chapter  4
46 Pages

Empires of Freedom: The Modern Imperial and Social State in Asia, 1731–1991

It is not hard to find “typical” empires in modern East or Central Asia. New Zealand and Australia developed into settler colonies, to the detriment of Maoris and other aboriginal groups; much of New Guinea was grabbed by Germany, Britain, and the Netherlands; and after 1870 the Dutch greatly expanded their colonial system in Indonesia, based unapologetically on force and direct, intrusive control. As in Africa, new technologies like steamboats, machine guns, and anti-malaria drugs enabled (but did not cause) such conquests, making it easier to crush rebellions in Bali and Aceh. These empires remained globally interconnected: African troops from Senegal, for example, protected French colonies in Indochina. In some cases intervention led to indirect forms of control: China retained at least its nominal sovereignty, but following defeat in two “Opium Wars,” the Qing emperor faced economic and military threats as outside powers forced his government to sign a series of unequal treaties. (But ironies abound: China also conquered a western empire of its own in Central Asia.) Other than Japan, only Thailand among these Asian states managed to play Europeans against one another to protect most of its territory and independence.