In the early 1500s, Europeans thought of India and China as lands of wealth. And, into the 1700s, people in India and China were similar in their standard of living to Europeans in general. India's textile workers had a standard of living equal to that of British workers, a standard of living benefitting from an agriculture that allowed people to pay less for food. Asia was having harvests more abundant than that of the Europeans. Asians were growing rice, which took nutrients from water rather than the soil, and Asians were not leaving lands to lie fallow as were the Europeans.
But after 1750, people in India and China fell behind in mechanization, remaining more reliant on hand and arm muscles. Their share in world manufacturing and trade was shrinking and their traditional markets were suffering from European intrusions, and their populations continued to grow, putting them further behind in per capita industrial manufacturing. In the West they were now being viewed as poor and economically backward. Paul Kennedy in Rise and Fall of the Great Powers described a difference between the European Powers that included no notion of racial or biological superiorities. He wrote of Europe's relative as,
... a combination of economic laissez-faire, political and military pluralism and intellectual liberty ... that mix of critical ingredients did not exist in Ming China, or in the Muslim empires of the Middle East and Asia ... they appeared to stand still while Europe advanced to the center of the world stage. (p 30)
Kennedy did not include Japan in this. Japan developed differently from India and China following the Meiji Restoration — Emperor Meiji (reigned 1867–1912). With the Meiji Restoration an elite formed called the Meiji Oligarchy, and they wanted to avoid what had been happening to China. Politically Japan would become less feudal and more centralized. And under the influence of the elite around the emperor there was a rush to industrialize, to build Japan militarily and educationally — to modernize. Japan throughout the remainder of the 1800s would have a per capita manufacturing output more than twice that of China (but one-sixth that of Britain).
China, meanwhile, was still ruled by the Qing Dynasty, which had replaced the Ming in the mid-1600s. Qing emperors had been supporting policies that left China vulnerable to the firepower of Western navies, a firepower that included the important factor of range (in other words being able to hit your opponent while your opponent could not hit back). There was the Opium War of 1841-42 (the First Opium War). The British had been buying tea from China and needed to sell the Chinese something other than paying them in silver. So British traders were selling the Chinese opinion. Qing authorities objected and were outgunned when they tried to enforce a ban. The Qing imperial government was forced to acknowledge the superiority of Western weaponry and to acknowledge defeat. Britain won possession of Hong Kong, and it won a treaty with China that provided "fair and regular" tariffs and ports open to foreign traders.
The Qing emperors suffered humiliation, but they continued to see themselves as a great imperial power and had been imposing themselves on others. The Qing dynasty ruled in Xinjiang and they were trying to rule in Mongolia and Tibet, areas they had formally incorporated into Chinese territory. Qing emperors were ruling a multi-ethnic state and identifying themselves as apart from the Chinese, as Manchu — Manchurian — and enforcing Chinese men to wear a pigtail.
China had its great Taiping Rebellion beginning in December 1850. It was the beginning of a new era of revolution for China well into the 20th century. China was densely populated. Its rural population suffering poverty, no storage of food. They were open to the rebellion's propagandists, who argued for a better wealth sharing and against Qing foreign rule. This "attracted many famine-stricken peasants, workers, and miners" (Britannica.com). The organizing was led by a Christian, Hong Xiuquan, who was looking to the Second Coming of a Chinese Jesus Christ, Christian sharing and an overturn of the old immoral social order. According to Britannica,
they increased from a ragged band of several thousand to more than one million totally disciplined and fanatically zealous soldiers, organized into separate men’s and women’s divisions... Prostitution, foot-binding, and slavery were prohibited, as well as opium smoking, adultery, gambling, and use of tobacco and alcohol.
They swept through the valley created by Yangzi River and in March 1853 captured the great eastern city of Nanjing, which they renamed the Heavenly Capital. They continued fighting and had victories, but their push north against the Qing in Beijing failed.
There was the Second Opium War (1856-60), with the French joining the British incursion and Germany and the United States wanting their share in China. In 1860 the foreigners began to monopolize trade along China's coastline. The Taiping rebellion continued until it was crushed in 1864 by Qing forces with the help of European commanders. (The British chose to side with the Qing against the Taiping and fought alongside Qing forces against the Taiping attempt to take Shanghai.
Hong died in 1864, said to have been a suicide. A Qing force scattered his remains by explosion (fired from a cannon, nothing remaining to resurrect). The last Taiping army was crushed in August 1871. Twenty million Chinese had lost their life during the rebellion — to leave a lasting impression among the Chinese and a suspicion of religious movements not overtly loyal to the state.
Within a few years, China was involved in a conflict regarding its influence in Korea. Japan was expanding in association with its economic interests. In the 1870s, Japanese warships, with troops, threatened the Koreans and struck at Korea's port city of Pusan and at Kanghwado island. In 1876 Korea signed a treaty drafted by the Japanese that granted the Japanese in Korea exemption from the jurisdiction of local law, exemption from tariffs and recognition of Japanese currency at ports of trade. China became involved in the early 1890s after Korea's king called on China for help in suppressing an anti-foreign rebellion among his subjects.
China landed a force of 2,000 in Korea. Japan objected, claiming that this violated an agreement it had with China. Japanese patriotic activists claimed that Japan's national honor was at stake, and public opinion in Japan agreed with them. Japanese soldiers took control of Korea's royal palace. By the end of September 1894, Japan's army was in control of most of Korea and Japan's navy was in control of the Yellow Sea. Korea's monarch, Min, found refuge in the Russian legation. Japanese were involved in the assassination of Queen Min, who had been making overtures to China and Russia. And the Japanese forced out of Korea's government those who favored China.
