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Empire, imperialism, and colonialism are all interrelated tactics of geopolitics that are used to achieve similar goals of one state maintaining economic, political, or even cultural dominance over other territories. Today, we’re going to unravel the impacts of colonialism at different times throughout history from Taiwan to Myanmar as we examine the longstanding impacts of these relationships. We’ll also take a look at how some countries today, like Thailand, have taken the control of the narrative through culinary colonization.


Getis, Bjelland, and Getis. Introduction to Geography, 15 ed. McGraw-Hill Education. 2017. ISBN: 978-1-259-57000-1

Gregory, Derek, Ron Johnston, Geraldine Pratt, Michael Watts, and Sarah Whatmore, eds. 2009. The Dictionary of Human Geography. 5th ed. Willey-Blackwell. ISBN: 978-1-4051-3288-6

For a free and open source option for Intro to Human Geography, see:

For a free and open source option for World Regional Geography, see:

Cracking the AP Human Geography Exam: 2020 edition.  The Princeton Review.


Condensed history of Asian Empire:




Qing Dynasty

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#CrashCourse #Geography #Colonization

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Let's think together for a moment about all the people who have lived where you live now and all the different states and nations and empires who've claimed that land. Like right now I'm standing on land in what's now South Florida that's currently controlled by the U but it in the past has been controlled by the Spanish is possibly named after the Mayaimi and is the traditional territory of the Calusa, Miccosukee, Seminole, Taino and Tequesta nations. As we've talked about a few times here on crash course geography, each place comes with multiple names and a long history of rulers and claims that can still influence how it's perceived today. As geographers, we can look at why those territories change control so much and what the impact of that control has on relationships and landscapes. I'm Alize Carrere and this is CrashCourse Geography.
Last time, we explored the relationships different economic systems can create between states. This can be a relationship like the one between Bulgaria and Germany. Their shared communist then capitalist history has led to longstanding alliances and being committed trading partners through all sorts of governments and economies. Though we've also seen how geopolitics and different governments can influence the relationships between states and today we're going to talk about a particular form of governing and the lasting impact it can have throughout the world. That's right, get out your risk boards, we're talking about empires.
An empire forms when a single authority controls multiple territories, states and countries. there are several ways an empire can function ranging from intrusive to rather hands-off. but when an empire also creates unequal economic or power relationships, that relationship is considered imperialism, though this relationship can eventually be more hands-off too. Imperialism describes the domination and subordination of one state over others and is often motivated by the acquisition of land, resources or strategic positions. From there we can look at different types of colonisation which is either a type of imperialism or just another type of empire depending on who you ask. That often implies settlement of people in an area and a degree of cultural control in addition to control of land and resources.

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Which kind of sounds like "imperialism-plus." Imperialism and colonialism do have really similar definitions - in fact, they're still debated within geography and other disciplines.

In the early 21st century, when we talk about colonialism, we're often referring to European colonialism, which happened globally between the 15th century ot the present.

But the Chinese, Japanese, and Mongols built vast empires too. In this case, we talk about imperialism because of the way each expanded through force, and each had elements of extraction of resources and control of local politics.

We feel the impacts of colonialism and imperialism around us in almost all places in the world, even though many of those systems have been formally ended.

For instance, the Mongol empire consolidated a huge chunk of Central Asia, and even though the territory has changed hands many times, it's still more or less together. Today that land makes up much of what's now Russia and Mongolia.

Ultimately, empire, imperialism, and colonialism are all interrelated tactics of geopolitics that are used to achieve similar goals of one state maintaining economic, political, or cultural dominance over other territories, often for economic gain. In geography, when we want to study how colonialism changes the cultural landscape, we'll start with economic relationships.

As we'll talk about more next time, geographers are particularly interested in the mechanisms that create uneven development, where one place has more wealth and power than another. Modern economic relationships have deep connections to colonialism, and geographers have a few different ways to think about the connection between colonialism and current economic landscapes.

One way to think about lasting impacts of colonialism on the landscape is through dependency theory. The basic idea is that the long history of extraction between a colony and its colonizer creates an economic situation that's difficult to pull out of. It leaves those former colonies still economically reliant on the colonizer after gaining independence.

To further explain the relationship between those with global power and those without, world systems theory categorizes the world into core areas with a lot of wealth and power, periphery areas that send raw materials to the core and rely on the core for economic support, and then semi-periphery areas which rely on relationships with both the core and the periphery and some wealth and power.

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And neo-colonialism is another theory that attempts to explain situations where one country is outwardly independent, but their economic and political power is closely monitored and controlled by external forces. Geographers use ideas like these and others to explain the way powerful and less powerful countries relate to each other.

Like in Taiwan, which has had imperial and colonial-esque relationships a few times. Around 1624, the Dutch colonized the indigenous people of Taiwan and used Taiwan mainly as a shipping port to get goods out of Asia and back to Europe. They fought for control of the island with the indigenous people who were already there using mostly subsistence agriculture, or small-scale agriculture for local use by families and communities, rather than for export.

The Dutch version of colonization was pretty much just for Taiwan's strategic location for their shipping needs. But as the Qing Dynasty took control of Taiwan in the 1680s, it was a more imperial relationship, at first mostly as a way to keep pirates from controlling key ports. Then as Chinese refugees moved to the island due to political tensions in China, the new settlers began farming sugar and rice on a small scale and changing land ownership arrangements.

For all intents and purposes, this was a settler colonial relationship, meaning that people from China moved to the island to live, and in so doing, changed the cultural practices of the area. As Chinese people moved in, they negotiated and fought with the indigenous peoples as they tried to set up their own small rice and sugar farms, along with planning out towns.

