Imperialism: Crash Course World History #35


Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course World
History, and today we’re gonna discuss 19th century imperialism. So the 19th century certainly
didn’t invent the empire, but it did take it to new heights, by which we mean lows,
or possibly heights, I dunno, I can’t decide, roll the intro while I think about it. [theme music] Yeah, I don’t know, I’m still undecided. Let’s
begin with China! When last we checked in, China was a thriving manufacturing power,
about to be overtaken by Europe, but still heavily involved in world trade, especially
an importer of silver from the Spanish empire. Europeans had to use silver because they didn’t
really produce anything else the Chinese wanted, and that state of affairs continued through
the 18th century. For example, in 1793, the Macartney Mission tried to get better trade
conditions with China and was a total failure. Here’s the Qianlong Emperor’s well known response
to the British: “Hither to all European nations including your own country’s barbarian merchants
have carried on their trade with our celestial empire at Canton. Such has been the procedure
for many years, although our celestial empire possesses all things in prolific abundance
and lacks no product within its own borders.” But then Europeans, especially the British,
found something that the Chinese would buy: opium. By the 1830s, British free trade policy
unleashed a flood of opium in China, which threatened China’s favorable balance of trade.
It also created a lot of drug addicts. And then in 1839 the Chinese responded to
what they saw as these unfair trade practices with…a stern letter that they never actually
sent. Commissioner Lin Zexu drafted a response that contained a memorable threat to “cut
off trade in rhubarb, silk, and tea, all valuable products of ours without which foreigners
could not live.” But even if the British had received this
terrifying threat to their precious rhubarb supply, they probably wouldn’t have responded
because selling drugs is super lucrative. So the Chinese made like tea partiers, confiscating
a bunch of British opium and chucking it into the sea. And then the British responded to
this by demanding compensation, and access to Chinese territory where they could carry
out their trade. And then the Chinese were like, “Man that
seems a little bit harsh,” whereupon the British sent in gunships, opening trade with Canton
by force. Chinese General Yijing made a counter attack
in 1842 that included a detailed plan to catapult flaming monkeys onto British ships. Stan,
is that true? All right, apparently the plans actually involved
strapping fireworks to monkeys’ backs and were never carried out, but still! Slightly off topic: obviously I don’t want
anyone to light monkeys on fire. I’m just saying that flaming monkeys lend themselves
to a lot of great band names, like the Sizzling Simians, Burning Bonobos, Immolated Marmoset…Stan,
sometimes I feel like I should give up teaching world history and just become a band name
generator. That’s my real gift. Anyway, due to lack of monkey fireworks, the
Chinese counterattacks were unsuccessful, and they eventually signed the treaty of Nanjing,
which stated that Britain got Hong Kong and five other treaty ports, as well as the equivalent
of two billion dollars in cash. Also, the Chinese basically gave up all sovereignty
to European spheres of influence, wherein Europeans were subject to their laws, not
Chinese laws. In exchange for all of this, China got a hot
slice of nothing. You might think the result of this war would be a shift in the balance
of trade in Britain’s favor, but that wasn’t immediately the case. In fact, the British
were importing so much tea from China that the trade deficit actually rose more than
30 billion dollars. But eventually after another war and one of
the most destructive civil rebellions in Chinese and possibly world history, the Taiping Rebellion,
the situation was reversed, and Europeans, especially the British, became the dominant
economic power in China. Okay. So but when we think about the 19th
century imperialism, we usually think about the way that Europe turned Africa from this
[map] into this [map], the so-called scramble for Africa. Speaking of scrambles and the
European colonization of Africa, you know what they say–sometimes to make an omelette,
you have to break a few eggs. And sometimes, you break a lot of eggs and you don’t get
an omelette. Europeans have been involved in Africa since
the 16th century, when the Portuguese used their cannons to take control of cities on
coast to set up their trading post empire, but in the second half of the 19th century,
Europe suddenly and spectacularly succeeded at colonizing basically all of Africa. Why? Well, the biggest reason that Europeans were
able to extend their grasp over so much of the world was the same reason they wanted
to do so in the first place: industrialization. Nationalism played its part, of course. European
states saw it as a real bonus to be able say that they had colonies–so much so, that a
children’s rhyme in An ABC for Baby Patriots went, “C is for colonies. Rightly we boast.
