations of nineteenth century revealed the unlimited industrial potentialities that lay hidden and buried in Africa the Industrial interests demanded that these resources should be exploited and scramble for colonies in Africa started.
  • Scramble for Africa took place during the latter half of the 19th century. Up to that time (remember most of Africa was regarded as the ‘Dark Continent’) not much was known about interiors of Africa to the outside world. The lack of knowledge about the interiors of the continent was the result of number of limitations being faced by outsiders.
  • The limitations were:
    • The transportation network like rail and roads were almost completely absent in African continent before the completion of process of colonization of Africa.
    • The African rivers were the only reliable and easy means of navigation through which the exploration of interior parts of the continent could be gained but these rivers were difficult to navigate without mechanized boats .
    • Many health challenges were encountered by the outside during the exploration in the interiors of Africa. Malaria and Yellow fever were the most dreaded diseases.
    • The security challenges were also quite serious in African continent. Till middle of 19th century AD, water proof bullets were not available and because of that it was difficult to use weapons in rain -infested parts of Africa. Also in densely forest parts, the tribal population was also a serious security threat.
  • Apart from that, till 19th century AD, the world has many territories for European powers to acquire and in that scenario Europeans naturally had little time and resources for the dark continent of the world.
  • It is only after Europeans ran short of new territories to acquire, they turned their attention towards Africa. Also, the opening of the Suez Canal (1869) increased the importance of the Continent of Africa and a race started among the European powers for expansion in that continent .
  • Also by the last quarter of the nineteenth century significant advancements had been taken place in scientific knowhow. These technological advantages were put to use to make task of colonization of Africa possible. Invention of steam boats made navigation of African rivers safer and easier.
  • The successful extraction of Quinine from bark of Cinchona tree made it possible to tackle threat of Malaria epidemic for the Europeans exploring interiors of Africa. Inventions of waterproof bullets in second half of nineteenth century also boosted the prospect of European powers in colonization of Africa. This development contributed in reducing security threat posed to Europeans soldiers in Africa.
  • Political factors also contributed significantly in starting the process of colonization of Africa. Leopold II, King of Belgium, took keen interest in African affairs. He summoned, in 1876, an International Conference of Geographers from all parts of the world to consider ways and means for the exploration and civilization of Africa. Suggestions were invited for opening the interior of Africa for industry and commerce. An International African Association was set up in 1876. It was a private holding company disguised as an international scientific and philanthropic association (International African Association).
  • The voyages of Henry Stanley directed the attention of the African Association to the Congo. Stanley was approached by King Leopold II. The king spoke of his intention to introduce western civilization and bring religion to that part of Africa, but did not mention the fact that he wanted to claim the lands. At the end of his life, the king was embittered by the growing perception that his establishment of a Congo Free State was mitigated by its unscrupulous government.
  • As the enterprise was financed by King Leopold himself as an individual, the Congo Free State became the personal monopoly of King Leopold himself. His successes inspired the other European nations to jump in the process of colonization of Africa.
  • Both Portugal and France also put forward their claims to the Congo. Many European nations sent their agents to the various parts of Africa to acquire concessions. Separate treaties were entered into with the native chiefs and thus spheres of influence were acquired. During 1880s the conflicts had started erupting among the European powers over the issues of capturing colonies in Africa.
  • In 1881 France captured Tunisia which was being eyed by Italy. In 1882, the Britain established its control over Egypt. To eliminate the possibility of any European conflict over issues of colonies in Africa, a conference was held at Berlin in 1884-85.
  • In this conference, most of the European powers participated and here rules of engagement in Africa were laid down so that African territories could be divided among European powers peacefully. In this conference, most of the agreements made with the native chiefs up to that time were also recognized. After the Berlin conference of 1884-85, the scramble for Africa commenced and within next three decades whole of African continent had been captured by the European colonizers. The nature of European imperialism in Africa was entirely different from imperialism in other continents.
    • The African territories were not captured by European powers after landing in the continent but the colonial division was decided in the Berlin conference through discussions and mutual consents.
    • The border of African colonies was not decided through armed conflicts but were decided and marked by pen on the map of Africa in the Berlin conference peacefully.
    • Natural frontiers such as rivers, mountain ranges were used to divide the colonies. Some parts were simply divided by drawing a straight line on the map of the continent which can be seen even today.
    • The partition was done without any consideration for the history of the society.
  • The colonization of the Africa was extremely rapid. Within three decades of the Berlin Conference, almost whole of Africa had been captured by the European colonizers, with the exception of Ethiopia and Liberia. In case of other continents, the process of colonization was slow and long drawn out process spanning across centuries.
Scramble in Africa


