British Empire
Living in the British empire - migration
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Cartoon from the Daily Mirror published in 1905 commenting on Chinese workers in South Africa
(British Cartoon Archive for the Centre for the Study of Cartoons & Caricature at the University of Kent: WH0066, W. K. Haselden, Daily Mirror, 31 July 1905)
  • Britain's contacts with China go back to at least the 1600s. The British East India Company was originally set up to exploit trade with China rather than with India.
  • Throughout the 1800s and early 1900s Britain and other European powers became increasingly influential in China. They dominated its economy and politics.
  • Britain made huge amounts of money out of the opium trade, making drug addicts of millions of Chinese. Britain also took control of the port of Hong Kong.
  • Like India, China had huge reserves of labour. The British made use of this by transporting Chinese workers all over the empire. Chinese labourers played a key role in building the railways that crossed Africa and North America. Chinese sailors also played a key role in Britain's trade and prosperity.
  • As this cartoon shows, many Chinese were transported to South Africa, where their working conditions were poor.
  • It is interesting that the cartoon is both sympathetic to the Chinese labourer and disrespectful at the same time. The man whipping the labourer is a South African or Boer and he is not treated respectfully either.
  • This is one area which historians debate. Admirers of the British empire point out that mass migration created multicultural societies and gave new opportunities to people. Critics point out that the British were often patronising towards these other peoples who were meant to be citizens of their empire.
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