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To what extent is the description of China in the 19th century as a semi-colony justified?

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  1. The economic and commercial influence of the foreigners over China
  2. Their political, military and cultural influence
  3. The limits of the foreign domination over China

In the nineteenth century, an expansionist ideology led the industrial nations to build colonial empires throughout the world. During this century, China was confronted by these imperialist powers. They aimed to exercise their domination on the Middle Kingdom. In the Marxist thought, China in the late Qing has often been described as a semi-colony. Thus, the topic of discussion refers to what extent the description of China, in the nineteenth century, as a semi-colony can be justified. China had to reluctantly start facing the modern world in 1840 with the First Opium War that consequently led to signing the first unequal Treaty of Nanjing in 1842. Less than a hundred years later, the Qing Dynasty collapsed in the 1911 Revolution. Meanwhile, the country had endured strong pressures by the imperialist powers: starting with Great Britain, France, the United states of America, Russia and later Japan and Germany, to highlight a few. We will also discuss the manifestations and the limits of foreign domination over China?

[...] There were only few foreign merchants living in the new treaty ports opened to trade, as in Ningbo, Fuzhou or Xiamen. Only Shanghai attracted numerous Westerners[2]. British ships most lucrative activity was the transport abroad of Chinese labourers, allowed by the Emperor since the Convention of Beijing, still under foreign pressure. But finally, the new situation enabled an excessive influx of foreign goods to enter the Chinese market. Moreover, the native handicrafts couldn't compete with the Western industries, whose products were cheaper.[3] Foreign domination over the Chinese modern economy tended to grow throughout the nineteenth century. [...]


[...] During the scramble for concession following the Japanese, Great Britain obtained the promise that China would not give the Yangtze valley to any other power, thus turning the area into a British sphere of influence in which it could send its gunboats and armies[15]. France obtained a sphere of influence in the South of the country, including Guangdong, Kwangsi and Yunnan, on the border of French Indochina. Germany had its sphere in Shandong[16]. Japan was granted its own sphere of influence in Fukien, on the Chinese coast, in front of Taiwan, and conquered most of the Russian sphere in the North of China after the war of 1904-5. [...]


[...] The limits of foreign domination in China may justify the country being dubbed as semi-colony rather than a colony. First, the foreigners' physical presence in China was quite limited. Except for the missionaries, they stayed essentially in the Treaty port cities within their concession areas, which were only a small part of the wide Chinese territory. Foreign merchants preferred to rely on Chinese intermediaries, the compradores, to carry on the trade in the countryside. These compradores worked with the foreigners in their enterprises, and with the capital they had earned they were likely to create their own native enterprises, based on the Western pattern[12]. [...]

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