Examine the conditions favoring the imperialist conquest of Asia and Africa in the 18th and the 19th Century? (250 W/ 15 M)

Mentors Comment:

The discussion is given in Old NCERT world history and its quite a common theme for discussion.

To score better, discuss the points as to why Asia and Africa were chosen as the places by imperialist forces. Access to raw materials and easy markets, cheap labour, investment opportunities, increased nationalism with military chauvirinity, role of modern modes of communication bridging the distances, missionaries trying to spread christianity in new areas etc are some of the  points which you can discuss.

Discuss the backwardness of these nations, idea of transforming these areas into markets for the finished products from Europe, weak political structure, displaced loyalties of natives,  lack of modern army etc.



Model Answer :

Imperialism means the practice of extending the power, control or rule by a country over the political and economic life of areas outside its own borders. This may be done through military or other means, and particularly through ‘colonialism’ or the practice of acquiring colonies by conquest or other means and making them dependent. Most countries of Asia, including India, and Africa, and many other parts of the world were until recent years under the control of one imperialist country or another.

Why Asia and Africa?

  • European countries could find markets for their surplus goods in Asia and Africa where the Industrial Revolution had not taken place. Selling was made easier through political domination of these areas.
  • With political and military domination, each country could protect its market from other European rivals and also eliminate any competition from goods produced locally.
  • European countries needed new sources of raw materials. Asia and Africa were perfect place to get these raw materials.
  • The abundance of raw materials in Asia and Africa, and the number of people who could be made to work for lower wages made the two continents very attractive to investors.
  • Steamships could carry goods between home countries in Europe and the acquired territories in Asia and Africa much faster than old sailing vessels.
  • Nationalism in the late nineteenth century came to be associated with chauvinism Many nations developed myths of their superiority over other peoples. Imperialist countries took over some places in Asia and Africa because of their military or strategic importance.
  • Christian missionaries, dedicated to spreading Christianity, also played their part in promoting the idea of imperialism. Imperialist nations considered it their nation’s destiny to civilize and Christianize the peoples of Asia and Africa.
  • Explorers and adventurers helped in spreading imperialism. They went into unknown or little known territories and brought back reports that often indicated opportunities for trade and development.

There were many conditions that helped imperialist conquest of Asia and Africa in the 18th and 19th Century:

  • The most important condition favouring the imperialist conquest of Asia and Africa was that the Industrial Revolution had not come to this part of the world.
  • The craftsmen produced goods of fine quality that Westerners admired and desired. But they relied entirely on hand tools which meant production on a small scale
  • In comparison with the production of Western countries in the nineteenth century, Asian and African methods were backward.
  • Also, because of the lack of knowledge that the Industrial Revolution had brought to the West, the two continents were militarily unable to stand up to the armed might and power of Europe.
  • The governments of the countries of Asia and Africa were very weak in the nineteenth century, though in ancient and medieval times powerful empires had existed there.
  • In the nineteenth century, the old ways of governing were still followed, even though they had outlived their usefulness.
  • Strong nationstates in the modern sense had not developed.
  • The people’s loyalties were still to local princes as in feudal times, or to tribal chieftains. These rulers cared little for the welfare of the people.
  • These conditions help to explain how small bands of Westerners succeeded in gaining power and, finally, with the backing of their governments, in conquering entire countries.

By 1914, almost all parts of the non-industrialized Asia and Africa had come under or indirect control of a few industrialized countries. Most countries of Asia had lost their political freedom and were ruled by one or other country. The economies of all countries as well as of those which were politically independent were controlled by imperialist countries to serve rests. The imperialist countries took full advantage of these conditions and easily justified any and every conquest that served their interests. In fact, the more powerful nations made imperialism seem necessary and natural.


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