Reactions to British Domination in Asiaby Rit Nosotro
Compare reactions to British domination in China and India.
At the height of the British Empire during the 1800's, the British conquered many foreign territories around the world such as India and China, but many of the local populations did not accept the often abusive British rule and would sometimes instigate rebellions and revolutions. The British East India Company played a major part in the collapse of native Indian rule by recruiting Indian troops known as sepoys and using existing rivalries amongst the ruling princes to their own advantage to gain extra support in conquering one prince only to turn on their ally and defeat him. Since the British abused their power, however, many revolts broke out like the Indian Mutiny of 1857. In China, the Opium Wars caused the rapid disintegration of the Ch'ing dynasty and gave the British the opportunity to prove its military superiority over the multitudes of China. However, the Boxer Rebellion showed how the Chinese people felt about having their ancient culture infiltrated by those they viewed as barbarians.
Preamble to European Rule in India
Even before the British rule over India in the 1800's, the Indians were faced with the superior military technology of Europeans during the voyages of Vasco da Gama. During these voyages, Vasco da Gama, angered by the Caliph's refusal to trade, attacked the port city of Calicut, the capital of India at the time, and sunk opposing Muslim trading ships. However, the Portuguese never actually ruled over India but merely held trading relations with them.1
British Imperialism and the British Rule in India Beginning in the late 1600's, Great Britain and France took advantage of the weakening Mughal Empire that ruled India by setting up colonies and forts along the coasts of India. As the Mughal Empire collapsed, England and France competed for the most land as they moved farther inland from their coastal forts. Britain's superior navy, France's preoccupation with wars in Europe instead of concentrating on its affairs in India, and the French Revolution beginning in 1789 all caused Britain to eventually become the dominant foreign force in India. Direct fighting between France and Britain in India occurred in 1744 and again during the Seven Years' War (1756-1763). Also, Great Britain gained an upper hand over the French when they gained control of Calcutta, a strategic point for trade and fortification, through bargaining with the local prince (this city was later retaken by an Indian ruler from Bengal in 1756 showing how the natives felt about British rule). After the Indian forces regained control of Calcutta, they kept British prisoners of which 120 eventually died from overcrowded conditions. This sparked anger in the British people and later caused the East India Company to seize control of it once more. During the key battle at Plassey on June 23, 1757, the British re-conquered the Bengal-Bihar region. In this battle, the British forces (which included a majority of Indian sepoy fighters) commanded by Robert Clive were outnumbered 3,000 to 50,000 which included the forces of the nawab (ruler) of Bengal and his French and Italian allies. Although the European allies of the nawab fought well, the inexperienced ruler of Bengal quickly lost his advantage in numbers through poor execution and disorganized troops. From there, once the British controlled the fertile, populous Bengal-Bihar region, they continued to spread from their central holding as the Mughal Empire crumbled forming what was known as the British Raj until they controlled most of the South Asian subcontinent by the 1800's.2
British Abuse of Power
For the general population of India, British rule was viewed as abusive and corrupt. Education plummeted under British rule and the literacy rate dropped tremendously; after the British Raj controlled India for several decades, the effects of this could be clearly seen in the literacy rate of 6% in 1911. Although the British did modernize and improve many cities, these privileges and conveniences were reserved mostly for British administration and officers while the majority of commoners lived in one-room tenements with an average of five others. Between 1872 and 1921, the life expectancy fell by 20%. Wages were also insufficient: "all but the most highly skilled workmen in India receive wages which are barely sufficient to feed and clothe them. Everywhere will be seen overcrowding, dirt, and squalid misery." Despite their poverty, the British heavily taxed many of the exports and trade items of the Indians. During the early 19th century, the already poor Indian tradesmen faced export taxes of 70-80%. Many of the historic monuments and artifacts of India were destroyed or sold by the British. In fact, plans were made to tear down the famous Taj Mahal in order to sell the marble and rich artifacts in England, but the wrecking was canceled due to previously unsuccessful sales of marble (from other historic torn-down buildings in India).3
The Challenge to British Dominance in India
Because of the irresponsible control of India by the East India Company, many revolts and uprisings occurred; especially notable was the mutiny of 1857. Because the British felt superior to the Indians, they attempted to force the people of India follow what they felt were superior customs, religion, and culture. Because of this, the Moslems and Hindus of India felt insulted by these forced changes.4 Violently, the 19th Regiment of sepoys mutinied and began killing British colonists. However, these uprisings, which began in January of 1857, were put down by a violent British response; on July 8, 1857, a peace treaty was signed, and the British crown took away the immense power of the East India Company and replaced it with the direct rule of the British crown which became known as the British Raj. Bahadur Shah Zafar, who would have been the last ruler of the Mughal Empire, was sent into exile in Rangoon thus bringing the Mughal Empire to an official end. Even after the peace treaty was signed, the British continued to kill many people and sometimes entire villages if they suspected them of supporting the uprising.5 After realizing that violence was not a good way for the people to have a voice in governing, the Indian National Congress party was founded through which India gained independence years later. On August 15, 1947, India finally officially gained its independence from Great Britian.6
China, Great Britain, and the Opium War
Although foreigners never fully took over China to the extent that India was dominated, China did suffer humiliating defeats in wars over trade after which they were forced to give up certain cities for foreign trade ports. One fatal mistake on the part of the Chinese was underestimating the power of the British technology and superior military organization. They viewed the western counties as barbaric without considering these elements. So when war came, their armies fell to the superior firepower of the west despite their greater numbers.
