Unit 7: The Effects of Colonialism on Asia
European imperialism has touched every corner of the globe. In Asia, colonialism devastated India and destabilized China's Qing Dynasty. American imperialism galvanized Japan and sparked rapid industrialization that led to Japan's own form of imperialism against Korea and China during World War II. The French colonized Indochina (today's Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia). Siam (today's Thailand) was able to withstand European imperialism by serving as a cosmopolitan go-between for English-controlled India and French-controlled southeast Asia. European and American imperialism ended centuries-long dynasties in India, China, and Japan and led to revolutions that changed the political foundations of these countries.
In 1854, Great Britain dismantled India's 300-year old Mughal Dynasty, its last ruling dynasty, and reorganized India into a colonial entity to exploit its natural resources. In 1930, Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948), an Indian lawyer, anti-colonial nationalist, and political ethicist who employed nonviolent resistance, led India's rebellion against Britain's colonial rule to gain independence in 1947.
Indochina served as a colony for France in Southeast Asia beginning in 1887. Ho Chi Minh's Vietnamese rebel forces fought alongside the Allied powers to resist Japan's Imperial Army during World War II. But Vietnam and the rest of Indochina returned to French imperial rule at the end of the war. Ho Chi Minh (1890–1969) led a 30-year war for independence that split Vietnam into two countries and reunited it as a communist nation in 1975 when it expelled the United States from its borders.
Europe never fully colonized China (although Hong Kong was a British colony from 1841 to 1997). China experienced two revolutions during the 20th century that reshaped its social and political institutions. In 1911, nationalist forces overthrew the Qing Dynasty to establish a republican government. But their democratic experiment did not last long. The country soon fell into anarchy, and the Chinese Communist Party began a long fight with the nationalists for political control starting in 1921.
After an eight-year armistice to respond to the Japanese invasion (the second Sino-Japanese war from 1937–1945), Mao Zedong (1893–1976) rose to eventually defeat the nationalist forces to form a communist government in China in 1949. The People's Republic of China imposed radical large-scale land reform and dramatic industrial development, which contributed to China's extraordinary economic growth but caused widespread suffering and the death of millions of Chinese citizens.
Like China, Japan resisted European colonial efforts. Japan experienced an unexpected civil war due, in part, to coercion from American and European forces. Fearing a similar fate to what had occurred in mainland China, Japan industrialized rapidly, upended a 300-year government, and began colonizing mainland Asia. These actions of Japanese aggression included genocide, enslavement, and forcing Chinese women into prostitution.
In this unit, we investigate the impact of European and American imperialism in Asia and how it led to a series of revolutions across the continent and island nations that altered Asia politically, economically, and socially. We also evaluate the international consequences of these revolutions for global history.
Completing this unit should take you approximately 17 hours.
7.1: A Brief History of India and European Imperialism
The cities Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro in the Indus Valley, in today's northern India and Pakistan, have rivaled Mesopotamia as the oldest civilizations in the world. The Aryans, from present-day Iran, introduced Hinduism to India around 1500 B.C. This religion features many gods, is based on the concept of reincarnation, and embraces a caste system that features one of the world's strictest social hierarchies. The social position you are born into cannot change until you are born again in the next life. If you perform good dharma (duties or the right way of living) toward others, you collect positive karma and can advance your social position with each life until you reach the Brahmin or priestly caste. Then you will reunite with the god Brahma.
The Hindu Caste system is divided into five major castes: Achhoots/Dalits (untouchables), Shudras, Vaishyas, Kshatriyas, and Brahmins. Each caste has specific economic opportunities, rights, and privileges. Higher castes enjoy greater freedom, rights, and opportunity. Brahmins, the highest caste, can be priests or choose almost any profession. They are the only truly educated class who can read Sanskrit and reach Moksha, which allows them to reunite with Brahma. Kshatriyas, the rulers and warriors, are also educated, but they cannot attain Moksha. They are beholden to the Brahmin. Vaishyas comprise the merchant caste, while Shudras form the peasant caste, which are denied many basic rights and education. Anyone who is not Hindu is an Achhoot or Dalit and considered untouchable.
The Hindu caste system ruled India for nearly two millennia, during which India experienced the rise of several powerful and technologically-advanced empires. Islam and Islamic dynasties swept into India during the 8th century and stood up against the Mongolian invasion. During the 1500s, the Mughal Dynasty, which descended from the Mongolian Empire, ruled India. This dynasty was noted for its efficient administration, religious tolerance, and architectural masterpieces, such as the Taj Mahal, built from 1632 to 1653. In 1498, Vasco de Gama (1465–1524), the Portuguese explorer, made the first European incursions into India.
7.2: The Qing Dynasty, Opium Wars, and the Republic of China
Unlike India, China was never a European colony, although it was affected by imperialism. The British traded opium, a popular drug in Europe, Asia, and the Americas, as it gained colonial hegemony in India. By 1880, opium was the British East India Company's second most traded commodity, and Britain wanted to expand its market. However, the Qing Dynasty, China's last imperial dynasty from 1644 to 1911, took steps to limit the disastrous effects opium had on its users.
7.3: Thailand and Indochina
Siam (Thailand) entered the written record during the Ayutthayan period (1351–1767), when a group of tribes united to create a powerful kingdom that could withstand European imperialism. The Kingdom of Ayutthaya, known to Europeans as Siam, absorbed Hinduism and Theravada Buddhism from India and established an absolute monarchy with a god-King who had absolute authority. The King created a caste system similar to the Indian model, but each person received a collection of merits that determined their worth and social standing.
