Types of Imperial Rule

The new imperialism took several forms. In many areas, imperial powers established colonies. They sent governors, officials, and soldiers to control the people and set up a colonial bureaucracy. France and Britain, the leading imperial powers, developed different kinds of colonial rule.

Illustration of three men standing around a seated man, all in desert head coverings.

The French practiced direct rule in their colonies. Here, French soldiers speak with an Algerian man.


What were the costs and benefits of direct rule?

Direct and Indirect Rule

The French practiced direct rule, sending officials and soldiers from France to administer their colonies. Their goal was to impose French culture on their colonies and turn them into French provinces. Direct rule reflected the European belief that colonial people were incapable of ruling themselves.

The British, by contrast, used indirect rule. Under the system of indirect rule, a British governor and council of advisers made laws for each colony. Local rulers loyal to the governor retained some authority and served as agents for the British. The British encouraged the children of the local ruling class to get an education in Britain. In that way, a new generation was groomed to become agents of indirect rule—and of Western civilization.

Indirect rule differed from direct rule because it did not replace traditional rulers with European officials. Yet local rulers had only limited power and did not influence government decisions. Under both direct and indirect rule, the result was the same. Traditional rulers no longer had power or influence.

Other Types of Imperial Rule

In some places, Western powers established a protectorate. In a protectorate, local rulers were left in place but were expected to follow the advice of European advisers on issues such as trade or missionary activity. A protectorate had certain advantages over a colony. It cost less to run than a colony and usually did not require a large commitment of military forces unless a crisis occurred.

A third form of Western control was the sphere of influence, an area in which an outside power claimed exclusive investment or trading privileges. Europeans carved out spheres of influence in China and elsewhere to prevent conflicts among themselves. The United States claimed parts of Latin America as its sphere of influence, holding off European powers that might compete with its interest.

Illustration of a river filled with watercrafts, with two story buildings lining the shore.

In China, Western nations had trading centers on the waterfront in Shanghai.


Which form of imperialism was used in China?

End ofPage 595

Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments