How did Chinese resistance to Western Imperialism in the late 19th century differ from African resistance?

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First, we must make an important distinction; China was a single, relatively unified nation, while Africa was not, and never has been.

China in the late 19th century had been experiencing almost an entire century of civil and political strife. The Qing government had descended into a stagnant, ineffective system of handouts and favors to government officials and subsidiaries. The Western powers, as well as Japan, saw China as a valuable trade resource, and sought to extract the best deals while paying token homage to the government, which disliked foreigners but never really did anything substantial to keep them out, other than restricting the areas, people, goods and money they were allowed to trade with. The British counteracted this by flooding the Chinese market with opium, initiating a war that the British easily won. This was the first of many humiliating defeats for China, and resulted in lopsided treaties that reduced the power of the Qing.

The main theme of this story is that China's government was unable to safeguard its sovereignty from foreign interests. Much of the anger of the Chinese population, aggravated by famines and other natural disasters, looked at their own government as the problem, but also blamed foreigners for instigating trouble and attempting to convert people to Christianity. The Boxer Rebellion, composed of mystics and spiritualist who thought they were invulnerable, was vehemently anti-foreign. However, this rebellion was initiated by the common people, with government "approval" appearing later. This is a key aspect of the overall Chinese response to imperialism; popular action, accompanied by lazy or ineffectual government responses.


Since there are innumerable African "contingents" that we might consider, we will focus on one, arguably the most powerful; the Zulu Kingdom.

Unlike China, Africa did not have a dense economy, trading structure, or government regulations, but it did have resources to exploit, especially land and animals. This made it ideal for large companies, as well as individual families, to move in and establish claims.

The Zulus met the threat of these incursions at the height of its power. A long series of interactions between the Zulus, the British, and the Boer settlers resulted in many changes of allegiance and supplies, with the Zulus eventually acquiring a number of firearms, although they were not trained in their use and did not see them as honorable weapons. Nevertheless, the British specifically did not want a war with the Zulus, since they already had enough to deal with in, for example, China.

The Zulus were similar to the Boxers in that they also combined a dislike of foreigners with mysticism and concepts of invulnerability. The Zulus were also inexperienced in the Western ways of war; they were used to disputes over territory and cattle, not massacres. Thus, when they invaded British territory and won a major battle, they expected the war to be over; instead, the British returned, defeated them, and dismantled the Zulu state.


Both the Chinese and the Zulu response to imperialism involved admiration of Western power while rejecting Western rule, as well as mysticism and lopsided wars. However, the key difference, in my opinion, is that the Chinese response was a popular movement, initiated by common citizens, accompanied by internal strife, while the Zulu response was initiated by the established Zulu government, largely unified.

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