The King had absolute authority while the aristocracy (chao) served him. The King was the sun, and his noblemen orbited around him like the planets. Slavery defined the kingdom's primary source of labor – every man was conscripted to serve the state for six months out of the year. Women existed at the bottom of society as uneducated property whose primary role was to bear and rear children. An ancient adage stated that men were human while women were buffalo.
Due to its geography, Siam often served as a go-between for international trade routes. Ayutthaya, Siam's capital, was a prosperous trading hub that established diplomatic ties with Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, Japan, China, and France. Christian missions were allowed to spread their religion freely until the King severed all diplomatic ties with Europe when he believed Christianity was beginning to threaten the country's Buddhist and Hindu traditions. For 150 years, the government, like the Ming in China, folded inward until forces from neighboring Burma destroyed the city and ended the 417-year old kingdom in 1767. Taksin (1734–1782), a capable military leader of Chinese descent, led the resistance against Burmese rule, defeated the occupying army, and re-established the Siamese state. By the end of December, he had moved the capital to Thonburi (today's Bangkok) and was crowned King Taksin (1767).
During the 1800s, the Siamese government realized it needed to modernize to withstand European takeover. The government established a standing army and commissioned detailed maps to establish the Siamese borders. The leaders used these maps to negotiate with the British and French diplomats, who decided it was in their best interest to respect Siam's boundaries to maintain a neutral zone between their respective colonies in Burma and Malay. In 1932, the absolute monarchy ended in a military coup. Siam was renamed Thailand in 1939.
During World War II, Thailand allowed Japan to pass through its borders, which meant the country would escape the devastation Japan would wreak on its other Asian neighbors. Consequently, Thailand allied as an Axis power with Germany and Japan, and Siam declared war on France when it fell to Germany in 1940.
After World War II, members of a military coup assassinated King Ananda Mahidol (1925–1946) and seized control of the government. However, the new leaders established an amicable alliance with the United States and NATO forces during the Cold War. The country reinstated its monarchy in 1958, and the political suppression of dissidents continued as it imprisoned individuals it deemed a communist threat. The United States provided extensive economic aid to Thailand during the Vietnam War.
In 1973, a revolution erupted against Thanom Kittikachorn (1911–2004), the acting prime minister who had established a military dictatorship. By this time, economic aid and alliances with Europe and the United States had embedded democratic ideals in the Thai youth. Many had received their education abroad. They rose in resistance, and Kittikachorn retreated into exile at the behest of the monarch. Many Thai citizens were happy to see Kittikachorn go and welcomed the resumption of royal leadership. In 1974, the king commissioned a new constitution and created a brief parliamentary democracy. But another coup in 1976 instituted autocratic control once again.
7.4: The Meiji Restoration and Japanese Imperialism
Japan has the world's oldest continuous monarchy, which has existed since the 7th century. According to Japanese mythology, the Japanese Emperor is the direct divine descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu. Japanese Shintoism believes innumerable gods (kami) exist alongside humans. Like Amaterasu, the anthropomorphic kami taught humans all of their knowledge. The Emperor is one of many gods in the Japanese pantheon and is honored by shrines in public places and individual homes. However, he has not led the Japanese government for most of its history. During the Heian Period (795–1185), powerful military lords (daimyo), served by knights (samurai), created a government based on the fiefdoms they controlled. In 1192 Minamoto Yorimoto (1147–1199) was the first Shogun in Japan. The Shogun became the political leader of Japan, while the Emperor maintained a symbolic role in Japanese politics.
Three daimyos rose to the rank of Shogun during the Warring States Period (1467–1615) and became known as the ""Great Unifiers"" of Japan. Each had different ideas about Japan's future. The first, Oda Nobunaga (1534–1582), served as Shogun from 1568–1582. He valued the guns and other goods the Portuguese and Dutch explorers brought to Japan and allowed them to establish Christian missions. Nobunaga envisioned an open-door policy with strong diplomatic ties to Europe. When Nobunaga was assassinated in a coup in 1582, his successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537–1598), became Shogun and continued most of Nobunaga's policies. Hideyoshi sent diplomatic envoys to Europe and the Americas.
Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543–1616), the daimyo for the fiefdom that includes today's Tokyo, soon challenged Hideyoshi's leadership. After Hideyoshi's death in 1598, Ieyasu seized power after the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. Ieyasu was appointed Shogun in 1603 and united Japan under a strict government that today's historians liken to a military dictatorship.
7.5: The Revolutionary Period: Republic of China vs the People's Republic
After it ousted Japan at the end of World War II, China experienced a revolution that has lasted to this day. The Chinese Revolution of 1949 pitted Chiang Kai-shek (1887–1975) against the communist leader Mao Zedong.
After Sun Yat-sen died in 1925, Chiang Kai-shek became the nationalist leader of the Kuomintang and served as the leader of the Republic of China in mainland China from 1928 to 1949. While Chiang Kai-shek had trained in Bolshevik Russia, he was a conservative Christian and received support from China's wealthy landowners, new industrialists, and the business elite. Chiang Kai-shek looked to foreign investment and supported modernization in the coastal cities, but the interior of China saw continual infighting among the warlords. Between 1931 and 1938, the Japanese invaded and occupied Manchuria and significant areas of northern China.
In April 1927, Chiang Kai-shek launched a violent purge of the communist party in Shanghai. The attacks continued in the 1930s, as Mao Zedong, the communist leader, tried to rebuild in the countryside with renewed support from the peasants and lower working class. In 1934, a successful series of military assaults ultimately forced what was left of Mao's Red Army to escape from the southern provinces in a remarkable 6,000 mile Long March to regroup in the caves of Yan'an in northern China.
Unit 7 Assessment
- Receive a grade