Period Introduction Overview

An Age of Revolutions in Europe and the AmericasAt the Crossroads of Empire: Vietnam, India, ChinaRealism Across the Globe


An Age of Revolutions in Europe and the Americas

  1. Empires from ancient to modern times have always, to some degree, depended on the use of language (through speech and writing) as a means to convince an empire's subjects of the benefits of imperial rule. Thus writers have always played a role in the making (or breaking) of empires.
  2. Writers in South and East Asia in the nineteenth century found themselves at the crossroads of imperial traditions and newfound revolutionary movements looking to throw off the chains of imperial control.
  3. For centuries, China was the imperial superpower that ruled East Asia and the Islamic Mughal Empire ruled India. However, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw increasing challenge to these long-held empires, particularly from European powers that were beginning to establish strongholds throughout Asia.
  4. The British Empire, for example, took control of India from the Mughal Empire by the mid-nineteenth century.
  5. Writers of this period find themselves in the midst of debates about cultural traditions—both how they must be preserved, but also how they might usefully change.
  6. Often, a writer's ambivalence about imperial rule would be expressed in his or her use of different language traditions: one native and another that reflected imperial traditions.


  1. China ruled Vietnam from 111 B.C.E. to 939 C.E.: an entire millennium of imperial rule, punctuated by sporadic, though always unsuccessful, uprisings.
  2. Despite gaining independence from Chinese imperial rule, Vietnamese religion and culture remained closely tied to that of China. In 1802, the Vietnamese emperor Gia Long even reinstated orthodox laws modeled on those of China.
  3. Up until 1850, Vietnam had remained independent of European control—though there was great debate over how to respond to European interest in trade.
  4. But by the late 1850s, the French army invaded Vietnam and took control of an area, called Indochina, that included Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
  5. The French reaped incredible wealth from its colonies with little concern for indigenous populations.
  6. By World War II, Japan took control of Vietnam, and it remained a hotly contested battleground for competing world powers through most of the twentieth century.


  1. In 1804 the British East India Company took control of India after centuries of imperial rule that had seen the intermingling of Indian, Persian, and Islamic traditions.
  2. The wealth that could be derived from India's resources appealed to many European powers, including the British, the Dutch, and the French. Each European colonial power contended for its share of India's riches.
  3. Through the nineteenth century Britain's interest in India became less purely commercial and more cultural. It installed its own administrators, for example, and began actively trying to convert Indians to Christianity.
  4. In 1857, Hindu and Muslim leaders rose up against their British colonial overseers. Insurrection of this sort, however, was violently crushed and led to evermore repressive measures as the colonial power looked to keep its subjects in line.
  5. An Indian National Congress was established as a means for Indians to voice their concerns in a nonviolent manner, thus smoothing relations between the occupying British and native populations. Ironically, however, the congress ultimately turned into the first organized Indian independence movement.
  6. Mohandas Gandhi would become this independence movement's most vocal representative, leading nonviolent protest that would finally culminate in freedom from British rule in 1947.


  1. For most of its history, Chinese empires were strong and self-sufficient. While many European markets desired Chinese goods, like porcelain, there was little incentive on China's part to create exclusive trade relations with any one European power.
  2. Things changed during the nineteenth century, however, as the British began smuggling opium from India into China (against the wishes of the Chinese emperor). Huge numbers of Chinese (and Britons) became addicted to the drug.
  3. British traders continued to bring opium into China. And when Chinese officials attempted to stop the drug trade (by dumping enormous quantities into the ocean, for example), British warships overtook numerous southern Chinese ports (in efforts to reenable the illegal drug smuggling).
  4. What followed became known as the Opium Wars. The British, through the force of its navy, controlled Hong Kong for over a century.
  5. A peasant uprising, led by Hong Xiuquan, lasted from 1851 to 1864; 20 to 30 million people died and the Qing government (though supported by the British and the French) was near bankruptcy.
  6. As the nineteenth century continued, other non-Chinese powers (including Russia and Japan) assumed control of areas in China.
  7. Influence from the West continued, including Chinese converts to Christianity.
  8. Another peasant uprising, The Boxer Rebellion, occurred in 1900, though it too was put down by official Chinese (Qing Dynasty) and European powers.
  9. Though the Boxer Rebellion was unsuccessful, it paved the way from the final end of the Chinese imperial tradition in 1911 to the Republican Revolution.
  10. The nineteenth century in South and East Asia was a time of great tension as colonial powers looked to assert greater and greater control. In response, native populations rose up, often violently as contests between colonial powers and indigenous cultures unfolded.
  11. This period was one in which various artistic, cultural, and religious traditions collided, and societies, some of which had existed under imperial traditions for centuries, were changed irrevocably.