semi-colonialism in China

Topics: History of China, Qing Dynasty, Han Chinese Pages: 13 (3465 words) Published: September 22, 2014
First publ. in: Imperialism and After: continuities and discontinuities / ed. by Wolfgang J. Mommsen ... London: Allen & Unwin, 1986, pp. 290-314
291

Semi-Colonialism and
Informal Empire in
Twentieth-Century
China: Towards a
Framework of Analysis
JORGEN OSTERHAMMEL
Historians studying colonialism in a comparative perspective would be well advised not to neglect modern East Asia. The case of Japanese-dominated Manchuria from 1931 to 1945 provides an almost unique example of largescale industrial development under colonial rule,l whereas the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong embodies a special type of 'peripheral capitalism' flourishing under a free-trade regime. 2 The eighteen provinces that form China proper were, of course, never subjected to alien domination. China by and large maintained its own currencies, conducted its own foreign affairs and received recognition as a sovereign member of the international community. It was even elevated to the rank of one of the four 'big policemen' in Franklin D. Roosevell's vision of the postwar global order..1 Unlike the average colonized people which, according to David Fieldhouse, 'lost whatever collective identity it might previously have possessed·,4 the overwhelming majority of the Chinese held on to their timehonoured little traditions, while the 'modern' elites, however eagerly they emhraced Western ways of life and thought. never abandoned their native language and a cultural frame of reference which remained genuinely Chinese.

Still, China provides a most variegated assortment of historical phenomena which have been subsumed under the heading of 'imperialism' by writers of widely differing theoretical persuasions:~
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foreign territorial enclaves, other than colonies, beyond the jurisdiction and effective control of the Chinese government (leased territories, con· cessions, settlements);
extraterritoriality and consular jurisdiction which placed nationals of the treaty powers out of reach of Chinese law throughout the country; sizeable expatriate communities maintaining their own socio-cultural infrastructures;

discrimination, often with a racist tinge, against the local population in areas of foreign settlement;
foreign naval forces plying freely in China's coastal and inland waters;

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foreign troops stationed in the national capital and guarding other major concentrations of foreign property;
_ repeated forcible intervention in Chinese domestic affairs ranging from the casual deployment of a gunhoat to underscore a point made by foreign diplomacy to war-like 'punitive' expeditions;
_ the most atrociolls war for colonial suhjugation fought in modern history

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(1937-45);
infringements upon the ability of the Chinese government to implement economic and financial policies of its own (absence of tariff autonomy until 1930, monopoly clauses in the treaties, and so on);

far-reaching control over foreign trade by expatriate business houses; direct foreign investments in mining, manufacturing, transport, public utilities, and so on, in some cases leading to foreign domination of par· ticular sectors and branches of the indigenous economy;

operations of transnational corporations via their own subsidiaries; control by foreign banks over vital foreign·exchange transactions; large·scale loans, given under conditions unfavourahle to China, many of which were never applied to productive uses and whose repayment constituted a drain on national wealth;

massive indemnity obligations imposed as a result of China's military defeats;
de [acto foreign control over some of the most important revenue·collecling agencies (maritime customs, salt administration); railway construction with foreign capital, according to foreign plans and under foreign technical supervision;

foreign railway property on Chinese soil (Chinese Eastern Railway, South Manchurian Railway, Yunnan Railway);
a pattern of foreign trade whereby agricultural and...
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