Initially, China had the trading advantage over the British because the British had little that the Chinese wanted while the British desired many of China's valuable products, and so, they were forced to trade in silver. However, the tables turned when they discovered a great demand for opium in China. Although the plant did grow in China, a much more potent variety grew in the northern part of India which the British now controlled. Thus, the British now had the trading advantage and much silver and many valuable exports were traded to the British in exchange for the harmful drug which greatly increased in popularity; by 1838, an estimated 4 million Chinese citizens had become addicted to the drug. In 1939, 40,000 chests of opium, each weighing 133 pounds, were sold to Chinese opium dens in which people from all castes and occupations shirked their duties and responsibilities. The Chinese government soon realized the economic and moral predicament opium had caused them and outlawed the drug; Lin Zexu was charged with the task of destroying the trade. Perhaps he took this charge too seriously: he ordered British warehouses to be searched and any opium destroyed. This loss of property and trade angered the British merchants who insisted on military action. In 1839, war began. After a British victory due to superior technology, the Treaty of Nanjing, signed on August 29, 1842, forced the Chinese to reimburse the British for their losses of opium (21 million dollars), to give up five cities for British trade (including Hong Kong), and increase rights for the British in China. A second Opium War (also known as the Arrow War) broke out soon after the first in October of 1856 which also ended in a British and French (who also participated in this war) victory and increased rights for foreigners.7
The Boxer Rebellion
As an result of the Opium Wars and other western advancements, a Chinese society formed in 1898 known to westerners as "Boxers" because they practiced boxing which they believed would protect them from gunfire. They opposed foreigners and western infiltration of their culture by killing Americans and British and burning buildings owned by foreigners in the summer of 1900. The Chinese government secretly allied itself with this movement since they also opposed western infiltration of their ancient culture. Potentially a very dangerous group, westerners recognized this threat to their foothold of trade in China and sent a force to put the rebellion down in June. Made up of allied troops from Russia, Japan, Great Britain, Germany, France, and America, the force set out for Peking to put down the rebellion that was ravaging the city, burning foreign-owned buildings, and killing Christians (including Chinese who converted to Christianity). But they were blocked by troops sent by Chinese dowager empress Tz'u-his who showed her support by ordering the death of all foreigners in China. Enraged, about 20,000 extra troops arrived and attacked Peking which fell to the allied troops on August 14, 1900. Although the Boxer Rebellion failed to rid China of foreign dominance, it did help by inspiring other nationalists who eventually took power after the Ch'ing Dynasty fell in 1911. 8
In conclusion, there are striking similarities between how China and India reacted to domination by the British in that they both instigated nationalistic rebellions and against the infiltration of western culture, but they differed in how these rebellions began and the extent of British control over their countries. In India, the native population initially responded to the abusive British rule through violent rebellions but finally found a way to voice their opinions and rights through the Indian National Congress party. After the Opium Wars in which the British gained colonies in China, the Boxer Rebellion began due to hatred of British imperialism and western infiltration of their society. Thus, the Indians, in the end, used their numbers not to fight against the superior weapons of the British but found a peaceful, democratic solution and ended up receiving their freedom while the Chinese used violent answers, like the Boxer Rebellion, to the problem of foreign domination and only ended up having many casualties only to wait many more years for freedom of British rule.
up2 Peter N. Stearns, Michael Adas, Stuart B. Schwartz, Marc Jason Gilbert, World Civilizations: The Global Experience, AP Edition, Pearson Education, Inc., New York., 2003, pages 376, 565-67, 575, 632-635, 686
up6 Peter N. Stearns, Michael Adas, Stuart B. Schwartz, Marc Jason Gilbert, World Civilizations: The Global Experience, AP Edition, Pearson Education, Inc., New York., 2003, pages 376, 565-67, 575, 632-635, 686
"History of India", Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_India (February 19, 2005)
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