How Did Power Balances Shift in the Pacific from 1793-1870s? Why?

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Colonize or Be Colonized

As the colonies of the Unites States of America were establishing a new nation, independent of British control, another region of the world was just starting to taste European influence: the Pacific. Unlike the United States, where Britain exercised complete dominance for quite some time, the powers in the Pacific shifted among various countries and regions. These shifts in power were most evident starting around 1793 and throughout most of the 19th century when European empires gradually began to expand into Far East territories in hopes of strengthening their economies off of maritime trade and establishing colonies to accommodate growing populations.

Eighteenth century China saw itself under the rule of its last imperial dynasty, the Qing Dynasty. The Chinese economy was stable and independent of foreign influence. The Qianlong Emperor, who ruled from 1735-1796, was quite successful in avoiding trade and diplomacy with the West. However, the turn of the century marked a large expansion of European powers into the Pacific and countries that were eager to set up trading routes and colonies in Asia, namely Britain, started to look toward the dominant and unsettled Chinese empire. The Chinese government did not believe trade was important and they resented Western merchants and goods. On the contrary, international conquerors, such as Britain, viewed maritime trading as the fundamental strategy to sustaining and expanding their economy.

After losing the American Colonies, Britain began a new phase of imperialism referred to as the Second Empire, most of which was established in the Pacific. A significant event in this period of British expansionism was in 1793 with the Macartney Embassy, which was a major attempt by Britain to establish a relaxed trade with China. Britain sent a delegation to China under the command of Lord George Macartney with purposes among opening trading ports in the northern cities and allowing British ships to be repaired on Chinese territory. In short, the Qianlong Emperor denied all requests and sent a harsh response to the King in which he stated, “The demands presented by your Embassy are not only a contradiction of dynastic tradition, but would be utterly unproductive of good result to yourself, besides being quite impracticable.” A large part of the Second Empire was Britain’s presence in India, which was booming at the beginning of the 19th century. At the same time, the Qing Dynasty was becoming increasingly corrupt and there was a building resentment toward the empire. The rulers were being ridiculed as foreigners because they came from Manchuria and a growing population resulted in a lack of production and famines. The British East India Company relied heavily on China for tea and the Chinese wanted silver in return. As Britain became obsessed with China’s tea, there was a fear that they did not have enough silver to pay for all the tea coming into the country. For this reason Britain started a triangular trade with India and China where they gave the Chinese opium, grown in India, as opposed to silver. Because opium is so addictive, much of the population of China became dependent on the drug and there were major efforts to ban the drug and put an end to the opium trade with Britain. China’s plea to the British government to end the opium trade launched the First Opium War in 1839, in which China was brutally defeated due to their outdated military. In the years following the war, the continued hostilities of the Chinese against the British ended up launching the Second Opium war. Britain, now allied with France, also won this war and the Chinese finally agreed to the terms of the Treaty of Tianjin in 1860 at the Peking Convention. The Chinese economy was in shambles after the opium wars and the European powers began to carve up different regions of the nation. Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and Japan were all involved in the Peking...
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