13. The Expansion of Christian nations

13.0 Introduction

The newly created European Nation-States expanded over the World. Some regions of the world were sparsely occupied by primitive cultures, which made invasion easy, but others had a long history of civand were populous and developed enough to repel any attempt at occupation. Nevertheless, the foreign world powers confronted with Western invaders proved unable to oppose its imperial expansion, which appeared irresistible.

Why did Iran, India, Indonesia, Japan and China fail to industrialize and project their power throughout the world? In 1414, the great ships of admiral Zheng He sailed to Africa with an abundance of gifts, demanded allegiance to the Chinese Emperor from the local rulers and returned home with giraffes. Why did the Chinese not occupy the land as they had done in South East Asia? Why did the junks not sail east and discover North America 78 years before Columbus? What if the Ming emperors had supported the colonization of these newly recognized lands instead of dismantling the fleet? How would the world look now if the Chinese had efficiently colonized the Americas? Why did China stay behind the great wall after the disappearance of the Nomad Empire? The world might have been very different if Chinese nuclear weapons were now stationed on the Ural and Caucasus mountains instead of a Russian fleet anchored in Vladivostock.

K. Pomeranz 1 notes that there was little in European society until late 18th century to indicate that, within a hundred years, Europeans would dominate much more populous societies in Asia. Pomeranz denies that a scientific concern and a multi-state system alone would have been sufficient to promote the political emergence of the West. According to Pomeranz, what made the difference was the availability and easy access to solid fossil fuels. According to him, Great Britain first, Belgium second and other European countries later, developed because the coal deposits were located close to water transportation systems, and not too far from great congregations of people, which is not the case for China or India. Later on, the availability of fossil fuel in the American colonies of England favored further the industrial development. This is evidence. However, Portugal, Spain and Holland expanded without the help of easily exploited abundant fuel reserves and well before the onset of the industrial revolution. Coal was available to Germans yet their colonizing successes were not immense. Coal may explain the dominance of the British over other expanding nations but does not appear sufficient to explain alone the global expansion of the Atlantic powers and Russia. Why is it Russia that colonized Siberia? Why did not China, Iran or Japan fill the vacuum? Is it because the Russians had easy access to fossil fuel and the Chinese not? Why did Japan provoke the USA at Pearl Harbor despite the warning given by admiral Yamamoto that this was a foolish enterprise, instead of occupying permanently and definitely the whole of Siberia as far as the Ural mountains, which was within Japan’s capacities?

The 180 conquistadors, truly scoundrels, led by commander Pizarro conquered a land of 7,000,000 inhabitants. Within 50 years, the Spaniards reduced the Indian Andean population to 2 million. Cortez, with 16 horses and a handful of adventurers, conquered the Aztecs, and the Spaniards physically eliminated later on a large part of them. Abundant fuel reserves were not the reason for the ease of these conquests. The steam engine and abundant solid energy have, no doubt, facilitated the penetration and consolidated the imperial advances but this occurred after the expansion, not before.

China, Japan, Ethiopia and Thailand resisted the assault of the West, even if they suffered insulting treatment, while other countries, equally populous, were occupied. The manner in which the expansion of the West proceeded was by no means indifferent to the subsequent course of human political evolution and one may wonder what if the Spaniards had had the strength to keep Florida, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas and Southern California (figure 13.1); what if the French had had the will to keep large parts of Canada and of India and if Napoleon had not sold the whole of the Mississippi valley to the US; what if Russia had kept Northern California, Washington State, British Columbia and Alaska?


Figure 13.1. J. Covens and C. Mortier published a map of North America drawn by the Frenchman G. Delisle in Amsterdam in 1773. Florida belongs to Spain and is immense: it reaches the border of Canada. Canada-“Nouvelle France”- immediately surmounts it. California belongs to Spain. The English colonies are restricted to the shores of the Atlantic.

Whereas the effects of the Western expansion were, on the whole, disruptively dramatic for the aggressed cultures, the particular Nation-State the occupied countries were exposed to, was capital for their own future development. The difference is most perceptible in the colonization of the Americas.

The Portuguese and Spaniards were colons: they intended to import in the new lands their own style of living, and they succeeded. The indigenous populations were asked to convert to the Roman Catholic faith, after which they were considered belonging to the Spanish and Portuguese families. Everybody was invited to share everything, for good or bad. Those who refused exploitation and assimilation were treated as the Spaniards treated their own peasants and the Reformists in the Low Countries: cruelty, persecution and annihilation. The others were put on the same footing as the colons. Cortez married, before God and the Church, the Indian princess Marina. She was a cacique and, following spontaneously their own customs, the Spaniards maintained this sign of nobility and called her Dona Marina, a title Cortez did not have nor wear. Spanish records mention that Dona Marina was “naturally” treated according to her rank, with respect and deference. Montezuma, the last tortured Aztec emperor, has his statue in Mexico City, but not Cortez. Spain and Portugal exported themselves.

The English and Dutch were not colons but colonists. In New England, the puritan colonists did not share their religion. English and Dutch exported their skillfulness and knowledge oriented toward profit and yield but at the expense of racial feelings of superiority and humiliating arrogance and haughtiness. In North America, the colonists were intent to replace the indigenes. If, for a Spaniard, a good Indian is a Christian Indian, for the English and Dutch, a good Indian is a dead Indian. The French attitude toward colonies and native populations was ambivalent, mirroring their own schizoid nature: they could not envision under any circumstance to relinquish a conquered land and imposed on the local populations their own cultural values, wherewith the seeds of discontent and hatred were sown.


1. The Great Divergence. China, Europe and the Making of the Modern World Economy. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2000

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