British Imperialism in India

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Updated: Mar 14, 2023
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British imperialism was an event that greatly impacted both India’s past and present. British imperialism in India was able to occur because of the country’s trading system, and the weakening of the Moghuls, and British wanted to control India because, India was seen as a good source of both labor and raw materials and this was necessary for British industrialization. As stated previously British imperialism had a large, lasting effect on India. It opened India to western ideals, opened them to a greater trading market, increased tension within India, and changed the infrastructure of India.

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In 1602 the Dutch East Indian trading company was founded to allow the Dutch to set up their trading monopoly. The Dutch ending up taking Java which was later taken by the British in about 1811. In 1755 the seven years’ war occurred in India and in the American colonies. This was fought between many groups primarily British and French. Both groups spent a great amount of money on the war and sparked both the French revolution of the 1760s and the American revolution in the 1770s. In 1822 Pedro lead the Brazilians to declare freedom from Portugal and in 1825 they were independent. In 1823 the U.S. created the Monroe Doctrine to oppose European colonialism in their borders and in turn would stay out of their business. During the early 19th century China was asked to open its harbors and China refused to do so. So, in about 1839-48 the first opium war was fought between China, who then had the largest economy, and the British. The second opium war was fought in about 1856-60. This also fueled the Taiping rebellions, which caused severe disunity within china, causing the continued weakening of the already weak Qing china. In 1853 Matthew Perry arrives in Japan’s harbor and fired off a canon and requested that Japan open their ports. Fearing a loss of control and seeing the state of the once great Qing China, Japan went through a grand industrialization period. The Meiji reforms were passed removing the shoguns and samurai and making all classes equal. Creating instead; a business-based nation while still retaining Japanese traditions such as that of having an emperor. Japan soon became a technologically dominate nation. In 1861 the Russians brought about reforms which anger the army officers. The reforms freed serfs but still put Russia behind the west in technology. The population was divided and unhappy and had many revolts. Lenin tries to bring Marxism to Russia. In about 1857 the Sepoys rebelled against the British force in India, the sepoys were defeated, and the British gained full control and set up the British Raj. In 1865 the American Civil war was going on. The southern region relying on the idea that their cotton was needed by the rest of the world, king cotton diplomacy. The British and other such nations already had cotton from India and Egypt and did not aid the south. Creating a potential reason for the loss of the South and the creation of America as a slave free nation. In 1865 the Berlin Conference also occurred dividing up Africa. The British ended up in South Africa and pushed out the Dutch, Afrikaners, into traditional Bantu lands. This created tension between the groups. In 1902 the British found gold and diamonds in the lands. The British then fought the Afrikaners for control and won. In 1894 the last Tsar, Tsar Nicholas the second took power and ruled until about 1918. This was because the reds and the whites, communist and anti-reformist respectively had been fighting and the reds finally won and murdered the tsar and his family. In 1922 the USSR was created. In 1912 Qing China falls to the British and in 1920 Mexico gains independence. In 1929-39 the Great depression caused money to lose value and many to be unemployed. It caused a change in economic systems worldwide.

When the British East Indian trading company was set up, it was set up as a way for the British government to have a monopoly on trade within their territory. They would have only one ship sailing to represent the trading relations of the British government. Originally the trading company was set up to be just a trading company but ended up being part of British imperialism. By giving the trading vessel autonomy over itself it allowed the British traders to conquer territory in the name of Britain and to help improve trade relations. It was like the Dutch traders in the sense that they would ally with various groups and aid them in the conquering of rival groups. The British East Indian trading company had enough resources to be their own country allowing them to conquer various areas. In the 1750s the seven years’ war was fought between the British, the French, and the Moguls sided with the French. The British defeated the French and Moghuls in the Battle of Plassey in 1757. This completely removed the French from the competition to control India and severely weakened the Moghuls. The Moghuls were already weakened by fights for succession, revolts from the many different groups within India, as well as the Moghuls having no money, and many weak ineffective rules. This was during a time were the Moghuls needed a strong ruler to oppose the British imperialists and the land in Delhi that was already under British jurisdiction. By having a weak group ruling it left the empire weak and vulnerable. The British saw this as an opportune time to gain control of India. So, in 1858 the British gained control and this was the beginning of the British Raj.

The reasons that the British wanted to gain control of India is because they viewed India as a great source of raw materials and labor. India was a Tropical Dependency were a large population was ruled by a much smaller group of British. By having control of such a large population, the British would have a large population to recruit people to their military. India also had many raw materials and goods that were in high demand. The spices and cotton from India were goods that were wanted by many European countries. The raw materials also would help fuel the British push toward industrialization. The British needed raw goods to manufacture finished products. In addition to being able to utilize the raw materials from Indian the British saw India as a place to sell their finished goods. The British set up a system of mercantilism very similar to that of the American colonies were the British would take raw materials, manufacture them, and then sell them back. This made it, so the British had a consistent market and consistent source of materials allowing them to make a profit and continue to industrialize.

Once the British had full control of India they began to bring in lots of technology. They built larger docks and ports, as well as adding railroads and post offices. They got rid of sati and other such Indian traditions, which helped to increase how women were viewed. The British changed the caste system within India, principally the British adhered to it only giving people from high castes jobs within the bureaucracy. After movements in the 1920s for social reform the British tried to get rid of or at least reduce the caste systems affects. Thus, causing people of India now to have a much less rigid caste system where those who are born to lower castes were able to achieve positions outside their caste. The British also increased the number of missionaries to promote Christianity within India. Today Christianity is one of the religions with the largest followings in India. This is in part due to the British rule. In addition the British implemented schools that promoted the idea of European superiority.

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British imperialism in India. (2019, Mar 05). Retrieved from