Geopolitical Cartoons: China under Imperialism (early 1900s)

A couple of weeks ago I discussed a geopolitical cartoon of Korea under imperial control of Japan, this week I return to the theme of imperialism with a pair of cartoons (via imperialism-by-brady) on the imperial domination of China in the closing years of the 19th century, that is the late 1800s.

Imperial powers ready to fight a sleeping China, ca. 1900 (via imperialism-by-brady)

The cartoon above is my favorite of the two, in it the imperial powers are represented by common animals associated with the country. We have the American eagle, German vulture, British lion, Austro-Hungarian double-headed eagle, Italian wolf, Japanese leopard, French rooster, and Russian bear. Each is armed, or ready to fight with tooth or claw, and ready to attack a sleeping dragon, representing China. The use of the queue hairstyle on the Chinese dragon is telling for the time period of the cartoon. According to wikipedia, the queue came to predominantly Han (an ethnic group) China via the Qing dynasty of the Jurchen/Manchus in the mid-1600s. Although resisted by most Han the queue, later became a symbol of the Qing dynasty until 1911. It is likely that this cartoon was made around the time of the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901), as the imperial powers are getting ready to disturb and tussle with the Chinese dragon. Below is a photograph of the troops from most of the states (Russia isn’t shown) that took part in suppressing the Boxer Rebellion:

Alliance troops during Boxer Rebellion, ca. 1900 (via wikipedia)

Imperial powers divide China, ca. 1900 (via imperialism-by-brady)

The second cartoon shows the European and Japanese imperialists literally carving up a king cake representing China. The cartoon is from France, hence China is “Chine”. Rather than using animals commonly associated with the powers, the artist utilized current (at the time) rulers and human symbols. The United Kingdom is represented by Queen Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm II represents Germany, Czar Nicholas II represents Russia, “Marianne” is the emblem of France, and a samurai represents Japan. In the background a Qing official futilely tries to get their attention. One wonders if “Marianne” is actively participating in the division of China in the artist’s eyes. According to the wikipedia article, “Marianne” is an allegory for liberty and reason; while, the French government could certainly make a “reasonable” explanation for its imperial activities at the time (safeguarding French economic interests), but the lack of liberty enjoyed by the Chinese would be harder to explain (unless they thought they were saving the Chinese from themselves).

These geopolitical cartoons capture the breadth of foreign involvement in China’s internal affairs at the beginning of last century. The major powers from Europe, the United States, and Japan all sent troops to suppress the Boxer Rebellion and to safeguard their interests in China. What the second cartoon really shows is the inability of the Qing dynasty to protect its own territory and the power of the imperialists to enforce their will, despite Qing protestations. A potent symbol of the imperial era, the second cartoon hints at the eventual collapse of the Qing dynasty and the creation of the Republic of China. The fall of the Qing signified the end of dynastic rule in China, a system of government that had been established with the Xia dynasty around 2,000 BCE.

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2 thoughts on “Geopolitical Cartoons: China under Imperialism (early 1900s)

  1. Pingback: Geopolitical Cartoons: Depictions of Imperial Germany (World War I) | Z Geography

  2. Pingback: Immigration to Japan: Demographic and Geopolitical Perspectives | Z Geography

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