  • France had already established her control over Algeria in the time of Louis Philippe. The province was developed in the time of Napoleon III. In 1881, France established her protectorate over Tunisia. Both France and Great Britain had dual control over Egypt, but in 1882 France refused to co-operate with Great Britain to put down the revolt of Arabi Pasha and as a result France was ousted from Egypt and from 1892 Great Britain came to have sole control over Egypt.
  • France had a big colonial empire in North and West Africa and she desired to add East of Africa to her colonial empire. The 1899 Anglo-French agreement demarcated the spheres of influence of France and Great Britain. The watershed of the Nile and the Congo was made the dividing line between British and French spheres of influence. Though France was excluded from the Nile river valley, she secured all her gains west of the watershed.
  • She consolidated the hinterland of erstwhile French West Africa. The Entente Cordiale of 1904 provided that England was to have a free hand in Egypt and was to support France in Morocco. When France tried to establish her control over Morocco three crisis took place in 1905 , 1908 and 1911. France was able to established her Protectorate over Morocco.
  • In 1896, France acquired the island of Madagascar. France also had her control over Senegal, the Ivory Coast and the Congo.
Africa former french colonies


  • Britain had considerable presence in Africa. The Cape colony in south Africa was occupied by the British during the Napoleonic Wars and was formally annexed in 1814. British occupied Natal from 1824 to 1843. In 1843 Basutoland was placed under British protection and in 1868 British sovereignty was established over Basutoland. Transvaal was annexed by Britain in 1877 as a way of resolving the border dispute between the Boers and the Zulus.
  • In the beginning both France and Great Britain had dual control over Egypt, but soon France was ousted and Great Britain established her sole protectorate over Egypt. Sudan was politically a part of the Egypt but in 1883 the people of Sudan revolted. In 1896 Britain decided to reconquer Sudan and assembled a strong Anglo-Egyptian force in Egypt. In 1898 British forces destroyed Sudanese rebels and an agreement was reached with French government to demarcate respective spheres of influence. The nucleus of what was Nigeria was formed in 1861 when the British signed treaties with native chiefs. Britain also occupied Somali land which faces the entrance to the Red Sea.


  • Initially the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck was against any colonial enterprise. After its Industrial Revolution, Germany began to feel the need of raw materials and foreign markets and suitable settlements for her increasing population. Bismarck then followed a forward colonial policy and turned his attention to Africa.
  • In 1882, the German Colonial Union was formed. Within two years (1884-85), Germany established her protectorate over German South-West Africa, Togoland, Cameroon and Tanganyika. When France tried to establish herself in Morocco after the Entente Cordiale of 1904, Germany resisted it. The dispute was referred to Algeciras Conference in 1906. Britain supported France over Germany and Germany had to withdraw. Britain again supported France in 1908. In 1911 during Agadir crisis Britain again supported France against Germany and later on a Franco-German agreement provided for German consent to the occupation of Morocco by France and Spain in return for a section of the French Congo.


  • Italy secured Eritrea (1885) and Italian Somali land. She tried to acquire Abyssinia but she was defeated in the battle of Adowa. Italy also intended to acquire Tunisia, but as she delayed matters, France established her protectorate over it in 1881. Italy fought against Turkey in 1911-12 and secured Tripoli and Cyrenaica.

