Monday, January 20, 2014

WWII - the end of the colonisation era.

History has always portrayed WWII to be a Eurocentric conflict with minor skirmishes in the Asia Pacific region. But the skirmishes in Asia were far from being minor. When the War ended it exacted a global death toll of 30 million people, mostly civilians, with 14 million in China, 12 million in USSR and 4 million in Europe. The death toll alone in China ought to draw inference that something major did happen and at a level much larger than Europe.

Additionally, contrary to popular historical opinion, World War II did not start in Europe either. It started two years earlier on July 7, 1937 when imperialist Japanese troops launched a full-scale invasion of a member of the Allies, China. This was followed by Germany marching on Poland on September 1, 1939 creating the global War we know of today.

Fast forward almost 69 years, this Eurocentric slant is still the theme taught in history lessons despite the Asian front being the only conflict area in the War where all the four major western powers; USA, France, Russia and UK, backed one Ally in her efforts to defend her country. Even when the other three nations withdrew support, USA singularly continued to support China until well after the end of WWII.

Why then would historical western perspective of WWII, continue to push this Eurocentric slant knowing that the major event during this period was really in Asia not Europe?.

What was it about the impact of the Asia front during and after WWII that European nations choose not to remember?

The answer might rest within history itself. More specifically, the century old European efforts in getting a slice of the enormous benefits from trading with China.

From as early as 200 BC the only trade route to the exotic and lucrative ‘Far East’ was via the Silk Road. This was monopolized by the Arabs and Italians giving them a head start into the richness of the Middle Kingdom. But by 1500 the monopoly was shattered by the Portuguese’ discovery of a sea route to India going around the Cape of Good Hope, providing a faster alternative route for trade.

The Jesuits lead by its founder Sir Francis Xavier forged the first European maritime contact with China in 1513 to spread Christianity. They established a missionary on an uninhabited island outpost south of China (Macau). This outpost was quickly claimed by the King of Portugal as their colony heralding the harbinger for maritime colonisation of Asia by the Europeans.

Not to be outdone by the Portuguese’ commercial success trading in highly demanded items; tea, silk, porcelain, chinaware and spices other European nations soon headed for Asia to carve out their niche. With a superior naval and military machinery, the Dutch (Indonesian Archipelago), French (IndoChina), Spanish/Americans (Philippines) and English (India, Malaya, Brunei protectorate) colonized entire nations.

Encouraged by their early success these colonial masters then set their eyes on China, the ultimate price, without realising what a grave mistake that would have been. China was simply too large a nation to be colonized. Even her ancient overland conquers were absorbed by this cultural behemoth. The Mongols (13th Century) and later the Manchurians (17th Century) who ruled collectively for 368 years ended up adopting the host country's culture and names - Yuan (Mongol) and Qing (Manchu) dynasty.

Since the Portuguese’ sea faring route to Asia; Austria/Hungary, Germany, France, Italy, Russia, UK and USA all had a go at China but only managed minor successes – small outposts and special territorial rights – but none colonized the entire nation. Despite suffering humiliating defeat in 1800s and early 1900s exacted on its people by these foreign powers, the resilience of the Middle Kingdom stood her in good stead against far superior military powers.

The European's involvement in WWII momentarily took their attention away from China and gave the Middle Kingdom breathing space for the underlying nationalism to take hold and time to find its own political identity. In the immediate aftermath of WWII a 4-year bloody civil war engulfed China giving birth to a new nation, the People's Republic of China. This revived nationalism provided a united front  and European colonisation finally buckled under the weight of its own erroneous ways. The last gasp of de-colonisation was seen when sovereignty for Hong Kong and Macau were handed back to China by the British and Portuguese respectively, ending a 400-year quest by the Europeans.

For a few hundred years prior to this, western imperialist zeal used religion, trade and military to expand their empires into Asia. As a result, many European nations through colonisation and forced cessation of territorial rights created a haven for commercial exploitation in Asia.

The events which followed after WWII evaporated the colonial masters’ rights to plunder and exploit. By 1949, China finally earned the right to self-rule yet again after more than a century of intimidation and browbeating by a lineup of foreign powers.

Although European Allies won the War they lost their prized possession - China. In essence Europe lost their self anointed right to be masters of this country.

Given this we can understand why WWII will continue to maintain its Eurocentric slant in the annals of western history. Otherwise it would open Pandora’s Box highlighting Europe's erroneous policy of dominion over the Middle Kingdom - China.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

certainly a very interesting perspective to the WWII. Its a link which I have never seen before. Nice article.