That of all great countries Great Britain has the most.” But it was mostly, not to get all Marxist
on you or anything, about controlling the means of production. Europeans wanted colonies
to secure sources of raw materials, especially cotton, copper, iron, and rubber, that were
used to fuel their growing industrial economies. And in addition to providing the motive for
imperialism, European industrialization also provided the means. Europeans didn’t fail
to take over territory in Africa until the late 19th century because they didn’t want to; they failed
because they couldn’t. This was mostly due to disease. Unlike in the Americas, Africans weren’t devastated
by diseases like smallpox because they’d had smallpox for centuries and were just as immune
to it as Europeans were. Not only that, but Africa had diseases of its own, including
yellow fever, malaria, and sleeping sickness, all of which killed Europeans in staggering
numbers. Also, nagana was a disease endemic to Africa
that killed horses, which made it difficult for Europeans to take advantage of African
grasslands, and also difficult for them to get inland, because their horses would die
as they tried to carry stuff. Also, while in the 16th century Europeans
did have guns, they were pretty useless, especially without horses. So most fighting was done
the old-fashioned way, with swords. That worked pretty well in the Americas, unless you were
the Incas or the Aztecs, but it didn’t work in Africa, because the Africans also had swords.
And spears, and axes. So as much as they might have wanted to colonize
Africa in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, Africa’s mosquitoes, microbes, and people
were too much for them. So what made the difference? Technology. First, steam ships made it possible for Europeans
to travel inland, bringing supplies and personnel via Africa’s navigable rivers. No horses?
No problem. Even more important was quinine medicine,
sometimes in the form of tonic water, mixed into refreshing quintessentially British gin
and tonics. Quinine isn’t as effective as modern antimalarial medication, and it doesn’t
cure the disease, but it does help moderate its effects. But of course the most important technology
that enabled Europeans to dominate Africa was guns. By the 19th century, European gun
technology had improved dramatically, especially with the introduction of the Maxim machine
gun, which allowed Europeans to wipe out Africans in battle after battle. Of course, machine
guns were effective when wielded by Africans, too, but Africans had fewer of them. Oh, it’s time for the open letter? And my
chair is back! An open letter to Hiram Maxim. But first, let’s
see what’s in the secret compartment today. Oh, it’s Darth Vader! What a great
reminder of imperialism. Dear Hiram Maxim, I hate you. It’s not so
much that you invented the Maxim machine gun, although obviously that’s a little bit problematic,
or even that you look like the poor man’s Colonel Sanders. First off, you’re a possible
bigamist. I have a long standing opposition to bigamy. Secondly, you were born an American
but became a Brit, thereby metaphorically machine gunning our founding fathers. But
most importantly, among your many inventions was the successful amusement park ride, the
Captive Flying Machine. Mr. Maxim, I hate the Captive Flying Machine. The Captive Flying
Machine has resulted in many a girlfriend telling me that I’m a coward. I’m not a coward,
I just don’t want to die up there! It’s all your fault, Hiram Maxim, and nobody
believes your story about the light bulb. Best wishes, John Green. All right. So, here is something that often
gets overlooked. European imperialism involved a lot of fighting and a lot of dying. And
when we say that Europe came to dominate Africa, for the most part that domination came through
wars, which killed lots of Africans and also lots of Europeans, although most of them died
from disease. It’s very, very important to remember that Africans did not meekly acquiesce
to European hegemony: they resisted, often violently, but ultimately they were defeated
by a technologically superior enemy. In this respect, they were a lot like the
Chinese, and also the Indians, and the Vietnamese, and — you get the picture. So by the end of the 19th century, most of
Africa and much of Asia had been colonized by European powers. I mean, even Belgium got in on it,
and they weren’t even a country at the beginning of the 19th century. I mean, Belgium has enjoyed
like, 12 years of sovereignty in the last 3 millennia. Notable exceptions include Japan, which was
happily pursuing its own imperialism, Thailand, Iran, and of course Afghanistan. Because no
one can conquer Afghanistan, unless you are — wait for it — the Mongols.
[Mongoltage] It’s tempting to imagine Europe ruling their
colonies with the proverbial topaz fist, and while there was always the threat of violence, the truth is a
lot more complicated. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble. In most cases, Europeans ruled their colonies
with the help of, and sometimes completely through, intermediaries and collaborators.