Partition of Africa

Berlin Congress

  • To eliminate the possibility of any European conflict over issues of colonies in Africa, a conference was held at Berlin in 1884-85 under the leadership of German Chancellor. In this conference, representatives of 13 European states, the United States of America and the Ottoman Empire converged on Berlin at the invitation of German Chancellor to divide up Africa among themselves “in accordance with international law. “ Africans were not invited to the meeting. In the Conference rules of engagement in Africa were laid down. Attending parties agreed to stop slavery and slave trade in Africa.
  • The map on the wall in the Reich Chancellery in Berlin was five meters (16.4 feet) tall. It showed Africa with rivers, lakes, a few place names and many white spots. When the Berlin Conference came to an end on February 26, 1885, after more than three months of deliberation, there were still large swathes of Africa on which no European had ever set foot. At the time of the conference, eighty percent of Africa was under local control.
  • In this conference, most of the agreements made with the native chiefs up to that time were also recognized. After the Berlin conference of 1884-85 the scramble for Africa commenced and within next three decades whole of African continent had been captured by the European colonizers with the exception of Ethiopia and Liberia.
  • The partition was done without any consideration for the history of the society. Lines of longitude and latitude, rivers and mountain ranges were pressed into service as borders separating the colonies. Many in Africa believe that the foundation for present day crises in Africa was actually laid by the 1884/85 Berlin Conference. Arbitrary boundaries were imposed over culture and regions of Africa.
  • New borders were drawn through the territories of ethnic groups. Trade routes were cut, because commerce with people outside one’s colony was forbidden. Studies have shown that societies through which new frontiers were driven would later be far more likely to suffer from civil war or poverty which might explain current state of affairs in many African countries.
  • In 2010 on the 125th anniversary of the Berlin Conference, representatives from many African states in Berlin called for reparations for the colonial era. The arbitrary division of the continent among European powers, which ignored African laws, culture, sovereignty and institutions, was a crime against humanity, they said in a statement.
  • They called for the funding of monuments at historic sites, the return of land and other resources which had been stolen, the restitution of cultural treasures and recognition that colonialism and the crimes committed under it were crimes against humanity.
Scramble in Africa 1914

Colonialism in Pacific


  • Australia was discovered in 1606 by Captain Jansz or Janszoon, a Dutchman. In 1788, the British made their first settlement in Australia. At that time, Australia was inhabited by about 200,000 natives whose way of life had probably not changed for thousands of years. The first settlement was in 1788 when the first fleet of convicts were transported to Port Jackson, where the city of Sydney was built later on. Over the years, some 60,000 or 70,000 more convicts were transported to Australia from Britain until the practice was ended in 1840.
  • By 1840, the convicts were already a small minority of the population. Six separate colonies were founded by settlers in Australia between 1825 and 1859. It was almost certain that the whole of Australia would become British. During the succeeding years, there was rapid development of sheep- breeding and corn-growing. In 1851, gold was found in Australia, and that attracted many more settlers.
  • By 1859, there were six states in Australia and each state had a Government like that of Britain. In 1897, an agreement was reached on a plan which the British government embodied in the Australian Commonwealth Act of 1900.

New Zealand

  • New Zealand was discovered by Captain Cook in 1770. In 1840 the British Government signed an agreement with the Maoris, the natives of New Zealand, which put New Zealand under British Protection. British settlers began to migrate to New Zealand. In 1867, self -Government was given to New Zealand and in 1907 New Zealand became a Dominion.

Pacific Islands

  • The Dutch Empire of the East Indies had been founded as early as the seventeenth century. New Guinea was added in 1828. East Indies were exploited ruthlessly for the economic advantage of Holland. French established themselves in Tahiti in 1843 and in 1853 annexed New Caledonia. France also occupied the Marquesas, the Society Islands and other small groups adjoining Tahiti.
  • To Germany, the impulse to expand in the Pacific came in In 1884, the Germans took North-Eastern New Guinea. The German also secured Offshore Islands which they named after Bismarck and within two years the neighbouring Solomon Islands and the Marshall group Islands.
  • In World War I the Empire of Japan occupied the Marshall Islands. During World War II, the United States conquered the islands in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign in 1944.
    • A sad legacy of World War II is the nuclear weapons testing that occurred in the Marshall Islands starting in Whole atolls were destroyed or made uninhabitable, populations moved away from their ancestral homelands, and ways of life were changed as the people were involuntarily exposed to radiation.
  • In 1874, the British annexed the Fiji Islands. In 1888, Britain set up a protectorate over North Borneo. By the end of the century, Britain also took the South Solomon, Tonga and Gilbert Islands.
  • After her war with Spain, the United States annexed Puerto Rico and set up a protectorate over Cuba in the Caribbean Sea and also took the Philippines and the Hawaiian Islands. After the defeat of the Spain in 1899, the United States divided Samoa with Germany and Britain. The Philippines was put under direct American control. USA also annexed Guam. In 1899, Hawaii was annexed by the United States. The rest of the Marianas and the Caroline Islands were sold by the Spain to Germany.
Colonialism in Pacific 1901
Colonialism in Pacific 1951
Colonialism in Pacific 2001

Colonialism in Asia

  • Several different Western European powers established colonies in Asia during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Each of the imperial powers had its own style of administration, and colonial officers from the different nations also displayed various attitudes towards their imperial subjects.

