Historical Context

British Imperialism
In the nineteenth century, the British held the point of view that trade was "the true herald of civilization" and that Great Britain's expertise in commerce gave it the right to its leadership role in international trade (Great Britain controlled forty percent of the world's manufactured trade in 1860). The Great Exhibition of 1851 in London showcased the world's fascination for technology and trade in a gigantic structure of glass and iron called the Crystal Palace. It housed exotic booty harvested from Britain's colonies and overseas trade—inventions, consumer products, and the contributions of many other countries, all crammed on over eight miles of display shelves. Queen Victoria visited the stunning Crystal Palace nearly every day, joined by throngs of pride-filled British subjects, to view the exhibits and to reinforce a sense of manifest superiority in technology and trade.

The Great Exhibition helped to allay any disquiet over the aggressive expansion of the British Empire. And there were reasons for disquiet Just prior to Anna Leonowen's visit to Siam, the two "Opium Wars" (1839-1842 and 1856-1860) were fought in China to secure Britain the dubious right to export opium from India (a colony of the British Empire) into China and to establish British-governed trade posts in China's most active ports. The "treaty-port system" became Great Britain's mode of dominating Chinese trade for the next forty years; it was also used in many other countries not officially colonized into the Empire. In 1855, Siam ceded to diplomatic pressure to sign the Bowring Treaty, which added Siam to Great Britain's extensive "informal empire," by granting Great Britain certain trade advantages as well as the rights to establish a consulate in Bangkok and to try its people in British and not Siamese courts. This agreement granted economic power over Siam and also provided Britain a buffer zone between its South Asian holdings (Malaya and Burma) and the holdings of the French (Indochina), thus making it easier for competing colonizers to cohabitate South Asia. Siam, unlike India, New Zealand, and Burma, retained its...

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