Informal Empire Analysis

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Since the introduction of ‘informal empire’ as a concept in Robinson and Gallagher’s article in 1953 entitled ‘The Imperialism of Free Trade’, there was been a range of historiographical debate on its validity and usefulness when used to explain British expansion in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. This essay acknowledges both sides of the argument, but will state that despite some historiographical debate on the contrary, the concept of ‘informal empire’ possesses more strengths than weaknesses when understanding British imperialism. This essay will disregard Platt and Lynn’s argument that Britain didn’t actually want an ‘informal empire’ , instead arguing in favour of Darwin’s thesis that ‘informal empire’ as a concept embraces…show more content…
Thompson argues that the limited influence gained in Argentina in particular was only obtained in the 1880s, thereby contradicting and undermining Gallagher and Robinson’s argument that British ‘informal empire’ was at its highest in the mid-Victorian era. But in fact, through Osterhammel’s research into Anglo-Chinese relations and Hopkins’s into Anglo-Argentine relations, it is evident that both Thompson and Gallagher/Robinson’s limited approach to ‘informal empire’ through their concentration on the 1880s and on the mid-Victorian era respectively was misjudged. Osterhammel and Hopkins were able to highlight that the concept of ‘informal empire’ covered both the mid-Victorian era and the 1880s, continuing through to 1914 and beyond. Through studying their work, it is in fact evident that the British ‘informal empire’ was widespread, and a constant avenue of British imperialism that spanned most of the nineteenth and some of the twentieth century. Osterhammel highlights that following the two Anglo-Chinese wars of 1840-42 and 1856-60, ‘a system of international treaties were established that turned large parts of China into an uncolonized extension of Empire’ . From 1860, the treaties ensured low tariffs, privileged treatment of British goods and guaranteed British access to a number of six ‘treaty ports’ in major Chinese cities. Post-1860, two British companies, Jardine Matheson & Co and Butterweld & Swire, held a combined share ‘as high as 60 per cent in 1880’ in the Chinese freight and passenger market. By the end of the century, Britain had also gained control of China’s premier coal mine, the Kaiping colliery near Tianjin, by 1900, exploiting the ‘weakness of the government-sponsored company and the unstable political conditions prevailing in North China’ . By 1914, British advantage was also procured in financing the development of the Chinese railway

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