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British Empire in India and the Far East Essay (Critical Writing)


Introduction

The British Empire in India has been described as one of the most remarkable stories of the 19th century. At the onset of the 20th century, the British Empire was rapidly extended to the Far East embracing Burma, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and up to China. Several authors have opined about the rise and fall of the empire in Asia plus the motives and tactics used to conquer, with some portraying a pro-British perspective while others are anti-British.

British Rule in India

Although the pre-eminence of the British Empire in the 19th and 20th centuries has been well document, Ashman (1997) argues that their conquest to the East, particularly India was merely for economic exploitation. Ashman reveals how the British devastated Indian culture and wealth by fanning sectarian rivalries between the Hindu, Muslim and Sikhs.

The company’s was at its peak when it conquered the Bengal Empire in India and hence managed to control the trade to Asia. Ashman views echoes those earlier expressed by Hyndman (1907) who decried the ruinous nature of the British colonial rule in India that was contrary to the then often stated objective of civilising the native backward inhabitants (Schmidt, 2004).

Travers (2007) has however outlined a more neutral position, depicting how the British through the East India Company attempted to legitimise their conquest and plunders in India via ‘an empire of constitutional restoration’ (p. 207)

The British through intellectual discourse argued that they wanted to revive the ancient Mughal constitution that had a more centralised government as opposed to the recently toppled Bengal regional enclave chieftains that were leading to incessant regional and sectarian warfare. Travers thus deplores this hypocrisy asserting that ‘the contested history of the ancient Mughal constitution cannot be used to support a theory of continuity at the level of political discourse’ (p. 250).

The British rule in India as practised by the East India Company is more explicitly recorded by Ogborn (2008) who conversely from normal narrations of the expansive empire traces the correspondence between the Company officials in India and other colonies to their London offices.

Ogborn offers a fresh perspective of how the communication lines were maintained as well as the real proceedings behind the scenes in the corridors of power with topography and script being of great import in sustaining the British Empire. He exposes the diversity, frailty, and elasticity of writings on manuscript revealing how colonial authority was both manifested and defied through the multifarious circuitry of printed prose.

According to Ferguson (2002), the British rule in India as in most of its other colonies in Asia and Africa were more about wealth acquisition and grandeur of power over their European rivals. India and the Far East thus offered them vast opportunities to engage in legitimate trade as they sought cheap raw materials from the new frontiers.

The author thus demonstrates a less romantic view of the British rule in India and the colonies as most conventional authors illustrated a more paternalistic prose that sought to depict the Europeans as bringing civilisation to decadent territories.

Calls for Self-rule

Cody (1999) traces the emergence of British imperialism to the East to its mercantile trade decline in the late 19th century when the abolition of slavery and the labialisation of trade that greatly diminished its wealth. There were pretensions at legitimising the colonisation of these territories. Cody however argues that despite the British government terming them as economic burdens, they were more about ventures for wealth.

Cody outlines how the fiscal weight of the two world wars and the growing clamour for self rule led to disenchantment with the colonies. Cody however argues that though the British incursion in Asia was unable to culturally subdue traditional customs and religious. Nonetheless, the English language was spread despite the failures in spreading Christianity and other Western traits.

Marshall (2001) nevertheless continued on the themes popular with conventional historians portraying a benign colonial rule aimed at uplifting the local inhabitants. Marshall attempts to illustrate how the British were not merely plundering the foreign lands but also reinvesting there but he only gives examples of those regions controlled by the Europeans.

He however admits that the British rule was violent and that they ‘retained a disproportionately large share of the trade and investment in its own colonies’ (p. 110). Although subtle, Marshall nevertheless retains the same paternalistic attitude arguing that everywhere the British ruled, there landmark majestic colonial structures.

Marshall insists that prior to 20th century democratic liberalisation, no government could be termed as ‘accountable to the wishes of those they ruled’ (p. 370) though he neglects to mention the American and French revolutions that ushered modern era democracies.

British Ventures in the Far East

According to Ogborn (2008) the entry of the British in India and the Far East marked a new direction as the piracy era against Spanish ships in the Atlantic was abandoned as noted by Ferguson (2002). As these authors have established, colonial ventures were then initiated proving more lucrative.

Supporting this Ashman (1997) notes that the abolition of slavery in the early 19th century also made India vital by providing alternative cheap labour for the British. The craving for tea and chinaware from China and for spices and indigo from India inspired the British and other Europeans to venture there.

Singapore and Malaysia

Ferguson (2002) also describes how the British established one of the largest trading ports in Asia in Singapore while the flourishing Malayan rubber and tin business ensured booming trade. Ceylon, Burma, Thailand along with other smaller islands was also added to the British Empire by the East India Company though these territories were self-governing.

China and Japan

A review of a letter Wang (2010) to the British monarch Queen Elizabeth 1 sent by Commissioner Lin Zexu after directions from China’s Emperor Daoguang reveals the extent of the rebellion against the British. Wang (2010) illustrates why Britain fought the Opium Wars (1834 and 1860) against the Qing Dynasty with tacit support of Japan over the illegal drug trade and addiction which was abhorred by the Chinese. The profit motive is again characteristic of the colonisers who destroyed local cultures and economies to enrich themselves.

Conclusion

The British Empire was thus at its pinnacle during the Victorian era with India the ultimate prize. Majority of the authors reviewed concur that private motives and grandiose colonial ambitions were the major motivating factors in the expansion.

However Britain was enable to sustain its grip on India and other Far East colonies in the post-WWII due to the cost of the war and violent agitation for self-rule within the territories. Motivated by need to exploit the regions and grandiose colonial aspirations, Britain was at its peak the most powerful nation in the world.

List of References

Ashman, S. (1997). India: Imperialism, Partition and Resistance. International Socialism Journal, Issue 77.

Cody, D. (1999). . Web.

Marshall, Peter J. (2001). Cambridge Illustrated History of the British Empire. Race and Class, 38, 4: 89-101.

Ogborn, M. (2008). Indian Ink. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Travers, R. (2007). Ideology and Empire in Eighteenth-Century India: the British in Bengal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schmidt, T. (2004). , vol. 16. Web.

Travers, R. (2007). Ideology and Empire in Eighteenth-Century India: the British in Bengal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wang, E. (2010). Document Analysis:”Moral Advice to Queen Victoria”. In L. Zexu, Lin Zexu’s Letter to Queen Victoria. . Web.

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IvyPanda. (2019, July 11). British Empire in India and the Far East. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/british-empire-in-india-and-the-far-east-critical-writing/

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"British Empire in India and the Far East." IvyPanda, 11 July 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/british-empire-in-india-and-the-far-east-critical-writing/.

1. IvyPanda. "British Empire in India and the Far East." July 11, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/british-empire-in-india-and-the-far-east-critical-writing/.


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IvyPanda. "British Empire in India and the Far East." July 11, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/british-empire-in-india-and-the-far-east-critical-writing/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "British Empire in India and the Far East." July 11, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/british-empire-in-india-and-the-far-east-critical-writing/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'British Empire in India and the Far East'. 11 July.

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