Imperialism: Crash Course World History #35

Uploaded by crashcourse on 20.09.2012

Hi, I’m John Green
this is Crash Course World History
and today we’re going to 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 means lows.
Or possibly heights.
I don’t know.
I can’t decide.
Roll the intro while I think about it...
[Intro music]
[intro music]
[intro music]
[intro music]
[intro music]
[intro music]
[intro 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 as 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 McCartney 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:
Hitherto, all European nations, including your
own country's barbarian merchants, [yowser]
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:
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.
[you think?]
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. [opium: not a productivity aid]
Commissioner Lin Zexu drafted a response
that contained a memorable threat to cut off trade in “Rhubarb, tea and silk…
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. [newsflash in any era]
So the Chinese made like tea partiers, [tri-corn hats and all?]
confiscating a bunch of British opium and chucking it into the sea.
[This is sounding like a Hunter S. Thompson hallucination…]
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.
[response: "Yeuup."]
Chinese General Yijing made a counterattack in 1842 that included
a detailed plan to catapult flaming monkeys onto British ships—
apparently the plans 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.
[Imolated Marmoset???]
sometimes I feel like I should give up teaching World History
and just become a band name generator. That’s my real gift.
[Seriously, don't quit your day job.]
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 $2 billion 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.
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 19th century imperialism,
we usually think about the way that Europe turned Africa from this into this,
the so-called Scramble for Africa.
Speaking of scrambles and the European colonization of Africa,
you know what they say,
sometimes to make an omelet, you’ve gotta break a few eggs.
And then sometimes,
you break a lot of eggs and you don’t get an omelet.
[that's a downer of a saying]
Europeans had been involved in Africa since the 16th century when
the Portuguese used their cannons to take control of cities on coasts
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.
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:
Nationalism played its part, of course:
European states saw it as a real bonus to be able to 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 the 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. [Disease: History's Frenemy]
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?
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 anti-malarial 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? [king triumphantly re-throned]
And my chair is back! [must've been in shock last week, eh?]
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. [Best Wishes, John Green?]
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. [sick burn]
First off, you’re a possible bigamist.
I have a longstanding opposition to bigamy.
[quite a bold proclamation there, pal]
you were born an American but then 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
Alright 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 three millenia.
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. [we missed you, Mongoltage] [Triumphant return #2: best week ever!]
It is 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 1000 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 the 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, [No John! Think Sister, Sister twins!]
because the Maori were kick-ass fighters [and tattooists]
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.
The European-style ruler 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.
[get it? huh, do you?]
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 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. [vengeance is imminent]
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.
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Speaking of which,
as we say in my hometown,
don’t forget All Persons, Living and Dead, are Purely Coincidental.