For example, in the 1890s in India, there were fewer than 1,000 British administrators
supposedly ruling over 300 million Indians. The vast majority of British troops at any
given time in India, more than two-thirds, were in fact Indians under the command of
British officers. Because of their small numbers relative to local
populations, most European colonizers resorted to indirect rule, relying on governments that were
already there but exerting control over their leaders. Frederick Lugard, who was Britain’s head honcho
in Nigeria for a time, called this “rule through and by the natives.” This worked particularly
well with British administrators, who were primarily middle class men but had aristocratic
pretensions, and were often pleased to associate with the highest echelons of Indian or African
society. Now, this isn’t to say that indigenous rulers
were simply puppets. Often, they retained real power. This was certainly true in India,
where more than a third of the territory was ruled by Indian princes. The French protectorates
of Morocco and Tunisia were ruled by Arab monarchs, and the French also ruled through
native kings in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. For the most part, Europeans could almost
always rely on their superior military technology to coerce local rulers into doing what the
Europeans wanted. And they could replace native officials with Europeans if they had to. But
in general, they preferred to rule indirectly. It was easier and cheaper. Also, less malaria.
Thanks, Thought Bubble. So while we can’t know why all native princes
who ruled in the context of European imperialism put up with it, we can make some pretty good
guesses. First of all, they were still rulers. They got to keep their prestige and their
fancy hats, and to some extent their power. Many were also able to gain advantages through
their service, like access to European education for themselves and for their children. Mahatma
Gandhi, for instance, was the son of an Indian high official, which made it possible for
him to study law in England. And we can’t overlook the sheer practicality
of it. The alternative was to resist, and that usually didn’t work out well. I’m reminded
of the famous couplet, “Whatever happens, we have got the Maxim gun, and they have not.” But even with this enormous technological
advantage, it wasn’t always easy. For example, it took 25 years, from 1845 to 1870, for the
British to fully defeat the Maori on New Zealand because the Maori were kick-ass fighters who
had mastered musketry and defensive warfare. And I will remind you, it is not cursing if
you’re talking about donkeys. In fact, it took them being outnumbered three-to-one
with the arrival of 750,000 settlers for the Maori to finally capitulate. And I will remind you that the
rule against splitting infinitives is not an actual rule. Those of you more familiar with U.S. history
might notice a parallel between the Maori and some of the Native American tribes, like the
Apaches and the Lakota, a good reminder that the United States did some imperial expansion of its own
as part of its nationalizing project in the 19th century. But back to Africa. Sometimes African rulers
were so good at adapting European technology that they were able to successfully resist
imperialism. Ethiopia’s Menelik II defeated the Italians in battle, securing not just
independence but an empire of his own. But embracing European-style modernization
could also be problematic, as Khedive Ismail of Egypt found out during his rule in the
late 19th century. He celebrated his imperial success by commissioning an opera, Giuseppe
Verdi’s Aida, for the opening of the Cairo Opera House in 1871. Giuseppe Verdi, by the
way — no relation to John Green. And Ismail had ambitions of extending Egypt’s
control up the Nile, west toward Lake Chad. But to do that, he needed money, and that’s
where he got into trouble. His borrowing bankrupted Egypt and led to Britain’s taking control
over the country’s finances and its shares in the Suez Canal that Ismail had built, with
French engineers and French capital, in 1869. The British sent in 1,300 bureaucrats to fix
Egypt’s finances, an invasion of red tape that led to a nationalist uprising, which
brought on a full-scale British intervention after 1881 in order to protect British interests. This business imperialism, as it is sometimes
known, is really at the heart of the imperialistic impulse. Industrialized nations push economic
integration upon developing nations, and then extract value from those developing nations,
just as you would from a mine or a field you owned. And here we see political history and economic
history coming together again. As western corporations grew in the latter part of the
19th century, their influence grew as well, both in their home countries and in the lands
where they were investing. But ultimately, whether the colonizer is a
business enterprise or a political one, the complicated legacy of imperialism survives.
It’s why your bananas are cheap, why your call centers are Indian, why your chocolate comes
from Africa, and why everything else comes from China. These imperialistic adventures may have only
lasted a century, but it was the century in which the world as we know it today began
to take shape. Thanks for watching. I’ll see you next week. Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan
Muller, our script supervisor is Danica Johnson, the show is written by my high school history
teacher Raoul Meyer and myself, and our graphics team is Thought Bubble. Oh, our intern! I’m
sorry, Meredith the Intern. Our intern is Meredith Danko. Last week’s Phrase of the Week was “homogeneous
mythologized unitary polity.” Thank you for that suggestion. If you want to guess this
week’s Phrase of the Week or suggest future ones, you can do so in comments, where you
can also ask questions about today’s video that will be answered by our team of historians. Thanks for watching Crash Course. Remember,
you can get this shirt, the Mongol shirt, or our poster at dftba.com. Speaking of which, as
we say in my hometown, “Don’t Forget to be Awesome.”

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