In some cases, indigenous peoples were able to claim ownership of the land and charge rent, but in others, the indigenous peoples quit subsistence farming to work on the sugar plantations or were forced to move their subsistence plots into more rugged territory.

Then by 1895 when Japan took control of Taiwan, Japan wanted Taiwan to move from a subsistence to an industrial level of rice and sugar production. They created restrictions on where people could live and farm that made it difficult to continue subsistence farming. People began to change what they grew and many had to work on plantations to make enough money.

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As the Japanese empire rose, Japan became less isolated and more open to European trade. They were trying and succeeding to be an imperial force, one that was strong enough militarily and economically to avoid being colonized themselves.

To create that strength, Japan became an economic colonizing force, meaning they used land outside of their own territory to improve their economic resources. Taiwan became the source of primary goods like sugar and rice, and those goods mostly went to Japan.

All of this extraction and separating of people from their land should have kept Taiwan from having much power in economic relationships with larger economies like China and Japan after World War II. But at the end of the 1940s, China went through a civil war that led to communist rule, and prompted the US and their allies to provide ample funding to set up a strong, capitalist economies to reinforce and maintain a containment zone around Chinese communism. Today Taiwan still acts as a shatter belt between China and the West meaning it's strategically located between two larger power, the US's allies and China.

So by the 1980s Taiwan was considered one of the Asian Tigers, which was a term used for Asian economies that experienced intense growth and industrialization after World War II. That's a lot of land grabbing and economic movement, and all that just in this one island! Taiwan shows us that there are a host of motivations for one country to colonize another and that the outcomes of colonization aren't uniform.

But a country is more than just its economy, and colonialism can shape the landscape in other ways too. Colonizers have been known to antagonize existing ethnic conflicts, or create new ones by promoting one group over another and making sure both groups know why, which ultimately meddles in both local politics and culture.

This is what happened in what is now called Myanmar, which most recently was part of the British Empire. This can be as simple as how different groups are talked about and how language gets used to signal the "good" cultures. The messaging throughout Myanmar's colonial period about which groups were outsiders and which groups belonged set up foundations for on-going conflicts between the peoples of this region.

Usually, the so-called "civilized", "developed", and "modern" cultures are either the colonizer's or the colonizer's preferred cultural group.

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And derogatory language like "uncivilized", "primitive", or "backward" refers to the people being colonized or the more marginal groups. This coding of people and cultural traits as acceptable and unacceptable allows for the mistreatment, enslavement, and genocide of people. And today, Myanmar is known for regular war and conflict between groups and an ongoing genocide as of late 2021.

Both Myanmar and Taiwan are examples of how empires can treat a peripheral territory. In the case of Taiwan, it was advantageous for the territory to build up a strong presence through a powerful economy. Because they have control over their own economy, and are strong enough to negotiate favorable trade for themselves, they are not fully dependent on any one country, they are a semi-periphery.

But in the case of Myanmar, it went through a type of colonization that politically divided different cultural groups leaving the resulting state fractured. The British Empire united its own power through national pride and accumulating immense wealth but destroyed local power through suppression of national cultural expression like languages and religions, changing local knowledge and education and dismantling the existing economy.

So in Myanmar, and other former colonies, the long-term political consequences of colonization are bound up in the impact of how colonizers treated their cultural heritage and landscapes. In other parts of the world, settler colonialism like Taiwan experienced with the Qing dynasty often makes the largest impact on the cultural landscape. Settlers can use processes like forced migration, remaking place names, and other tactics that rewrite the landscape to signal that one culture is prioritized over other, already existing cultures.

As North America also struggles to reconcile its history and present day settler colonial system with social calls for equality for Black, indigenous, and other people of color, we can see the roots of those stereotypes and tensions going back to colonial language.

So much of the world has spent time in one form of empire or colonial structure of another that we can also find the imprint of colonialism even in places that were never colonized. Like in Thailand, which was never a colony despite being nestled between territories once part of Mongolian, Japanese, and even European empires.

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But, it still felt the pressure of those narratives that dictated what was a desirable culture. Now I'm going to use my psychic geography powers and guess that you have a Thai restaurant somewhere near you.

Feeling pressure to fit in, the Thai government tried to both make their food seem palatable to non-Thai audiences -- which would help them align with dominant cultures -- and remain true to their cultural heritages. And by 2003 the Thai government invested millions providing loans to Thai citizens who wanted to create restaurant abroad. This furthers their cultural outreach and international good will.

This is a form of culinary colonization, or pressure to change and conform the cultural trait of food for diplomatic reasons. While no one external leader or state required this change, the leaders of Thailand realized that if Thai people were going to control the narrative about their culture, they would have to get out ahead of the pressure to conform.

Thailand crafted their own story and worked to ensure the world could see them in a favorable light, before any other cultural group could decide what to privilege and what to silence about Tha cultural traits, like food.

So as cultural and human geographers, unraveling colonial influence is part of understanding the cultural landscape. And as economic and political geographers, being able to read the causes of unequal economic opportunity or political power is part of our work.

But colonialism isn't a thing of the past. We still see the push and pull for control over resources in regions all over the world, and we'll begin to explore that relationship next time when we talk about development and ways that countries measure their success on the global stage.

Many maps and borders represent modern geopolitical divisions that have often been decided without the consultation, permission, or recognition of the land's original inhabitants. Many geographical place names also don't reflect the Indigenous or Aboriginal peoples languages.

So we at Crash Course want to acknowledge these peoples' traditional and ongoing relationship with that land and all the physical and human geographical elements of it. We encourage you to learn about the history of the place you call home through resources like and by engaging with your local Indigenous and Aboriginal nations through the websites and resources they provide.

Thanks for watching this episode of Crash Course Geography which is filmed at the Team Sandoval Pierce Studio and was made with the help of all these nice people.

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