The economic requirements
The economic requirements of Britain to sustain an industrialized economy were important in the causation for imperial expansion in China. Specifically, China has a massive population, therefore is a large potential market that provides vast economic gains. In addition, China had raw materials, like tea, silks, porcelain and spices, which were not available in Europe. Ultimately, ‘good’ relations enabled the attainment of raw materials to produce manufactured merchandise and new markets. However, good relations were hard to obtain.
Due to Britain’s Industrial Revolution, new technological advances came about, thus increasing efficiency of weaponry. At that time, Britain had the most powerful navy in the world. This superiority gave Britain the extra confidence to advance into China. Britain fought wars to secure trading privileges in this area. The Opium Wars (1839-1842, 1856-1858) were a series of intense battles fought primarily over free commerce. The wars resulted in the surrender of Hong Kong and other treaty ports on Chinese soil.
By the end of the 19th Century, other nations, like Germany, Russia, Japan, and the United Stated had all wanted trading ports in China to maintain their industrialized economy. Russia controlled Manchuria and Port Arthur, Japan in Korea and Germany was in the Shantung peninsula. Overall, the results of the Opium Wars further confirmed Britain’s core motives for imperial expansion in China. Britain’s motives are summed up in a British slogan, ‘Trade not Rule’. Furthermore, the excessive colonization of weaker countries was a symbol of power and prestige, thus increasing Britain’s motives for further expansion.
However, Britain’s motives began to change. The Opium Wars and the unequal treaties China unwillingly signed, displayed Britain’s contentment to hold a few ports and to dominate China commercially. After the Opium Wars, Britain gradually began to introduce social and religious reforms, due to their increased racial superiority. Examples of the reforms imposed on China are referred to in earlier paragraphs. In a nutshell, this illustrates how Britain’s motives changed overtime.
Initially, Britain’s motives were to gain territory and trade, however with time, they then attempted to change the Chinese way of life (i. e. religion; from Confucian to Christianity) Chinese harbors were considered as reliable stations for coal refueling. These stations were vital to the operation of a powerful navy. Moreover, there were other strategic justifications to why European powers desired control over specific Chinese territories. For example, Japan and Russia conveyed immense interest in Korea because it had valuable mineral resources and Korea had access to Manchuria.
Russia was also interested in Port Arthur because it gave them an ice-free port in the Winter. Overall, strategic positions in China were motives for imperial expansion in this area. To conclude, there were numerous motives behind imperial expansion in China. Feelings of nationalism and superiority evoked Britain’s obligation to help inferior China become a dominant, ‘civilized’ nation. In addition, China’s abundance of raw materials (i. e. silk and tea), its strategic ports and huge potential market intrigued Britain to want to gain these economic advantages.