Under colonial rule, local people were forced to work as slave labor on plantations, raising anger and criticism.

The British in Burma and Malaya

In the early 1800s, the rulers of Burma (present-day Myanmar) clashed with the British, who were expanding eastward from India. The Burmese misjudged British strength and suffered disastrous defeats in several wars. By 1886, Britain had annexed Burma. The Burmese, however, constantly resisted British rule.

At the same time, the British pushed south through the Malay Peninsula. The bustling port of Singapore grew up at the southern tip of the peninsula. Singapore stood on the sea route between the Indian Ocean and the China Sea. Soon, rubber and tin from Malaya, along with profits from Asian trade were flowing through Singapore to enrich Britain.

The French in Indochina

The French, meanwhile, were building an empire on the Southeast Asian mainland. Like other imperialist powers, they wanted political influence, raw materials, and markets in the region.

In the early 1800s, French missionaries began winning converts in what is today Vietnam. In response to growing Western influence, Vietnamese officials tried to suppress Christianity by killing converts and priests. The French used the murders as a reason to invade.

Like the Burmese, the Vietnamese misjudged European power. Starting in 1858, the French attacked and took over parts of Vietnam. The Vietnamese fought fiercely but could not withstand superior European firepower. The French eventually seized all of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. The West referred to these holdings as French Indochina.

Siam Stays Independent

The kingdom of Siam (present-day Thailand) lay between British-ruled Burma and French Indochina. Siam escaped becoming a European colony partly because its rulers did not underestimate Western power and avoided incidents that might provoke invasion.

Although the king of Siam, Mongkut (mahng KOOT), had to accept some unequal treaties, he set Siam on the road to modernization. He and his son, Chulalongkorn, who ruled from 1868 to 1910, reformed the government, modernized the army, and hired Western experts to train Thais in the new technology.

They abolished slavery and gave women some choice in marriage. Thai students traveled abroad and spread Western ways when they returned home. As Siam modernized, Chulalongkorn bargained to remove the unequal treaties.

A map shows imperialism in South Asia, circa 1900.
Image Long Description

Analyze Maps

Europeans sought to exploit the vast natural resources of Southeast Asia. According to the map, to which resources did the Dutch have exclusive access?


End ofPage 627

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