Japan and China clashed militarily. China's military was overwhelmed by Japan's more modern forces. Japan signed a new commercial and navigation treaty – the Aoki-Kimberley Treaty – with Britain. The US followed this with a similar agreement, and Russia and Germany established similar agreements in 1895, with France and the Netherlands joining them in 1896. Japan took control of Taiwan. and Britain welcomed Japanese imperialism as a counter to Russian expansion.
Since the 1600s, what happened in India was different from China. The Indian subcontinent was a land divided among many rulers and ethnicities. A British joint stock company had formed in the 1500s expecting to take part in the East Indies spice trade. This was the East India Company. The Company’s defeat of the Portuguese in India in 1612 won them trading concessions from India's Mughal Empire. The Company was able to expand its commercial operations in India. Its trading posts increased in number, and by 1647 the Company had 23 factories in India working in industries such as cotton, silk, indigo dye, saltpeter, and tea.
Paul Kennedy writes of an otherwise inhibiting influence on economic activity by Mughal rule:
Tax collectors, required to provide fixed sums for their masters, preyed mercilessly upon peasant and merchant alike; whatever the state of the harvest or trade, the money had to come in.
By 1720, imports from India were 15 percent of all British imports, almost all of it passing through the East India Company. In India the Company had its own private military force. During the Seven Years' War (1756–63) it was the Company that fought the French in India. The East India Company became the power behind the throne in Bengal, and it began taking responsibility for collecting taxes and maintaining law and order in the east: in Calcutta, in Bihar a state to the far north, and in Orissa, halfway to the south and alongside the Indian Ocean. Company men bullied their way into dominating India's trading of salt, opium, tobacco, timber and in boat building. And the Company expanded its controls along the Ganges River to the city of Petna.
The Company suppressed disorders and a few isolated hostile uprisings. A unified rising against the British might have wiped out the British in India, but the peoples of the sub-continent were not about to become a unified force against the British. Trying to avoid increasing hostility against them among Hindus, the British chose not to tamper with their rituals and customs. And they tried keeping taxes lower than what Indian rulers before them had demanded.
The Company was allied with local bankers, and they allied with one local ruler against a rival ruler (not quite "divide and conquer," with Indians providing the division). The Compnay fought India's Maratha Empire twice, the second time from 1803 to 1805. Some of India's princely rulers were puppets of the East India Company. If such a prince failed to cooperate with the company, the company might dispose of him and annex his territory, ousting him from power using the Indian troops that it employed. Ninety-six percent of the company's army of 300,000 men in India were native to India.
In Company fought three wars with the India's Maratha Empire: 1775–1782, 1803–1805, 1816–1819. Much of the Maratha military was traditional. Some had not given up the bow and arrow. Maratha hit and run tactics didn't work against the Company's line of infantry and guns. Rather than a single commander giving coordination and direction, Maratha chieftains acted at cross-purposes. And the chieftains lacked a system for supplying their troops. Most of their soldiers were not paid regularly. As individuals these warriors were brave, but generally they had reason to be less than confident. The historian Max Boot writes:
Even if the Marathas had had more officers schooled in Western tactics... overall control still would have been exercised by tribal chiefs who were more influenced by reading chicken entrails than by reading any treatise on strategy.
At the end of the Third Maratha War, the Marathas surrendered. Writes Wikipedia: "The war left the British, under the auspices of the British East India Company, in control of virtually all of present-day India south of the Sutlej River." One thousand on the Company side are described as having defeated 10,000 on the Maratha side.
In 1845-46 and again in 1848-49, the Company fought wars with the Sikh empires. The Company won militarily but had respect for the Sikh;s fighting prowess. The second war ended with the British annexing the Punjab and territory to the northwest, including Peshawar, pushing their control in India across the Indus River to the Khyber Pass.
But India still consisted of hundreds of independent states. The introduction of rail lines and telegraphy spread fear among people of being overwhelmed by the British, and they feared that the British intended to Christianize them. Rebellion against rule by foreigners came in 1857 from those the British East India Company had hired as troops – the Sepoys. During the rebellion the British government took control of India from the East India Company, Britain's possessions in India were henceforth to be governed by a government-appointed viceroy and the British government's colonial office. Queen Victoria promised the Indian people equal treatment under British law. By 1858 all but around 40 percent of India — today is Pakistan, India and Bangladesh — was under British control, all but from 20 to 25 percent of India's population. And British rule remained firm through the rest of the century. From 1876, Victory held the title Empress of India. Writes Wikipedia:
As a state, the British Empire in India functioned as if it saw itself as the guardian of a system of connected markets maintained by means of military power, business legislation and monetary management.
India's per capita manufacturing output in 1900, according to Paul Kennedy, was 1 percent of Britain's. India having a population a little more than seven times that of Britain, its figure for gross manufacturing output was not quite so bad: 9.2 percent of Britain's. Economically it was a big shift from the near equality that had existed a couple of centuries before, and there was a corresponding shift in well-being. Life expectancy at birth for males in India in 1901 has been estimated at 23.6 years, for females at 23.9 years. (Middle East Journal of Age and Ageing Volume 12 Issue 3 October 2015). And people on the Indian sub-continent were now ruled by a foreign power — the industrially superior British.
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Copyright © 2017 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.