Great Britain

  • The British Empire was the largest in the world prior to World War II, and included a number of places in Asia. Those territories include what is now Oman, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Myanmar (Burma), Sri Lanka (Ceylon), the Maldives, Singapore, Malaysia (Malaya), Brunei, Sarawak and North Borneo (now part of Indonesia), Papua New Guinea, and Hong Kong. The crown jewel of all of Britain’s overseas possessions around the world, of course, was India.
  • British colonial officers and British colonists in general saw themselves as exemplars of “fair play,” and in theory, at least, all of the crown’s subjects were supposed to be equal before the law, regardless of their race, religion, or ethnicity. Nonetheless, British colonials held themselves apart from local people more than other Europeans did, hiring locals as domestic help, but rarely intermarrying with them. In part, this may have been due to a transfer of British ideas about the separation of classes to their overseas colonies.
  • The British took a paternalistic view of their colonial subjects, feeling a duty – the “white man’s burden,” as Rudyard Kipling put it – to Christianize and civilize the peoples of Asia, Africa, and the New World. In Asia, the story goes, Britain built roads, railways, and governments, and acquired a national obsession with tea.
  • This veneer of gentility and humanitarianism quickly crumbled, however, if a subjugated people rose up. Britain ruthlessly put down the Indian Revolt of 1857, and brutally tortured accused participants in Kenya’s Mau Mau Rebellion (1952-1960). When famine struck Bengal in 1943, Winston Churchill’s government not only did nothing to feed Bengalis, it actually turned down food aid from the US and Canada meant for India.


  • Although France sought an extensive colonial empire in Asia, its defeat in the Napoleonic Wars left it with just a handful of Asian territories. Those included Pondicherry, Mahe and Chandranagar in India, the 20th-century mandates of Lebanon and Syria, and more especially the key colony of French Indo-china – what is now Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. The population of Indo-China was not very great but its area exceeded that of France. In 1893, when the French tried to extend their influence from Indo-China to Siam, Britain objected to a French naval blockade of Bangkok and the result was an agreement which preserved the integrity of Siam. In 1844, France acquired the right to intervene on behalf of the Christian people in China.
  • In 1858, France virtually got a protectorate over the Chinese Catholic converts. French attitudes about colonial subjects were, in some ways, quite different from those of their British rivals. Some idealistic French sought not just to dominate their colonial holdings, but to create a “Greater France” in which all French subjects around the world truly would be equal. For example, the North African colony of Algeria became a department, or a province, of France, complete with parliamentary representation. This difference in attitude may be due to France’s embrace of Enlightenment thinking, and to the French Revolution, which had broken down some of the class barriers that still ordered society in Britain.
  • Nonetheless, French colonizers also felt the “white man’s burden” of bringing so-called civilization and Christianity to barbaric subject peoples. On the personal level, French colonials were more apt than the British to marry local women and create a cultural fusion in their colonial societies. Some French racial theorists such as Gustave Le Bon and Arthur Gobineau, however, decried this tendency as a corruption of Frenchmen’s innate genetic superiority. As time went on, social pressure increased for French colonials to preserve the “purity” of the “French race.”
  • In French indochina, unlike Algeria, the colonial rulers did not establish large settlements. French Indochina was an economic colony, meant to produce a profit for the home country. Despite the lack of settlers to protect, France was quick to jump into a bloody war with the Vietnamese when they resisted a French return after World War II.
  • Today, small Catholic communities a fondness for baguettes and croissants, and some pretty colonial architecture is all that remains of visible French influence in Southeast Asia.


