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British India. Asian Spices. Nutmeg from Indonesia. Cloves from Indonesia. Pepper from India. Frankincense from Arabia. Cinnamon from China and Burma. The Dutch East India Company. Created in 1602 to control the spice trade in southeast Asia First multinational corporation

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Asian Spices

Nutmeg from Indonesia

Cloves from Indonesia

Pepper from India

Frankincense from Arabia

Cinnamon from China and Burma


The Dutch East India Company

  • Created in 1602 to control the spice trade in southeast Asia
  • First multinational corporation
  • First corporation to issue stocks
  • Traded throughout Asia
  • Used silver from Spanish mines in Peru and copper from Japan to trade with India and China for textiles
  • Brought European ideas and technology to Asia
  • Dominant European force in Asia for nearly 200 years

Company logo

D.E.I.C. bond, November 7, 1623


British East India Company

  • Granted a Royal Charter by Queen Elizabeth I in December 1600, to trade with India
  • Joint-stock company where investors buy into it
  • Royal Charter gave the company a monopoly on all trade in the East Indies
  • Over time the British East India Company became an unofficial extension of the British government
  • Shaped and applied Britain’s colonial and commercial policies

Map created by:


In 1773 the British Parliament passed the Regulating Act for India which required the East India Company to appoint an official to be Governor-General of all the districts controlled by the Company (which in 1773 comprised Bengal, Oudh and the Carnatic).

  • The British government appointed a council of four men to advise and control the Governor-General.
  • British judges were sent to India to administer the British legal system.

British India, 1889

Company arms and flag


Tea was cultivated in India for export to Britain. There it would become a trade commodity on the British market.


Opium balls, such as these in an 1828 British warehouse in Patna, British India, were a great source of income for the British. This opium was awaiting shipment to China. Opium was made from poppies, shown on either side of the warehouse sketch.


The British East India Company set up trading outposts at Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras.

  • By the mid 1800s, the company controlled a large area of India, and treated India as its own private colony.
  • In 1857 Indian soldiers rebelled against the company. After that incident, the British government took direct control. British military and mercantile goals were intertwined.

Sepoys of the East India Company fighting during an Indian revolt, 1857-58.

East India company merchant in India, 1850.


In the long run, the British were active rulers in India.

  • They kept public order and ended many local wars.
  • The British military also trained local Indians to become soldiers.

Indian soldiers recruited to fight for the British army, 1902.


Many British families moved to India as their permanent home. They imported European culture with them. They established factories, hospitals, and schools in India. Indians were not treated equally by the British.


It was important for the British to have a strong network of transportation and communication in India. They designed India’s railroad system, brought telegraph and telephone technology, a postal system, news reporting, and banking.


British trade with China centered around opium. The British imported opium from India to China in exchange for silk. Chinese silver was used to buy opium, and the Chinese government was fearful of a trade imbalance. China demanded that opium sales stop, but the British did not comply. This led to the Opium Wars.

Opium dens, 1850

Chinese receiving opium from Patna, British India


Empress Dowager Ci Xi

Empress Dowager Ci Xi worked with her government officials to fight against the British in the First Opium War, from 1839-1842.


Treaty of Nanjing

The treaty ended the First Opium War in 1842. It opened the ports of Guangzhou, Jinmen, Fuzhou, Ningbo, and Shanghai to British trade and residence; in addition Hong Kong was ceded to the British.


The Second Opium War, 1856-1860

  • Began in 1856 when the Chinese allegedly conducted an illegal search of the British ship, the Arrow, at Guangzhou
  • British and French troops took Guangzhou and Tianjin in 1858
  • China was forced to open 11 more ports, allow foreign commerce in Beijing, sanction Christian missionary work, and legalize British importation of opium in the Treaty of Tianjin
  • However, China attempted to block the entry of diplomats into Beijing in 1859 to prevent enforcement of the new treaty terms
  • In response, the British and French occupied Beijing and burned the imperial summer palace
  • After the war China was forced to accept the Treaty of Tianjin

The Opium Wars brought an end to the isolation of the ancient Chinese civilization and introduced far-reaching social, economic and cultural ideas to the Chinese.


Asia was carved up after the Opium Wars

  • England annexed Hong Kong and Kowloon
  • France took over Indochina (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos)
  • Russia moved into Chinese Turkistan and Manchuria
  • Japan grabbed Taiwan and won dominance over Korea

This cartoon depicts England, Germany, Russia, France, and Japan at the table, ready to cut up China after the Opium Wars. It is reminiscent of the Berlin Conference when the African continent was divided between the European powers.


On June 21, 1900, the Chinese Empress declared war on all foreign powers. This led to a two-month assault on the legations in Beijing led by a group known as the Boxers.

“The present situation is becoming daily more difficult. The various Powers cast upon us looks of tiger-like voracity, hustling each other to be first to seize our innermost territories. . . . Should the strong enemies become aggressive and press us to consent to things we can never accept, we have no alternative but to rely upon the justice of our cause. . . . If our . . . hundreds of millions of inhabitants . . . would prove their loyalty to their emperor and love of their country, what is there to fear from any invader? Let us not think about making peace.”

Empress Dowager Tsu Hsi

Empress Tsu Hsi

Boxer Rebels


The Boxer Rebellion challenged Western commercial and political influence in China. The Chinese, though great in number, could not stop the imperial forces.


In response, eight nations sent troops: Japan, Russia, Germany, the United States, Great Britain, Italy and Austria-Hungary

The alliance eventually numbered 54,000:

Japanese (20,840)

U. S. (3,420)


British (12,020)

French (3,520)

German (900) Italian (80)

Russian (13,150)

and anti-Boxer Chinese troops


At the end of the two month struggle, the international troops put down the uprising on August 14, 1900.

The Heroic Defense of the English Legation in Beijing

by Fritz Neumann


This political cartoon shows the winners celebrating the fall of Peking, 1900 at the end of the Boxer Rebellion. What countries are represented? Which country lies on the ground?

Chinese general Li Hongzhang with Lord Salisbury and Lord Curzon, the year following the Boxer Rebellion, 1901.