David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.
What's Yours Is Mine
What would you do if you got an extra room in your home all to yourself? You could put a lot of stuff there if it was all yours. But what if one of your siblings had to live there even though it's officially yours? Would you be nice and let them use your things, or would you take advantage and make them do things for you? It sounds silly, but throughout history, powerful nations have conquered their neighbors: sometimes they're nice, sometimes they take advantage of the place. This is known as imperialism, the extension of power to a new area, and it happened during the 19th century until almost all the world was claimed by one power or another.
Imperialism didn't start off in the 19th century—remember all the history lessons about how the 13 Colonies rebelled against the British king? By 1800, however, Europe had much more advanced technology than the rest of the world. What's more, their economies had become very large and very complicated, making it necessary to get new resources from new places. Finally, Europeans thought that they had a duty to bring their culture to 'uncivilized' places.
Some of the first and most important imperialism took place in India. By the early 1800s, the British East India Company had control of much of India, and by 1842 the entire area had passed to control of the British royals. India was considered 'the jewel in the crown' because there were so many people and so many riches like tea, spices, and cotton.
Imperialism in China
Europeans wanted a lot of goods from China, including silk, porcelain, and tea. China, however, really didn't want much of anything to do with the rest of the world and kept all outsiders away. Europeans came up with a solution: sell the Chinese opium, a drug, so that they would become addicted and want more. This led to the Opium Wars between China and European powers, who forced China to stay open and keep trading.
Europeans signed treaties with China to keep their trade open and take over certain parts of the country, like the port city of Hong Kong. These are considered 'Unequal Treaties' by the Chinese since they were agreed to by force instead of freely.
Scramble for Africa
Africa was the last part of the world that came into European imperialism, but by the end of the 19th century almost the entire continent was under the control of one of the several different European powers. Europeans had traded slaves from Africa for centuries, but by the 1800s wanted to take control of the area instead of just trading there. However, this happened somewhat quickly in the late 1800s, leading to the term 'Scramble for Africa.' New technology allowed Europeans to take over Africa and then begin to build their own cities, such as Johannesburg in South Africa.
Legacies of Imperialism
While European imperialism mostly came to an end about fifty years ago, it continues to influence the world. Many of the countries in Africa, Asia, the Americas, and the Middle East exist as they are because they were former European colonies. This has created some problems: Europeans drew up boundary lines as they desired, sometimes putting enemies in the same place or leaving out peoples altogether, leading to fighting after independence.
Europe controlled much of the rest of the world during the 19th century under their imperialist rule. With superior technology and economics, Europeans could conquer areas like India, China, and Africa. Today, some former nations struggle to find peace due to European rule.
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