  • The Dutch competed and fought for control of the Indian Ocean trade routes and spice production with the British, through their respective East India Companies. In the end, the Netherlands lost Sri Lanka to the British, and in 1662, lost Taiwan (Formosa) to the Chinese, but retained control over most of the rich spice islands that now make up Indonesia.
  • For the Dutch, this colonial enterprise was all about money. There was very little pretense of cultural improvement or Christianization. All the Dutch wanted was profits. As a result, they showed no qualms about ruthlessly capturing locals and using them as slave labor on the plantations, or even carrying out a massacre of all the inhabitants of the Banda Islands to protect their monopoly on the nutmeg and mace trade.


  • After Vasco da Gama rounded the southern end of Africa in 1497, Portugal became the first European power to gain sea access to Asia. Although the Portuguese were quick to explore and lay claim to various coastal parts of India, Indonesia, Southeast Asia, and China, its power faded in the 17th and 18th centuries, and the British, Dutch, and French were able to push Portugal out of most of its Asian claims. By the 20th century, what remained was Goa, on the southwest coast of India; East Timor; and the southern Chinese port at Macau.
  • Although Portugal was not the most intimidating European imperial power, it had the most staying power. Goa remained under Portuguese control until India annexed it by force in 1961; Macau was Portuguese until 1999, when the Europeans finally handed it back to China; and East Timor or Timor-Leste formally became independent only in 2002.
  • Portuguese rule in Asia was by turns ruthless (as when they began capturing Chinese children to sell into slavery in Portugal), lackadaisical, and underfunded. Like the French, Portuguese colonists were not opposed to mixing with local peoples. Perhaps the most important characteristic of the Portuguese imperial attitude, however, was Portugal’s stubbornness and refusal to withdraw, even after the other imperial powers withdrew.
  • Portuguese imperialism was driven by a sincere desire to spread Catholicism and make tons of money. It was also inspired by nationalism; originally, a desire to prove the country’s might as it came out from under Moorish rule, and in later centuries, the proud insistence on holding onto the colonies as an emblem of past imperial glory.
Asia in 1910

Colonialism in China

  • The Manchu dynasty was ruling China since the mid-seventeenth century. But the authority of Manchu emperors was weak in nineteenth century. For all purpose of administration, the heads of the 18 provinces into which China was divided were largely independent. China was disunited and militarily weak. Chinese did not like foreigners so to keep them out of their country, the Chinese government had restricted the foreign trade to the port of Canton.
  • In mid-nineteenth century China found itself facing a number of crises. In the last 100 years, from 1741 to 1841, China had witnessed a population boom. Country’s population had surged from 140 million to 410 million. But agriculture production had not witnessed corresponding increase which forced many peasants to turn to robbery and banditry for their survival. It resulted in a law and order problem which created a chaotic domestic situation. This situation was taken advantage of and many foreigners, especially Europeans, forced their way into China for commercial gains.
  • The British were the first to take advantage of the situation. They defeated the Chinese in the Opium Wars. They received trading concessions from Chinese government.
  • China was also defeated in a war with Japan(1894-95) and was forced to hand over territories in mainland China and whole island of present day Taiwan.
  • By the end of the nineteenth century Britain, Germany, France and Russia had leased large areas of land from the Chinese government which they administered much like their own territories.
Colonialism in China

