2 minute read

Empire and Imperialism

AsiaImperialism Reconsidered

We still lack a historical perspective from which to make a judgment on these contemporary forms of American imperialism. On the other hand, there is some general understanding on the nature of empire and imperialism as they were practiced in the recent past. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the European transoceanic empires that voyaged to Asia, first the Portuguese and the Dutch and then the British, appear to have contributed to the expansion of international trade and the flow of capital, while the Asian ones remained land-bound. From the late eighteenth century on, control over the market took over as the dominant goal, and the empires of modern Europe, led by the British, rode roughshod over all the Asian powers in demanding territory, capital, and material resources, and in unfair trade practices so that Western imperialism became a tool for political subjugation and economic exploitation, designed to maximize the surplus value produced by those under its control. Colonial rule, as in India and parts of urban China, also led to cultural dependency.

However, not all imperialistic imports were bad. Western science and technology, education, modern industry, and political and social organization and theories promoted reforms and modernization in Asia. They also brought in investment and modern management. Indeed, among many Western liberal economists from Adam Smith onward, there is a different—though not contradictory—assessment that European imperialists' demands for preferential treatment distorted the free market forces so that in the long run, their use of imperialism represented a coercive integration of the world economy that would not benefit their own economy, while their investments in Asia as well as their expenses in defending their Asian empires became added burdens that in the end produced negative returns.


Beasley, W. G. Japanese Imperialism, 1894–1945. Oxford and New York: Clarendon, 1987.

Chaudhuri, K. N. The Trading World of Asia and the English East India Company, 1600–1760. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1978.

Cohen, Warren I. East Asia at the Center: Four Thousand Years of Engagement with the World. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.

Embree, Ainslie T., and Carol Gluck, eds. Asia in Western and World History: A Guide for Teaching. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1997.

Fairbank, John K., ed. The Chinese World Order: Traditional China's Foreign Relations. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968.

Frank, Andre Gunder. ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Goldstone, Jack A. Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

Hobsbaum, Eric J. Industry and Empire: An Economic History of Britain Since 1750. Reprint, London: Penguin, 1975.

Marks, Robert B. The Origins of the Modern World: A Global and Ecological Narrative. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002

Pomeranz, Kenneth. The Great Divergence: China, Europe and the Making of the Modern World Economy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Wong, R. Bin. China Transformed: Historical Change and the Limits of European Experience. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1997.

Wellington K. K. Chang

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Electrophoresis (cataphoresis) to EphemeralEmpire and Imperialism - Asia - Imperialism And Market, Impact On China, Varieties Of Imperialism In The Twentieth Century, Imperialism Reconsidered