British Empire





British Colonies in Asia
 Bahrain  India  Oman  Sri Lanka (Ceylon)
 Bangladesh  Iraq  Pakistan  UAE (Trucial Oman)
 Borneo  Jordan  Palestine  Yemen (Aden)
 Burma  Kuwait  Qatar  
 Hong Kong  Malaya  Sarawak  

French Colonies






Netherlands Colonies


 West Irian (West Papua)

Spanish Colonies


Portuguese Colonies

East Timor



Were the Ottoman territories colonies?
The Arabs, ruled by Turks, came to believe the Ottoman territories now called Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Yemen were an imposition rather than a universal Muslim Empire (the Caliphate - Khilafah) that they may have seen it as earlier.

There have been European colonies in much of Asia.

The first Europeans to exert power in Asia were the Portuguese who sailed round southern Africa in search of the trade goods of the east: pepper, cloves, silk. When they reached the coast of India and the islands further east they found their weapons technology and lack of moral scruples gave them an advantage over the local regimes they found. They began to occupy ports, such as Goa in India and towns in Indonesia.

The Portuguese were imitated by the Dutch, the French and the British. From the 17th century onwards all these began to occupy land away from the coasts. The Dutch controlled the whole of Sri Lanka (though with an arms length administration) and displaced the Portuguese in Indonesia.

On land, the Russians extended their power across northern and Central Asia from the 16th century. By the end of the 19th century they occupied the historic centers of Islamic culture such as Bokhara, Tashkent and Samarqand and reached the Pacific, occupying land some of which has in the past been claimed by China.

From the 17th century the British began a gradual occupation of India from bridgeheads in Bombay (now Mumbai) Madras (Chennai) and Calcutta (Kolkata). They fought off the French who were trying the same policy but who were eventually confined to a small colony at Pondicherry.

In the 19th century the French occupied Indochina. By the end of the 19th century only Japan, Thailand, Iran and Afghanistan had no European occupier.

Japan was profoundly affected by an American expedition which did not occupy the country but provoked the Japanese into rapidly imitating the European scientific and technological culture. Japan went on to colonize Korea and Taiwan and Manchuria. The eastern part of the second world war was mainly the result of Japan's attempted occupation of Manchuria, China and South East Asia to form an empire they called the "Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere".

Iran was not occupied by Europeans but by the early 20th century was so weakened that its government was under the influence of the Russians and the British who agreed on "Spheres of Influence" which almost partitioned the country.

China was not occupied, except for Hong Kong, Macao and Port Arthur (Dairen) which were designated Treaty Ports. In other parts of the country Europeans secured immunity (extra- territoriality) from the local courts so that they were to be tried by the courts conducted by their own Consuls. The governments of China, both in the last years of the old Empire, and during the period of the Republic proclaimed by Sun Yat Sen, were not fully in control of the country, and had conceded power over some government functions to foreigners by means of the Unequal Treaties (forced treaties at the barrel of a gun). These included the Opium Wars that resulted in the forced import of British opium from India, and the cession of Hong Kong. There were also the Boxer wars in which European forces put down a rebellion of nationalists against the foreign presence in China.

In the 20th century the wars fought in China by the Japanese devastated the country.

Is the occupation of Tibet by Chinese forces a colonial occupation?

The post-colonial legacy in Asia is almost as complex as in Africa and the Americas. There have been fewer disputed frontiers as in many cases the Europeans occupied traditional states. However, the state of India was largely created by the British and there are tendencies to secession among some of its peoples. British India split into several states.

The decolonization of Indochina took place only after a long war first with France, then with the United States. The Philippines has experienced the cultural changes of learning Spanish, being converted to Catholicism and then being occupied by the United States (300 years in the convent and 50 in Hollywood).

Indonesia also achieved independence only after a long war with the Netherlands. In Malaya (West Malaysia) there was a guerrilla war between the British occupiers and local Chinese Communists who probably had little support from the indigenous (non-Chinese) population.

In the Middle East the colonial legacy has been a number of states which have a public commitment to unification and blame the Europeans - French and British - for their disunity. (But no unification occurs.)

The politics of the post-colonial states have often been conditioned by the hostility to the former occupying powers. As new generations of politicians rise to power this hostility is relaxing and relations become normalized, even in Vietnam. Politicians of the former colonizing powers have also lost some of the racist condescension of the generations who administered the colonies.

The most spectacular recovery from colonisation is in China which has imitated western technical methods and now operates an economy that seems likely to outsell that of the United States.

Was colonisation a good thing? Some facts.

Last revised 30/11/08


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