Opium Wars

  • The Opium Wars were two wars in the mid 19th century involving issue of British trade in China and China’s sovereignty. The disputes resulted in the First Opium War (1839-42) and the Second Opium War (1856-60). The wars and defeats in them forced China to trade with the rest of the world and to give various privileges and territorial concessions to the victorious foreign powers.
  • The Opium Wars arose from China’s attempts to suppress the opium trade. Foreign traders (primarily British) had been illegally exporting opium mainly from India to China since the 18th century, but that trade grew dramatically from about 1820 (opium imports to China from India alone was 10,000 chests in early 1820s which grew to 40,000 chests in 1839, the year in which first opium war broke out between Britain and China).
    • The resulting widespread addiction in China was causing serious social and economic disruption there. In March 1839, the Chinese government confiscated and destroyed more than 20,000 chests of opium – some 1,400 tons of the drug – that were warehoused at Canton by British merchants. Several other incidents led to increased hostilities and war broke out between Britain and China.
  • Britain emerged victorious and captured Nanking which put an end to the fighting. Peace negotiations proceeded quickly, resulting in the Treaty of Nanking, signed on August 29, 1842. By its provisions, China was required to pay Britain a large indemnity, cede Hong Kong Island to the British, and increase the number of ports where the British could trade and reside from one (Canton) to five.
    • Among the four additional designated ports, one was Shanghai.
  • The British supplementary treaty of the Bogue, signed October 8, 1843, gave British citizens the right to be tried by British courts. It also gave Britain most favoured nation status (Britain was granted any rights in China that might be granted to other foreign countries). Other Western countries (France, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands and the United States) quickly demanded the same and were given similar privileges.
  • The treaty of Nanking which ended the first Opium War did not settle the opium question. During the succeeding period, its sale was extended to other ports. When the Chinese authorities in 1857 seized a small Chinese boat engaged in opium smuggling which was flying the British flag, thus the second Opium War broke out.
  • The French decided to join the British military expedition. After delays in assembling the forces in China (British troops that were en route were first diverted to India to help quell the Indian Sepoy Mutiny), the allies began military operations in late 1857. They quickly captured Canton. In April 1858, allied troops in British warships reached Tianjin (Tientsin) and forced the Chinese into negotiations.
  • The treaties of Tianjin (Tientsin), signed in June 1858, provided residence in Beijing for foreign envoys, the opening of 14 additional ports to British trade and residence, to open the Yangtse river to British ships, to allow British subjects to travel freely in China, and freedom of movement for Christian missionaries. In further negotiations in Shanghai later in the year, the importation of opium was legalized. Other nations also succeeded in getting the same privileges from China.
  • The British withdrew from Tianjin in the summer of 1858, but they returned to the area in June 1859 (en route to Beijing to sign the treaties) and were shelled by the Chinese from shore batteries at Dagu at the mouth of the Hai river and driven back with heavy casualties. The Chinese subsequently refused to ratify the treaties, and the allies resumed hostilities.
  • In August 1860, a considerably larger force of warships and British and French troops destroyed the Dagu batteries, proceeded upriver to Tianjin, and, in September, captured Beijing and plundered and then burned the Yuanming Garden, the emperor’s summer palace. Later that year the Chinese signed the Beijing Convention, in which they agreed to observe the treaties of Tianjin and also ceded to the British the southern portion of the Kowloon Peninsula adjacent to Hong Kong.
Opium Routes between India and Imperial China


  • The last Chinese emperor, a five year-old child, was overthrown in 1911 in a revolution and a republic was proclaimed. But, soon country disintegrated into hundreds of states of varying sizes, each controlled by a warlord and his private army. The main hope for survival of unified China lay with the Kuomintang, or National People’s Party, formed in 1912 by Dr. Sun Yat-Sen. Under his leadership, Kuomintang was able to establish a government at Canton in southern China in 1917.
  • Kuomintang was not a communist party but was prepared to cooperate with the communists. During the initial stages, the new Russian government also provided help and guidance for the KMT in the hope that nationalist China would be friendly towards communist Russia (at that time western capitalist countries were not recognizing the communist Russia and communist ’s government of Russia also had to fight civil war in Russia).
  • After the death of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen in 1925, Kuomintang came under the control of General Chiang Kai-Shek. The Kuomintang government under Chiang Kai-Shek proved to be a great disappointment for the majority of the Chinese people. He relied on the support of the wealthy landowners, so no significant moves were made towards real democracy and land reforms.
  • Kuomintang gradually started losing support to the Communist Party of China. In January 1949, the communist took Beijing. Later in the year Kuomintang government fled to the island of Taiwan which left the mainland China for the communists to control.

Sun Yat-Sen

  • Dr Sun Yat-Sen was a doctor by profession and returned to China from exile after 1911 revolution. Fie was dismayed by state of affairs in China and wanted to create a modern, united, democratic state. He returned to China after the revolution and formed the Kuomintang. He was a nationalist and guided by three principles of nationalism, democracy, and land reforms. According to Dr. Sun’s plans, the Kuomintang (KMT) was to rebuild China in three steps: military rule, political tutelage, and constitutional rule.
  • Dr. Sun died in 1925 and by that time he gained enormous respect as an intellectual statesman and revolutionary leader. Till the time he was leader of Kuomintang (KMT), KMT and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cooperated with each other. But little progress had been made towards achieving the three principles, mainly because Dr. Sun himself was not a general. Until the KMT armies were built up, he had to rely on alliances with sympathetic warlords. Dr. Sun also had difficulty in exercising any authority outside the south of China. After the death of Dr. Sun Kuomintang came under the control of General Chiang Kai-Shek.

