The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas possessions and trading posts established by England between the late 16th and early 18th centuries. At its height, it was the largest empire in history and, for over a century, was the foremost global power. By 1922 the British Empire held sway over about 458 million people, one-fifth of the world's population at the time.
The English East India Company was the mother of the modern multinational. Its trading empire encircled the globe, importing Asian luxuries such as spices, textiles and teas. But it also conquered much of India with its private army and broke open China's markets with opium.
It was an era when monopoly trading companies were the unofficial agents of European expansion, controlling vast numbers of people and huge tracts of land, and taking on governmental and military functions. They managed their territories as business interests, treating their subjects as employees, customers, or competitors. The leaders of these trading enterprises exercised virtually unaccountable, dictatorial political power over millions of people.
Opium entered China during the Middle Ages when Arab traders brought it into China for medicinal purposes. As it took hold as a recreational drug, opium wrought havoc on Chinese society. ... When China tried to ban the use of the drug and bar its Western smugglers from its gates, England decided to fight to keep open China's ports for its importation.
Not surprisingly, Chinese historians have regarded the two Opium Wars as unjust impositions of foreign power on the weakened Qing empire. In the 20th century, the Republic of China made strenuous efforts to abolish what it called "unequal treaties." It succeeded in removing most of them in World War II, but this phase of foreign imperialism only ended completely with the reversion of Hong Kong to China in 1997.
The Great Game between Victorian Britain and Tsarist Russia was fought across desolate terrain from the Caucasus to China, over the lonely passes of the Parmirs and Karakorams, in the blazing Kerman and Helmund deserts, and through the caravan towns of the old Silk Road-both powers scrambling to control access to the riches of India and the East.
The British Empire ... was inspired by and, in turn, sustained through a variety of propaganda.
Many different agencies issued propaganda about the modern British Empire, seeking to promote enthusiasm for imperial unity or expansion, to secure particular public or private interests, and to generate prestige or profits. Companies selling goods from colonial sources used images of empire for advertising. Political lobby groups sought to mobilize opinion for imperial purposes.
London had become 'The New Rome' and was the most important city in the World.