Chiang Kai- Shek

  • General Chiang Kai-Shek became the leader of KMT after the demise of Dr. Sun Yat-sen. He had received his military training in Japan before World War I and served in the Imperial Japanese Army from 1909 to 1911. Chiang came back to China after the successful revolution on 1911. Chiang was a founding member of the KMT and was a strong nationalist. In 1923, Chiang spent three months in Communist Russia studying the Soviet political and military system. During his trip in Russia, Chiang met Leon Trotsky and other Soviet leaders, but quickly came to the conclusion that the Russian model of government was not suitable for China.
  • The following year in 1924, Chiang was appointed as the head (commandant) of the Whampoa Military Academy by Dr. Sun. The early years at Whampoa allowed Chiang to cultivate a cadre of young officers loyal to both the KMT and himself .
  • Chiang was more right-wing than Dr. Sun and became increasingly anti-communist. After becoming party leader, he removed all left-wingers from leading positions in the party. In 1926, he set out on the Northern March to destroy the warlords of central and northern China. Starting from Canton, Shanghai and Nanking was captured in 1927 while Beijing was taken in 1928. During this campaign, Chiang enjoyed massive local support among peasants, who were hoping to get some land after the successful campaign of Chiang.
  • The capture of Shanghai was helped by a rising of industrial workers. In 1927, Chiang decided to eliminate threat of communists because according to him they were becoming too powerful for his on comfort. All communists were expelled from the KMT (purification movement ) and in April 1927, Chiang carried out a purge of thousands of suspected Communists and dissidents in Shanghai, and began large-scale massacres across the country collectively known as the “ White Terror”. The killings drove most Communists from urban cities and into the rural countryside, where the KMT was less powerful.
  • This campaign against communists pushed China into a long drawn out civil war. The war was paused in 1936 and Chiang was forced to make “Second United Front” with the Communists against Japan. Chiang’s commitment to the Second United Front was nominal at best, and it was all but broken up in 1941. When full scale war broke out with Japan in 1937, the KMT forces were quickly defeated and most of eastern China was occupied by the Japanese as Chiang, retreated westwards.
  • After the German defeat at Stalingrad in 1942-43, Chiang decided to commit China to the Allied side. It was during these times of cooperation with Allied side that China was promised a permanent seat on the Security Council of the United Nations.
  • When the Japanese were defeated in 1945, the KMT and the CCP resumed their struggle for power. The Americans helped the KMT in this struggle but General Chiang lost the war and had to escape with KMT forces to Taiwan in 1949. He remained the leader of KMT and President of Republic of China in Taiwan till his death in 1975.

Chinese Communist Party (CCP)

  • The CCP was officially founded in 1921 and at first consisted mostly intellectuals and very little military strength. During initial years it worked in tandem with KMT. After the breach with the KMT, CCP changed its strategy and started concentrating on winning mass support among the peasants rather than trying to capture industrial towns where KMT was stronger. CCP had to face five ‘extermination campaigns’ from Chiang led KMT between 1930 and 1934. In October 1934, to survive ongoing extermination campaign CCP set out on ‘Long March’ and covered about 6000 miles in 368 days.
  • Eventually the survivors found refuge at Yenan in Shensi province and Mao was accepted as leader by Shensi communists. During the ten years following the Long March the communists continued to gain support, while Chiang and the KMT steadily lost popularity. When KMT armies were defeated by Japanese forces, most of the eastern China was occupied by the Japanese.
  • This enabled the communists, undefeated in Shensi, to present themselves as patriotic nationalists, leading an effective guerrilla campaign against the invading barbaric Japanese forces. This won them massive support among the peasants and middle classes, who were appalled at Japanese arrogance and brutality.
  • When Japanese were defeated in 1945 and Worid War II ended, the Americans helped the KMT to take over all areas previously occupied by the Japanese, except Manchuria, which had been captured by the Russians before the war ended. Russians obstructed the KMT in Manchuria and allowed CCP guerrillas to move in. In January 1949 communists took Beijing and in October 1949 the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed by CCP after their victory over KMT.

Impact and Evaluation of New Imperialism

  • New imperialism for time being diverted the attention and energies of the European nations outside Europe for territorial gains. Only Austria was the major power which did not take part in this exercise, of new imperialism in Asia and Africa, on a significant scale. It also provided avenues for European countries to satisfy their imperial and territorial ambitions outside Europe.
  • Thus, the period from German unification to outbreak of First World War was a period of relative peace in Europe. No major war was fought in Europe during this period, Balkan being an exception.
  • But it is also true that this process of new imperialism also resulted in formation of alliances and animosity between countries. Italy formed an alliance with Germany in 1882 when her aspiration in Tunisia was frustrated by France. Also, French and German rivalry over Morocco strengthened Anglo-French alliance. Failed German aspirations over Morocco turned German public opinion against Britain and France.
  • That is why it has been suggested that imperial rivalries were a prominent cause of the World War I. Even if one accepts that imperialism alone could not explain World War I and it is a combination of many factors working together we can say assuredly that new imperialism did contribute its fair share in creating situations responsible for outbreak of World War I.
  • It has also been said that new imperialism was a safety valve, drawing off European energies that might otherwise have erupted in war much sooner. But the links between imperialism and the war are subtler. The heyday of the New Imperialism, especially after 1894, created a tacit understanding in the European elites and the broad literate classes that the days of the old European balance of power were over, that a new world order was dawning, and that any nation left behind in the pursuit of world power, gaining new areas, would sink into obscurity.
  • This intuition must surely have fed a growing sense of desperation among Germans, and one of paranoia among Britons, about trends in global politics. A second point, subtler still, is that the New Imperialism, while it did not directly provoke World War I, did occasionally a transformation of alliances that proved dangerous beyond reckoning once the Great Powers turned their attention back to Europe.
  • The most important and lasting consequence of imperialism and colonialism was the economic backwardness of the colonies as well as of those countries which were indirectly controlled by the imperialist countries. Imperialism led to the destruction of local industries in these countries.
    • For example, Indian textile industry was destroyed and she became an importer of British clothes.
  • The industrialization of these countries was prevented. Wherever industries were started, these were subordinated to the interests of the industries of the industries of the imperialist countries or making profits for the companies of the imperialist countries. The patterns of the agriculture in the colonies were also changed to meet the requirements of the industries of the imperialist countries.
  • Imperialism also bred racial arrogance and discrimination. The idea of the superiority of the white race that God had created to govern the world, was popularized in the imperialist countries.
  • In their colonies, the white rulers and settlers discriminated against the local inhabitants who were considered inferior to them.
    • It is also interesting to know that when Japan emerged as an imperialist power, the Japanese were excluded from being branded as belonging to an inferior race. In fact, South Africa gave the Japanese the status of what they called honorary whites’.

Struggle against Imperialism

  • At every step, the imperialist powers met with the resistance of peoples they were trying to enslave. Even when the conquest by arms was decisive, foreign rule that ensued was never peaceful for the rulers. The conquered people organized movements not merely to overthrow the foreign rule but also to develop their countries into modern nations.
  • This movement was international in character as people thriving for freedom in country supported another for the same. The imperialist countries retained their colonial possessions up to the Second World War. But within two decades after the end of the war, most of the countries succeeded in regaining their independence.


  • Neo-colonialism is the process of continuation of the economic model of colonialism even after a colonized territory has achieved formal political independence. This concept was applied most commonly to Africa in the latter half of the twentieth century.
  • The idea of neo-colonialism, however, suggests that when European powers granted nominal political independence to colonies in the decades after World War II, they continued to control the economies of the new African countries.
  • The concept of neo-colonialism has several theoretical influences. First and foremost, it owes much to Marxist thinking. Writing in the late nineteenth century, Karl Marx had argued that capitalism represented a stage in the socioeconomic development of humanity. According to him, the capitalist system, ultimately and inevitably, in industrially developed countries would be overthrown by a revolution of the working class; this would result in the establishment of socialist utopias.
  • In 1916, Vladimir Lenin modified this thesis, claiming that the rapid expansion of European imperialism around the world in the last decade of the nineteenth century had marked the highest stage of capitalism. Presumably, then, the end of imperialism (which Lenin believed would be the result of World War I) would mark the beginning of the end of capitalism. However, neither imperialism nor capitalism came to an end after the war or in future years. European empires persisted well into the 1960s.
Colonialism and Neocolonialism

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