Small powers and imperialism: The Netherlands in China


It is true that in the decades preceding the beginning of China's republican era in 1912 the Netherlands played only a small role in international relations in the Far East and that the Dutch government was much more concerned with neutrality towards the European powers than with gaining influence over the Chinese empire. Still, such circumstances do not mean that the Dutch government was not prepared to make use of China's weakness when it served Dutch colonial or economic interests. Contrary to what Van Dongen concluded, it seems that when Dutch policy was harmful to the Chinese state this was deliberate rather than an `almost accidental by-product'. Van Dongen's study was carried out from a national-political perspective, which is too limited in scope to adequately capture the entire relationship between the Netherlands and China. Only when the view is widened to include economic factors and the international context, can the functioning of Dutch imperialism in China be made visible. Initiatives for Dutch activity in China came from private enterprises which relied on the great powers as well as on the Dutch government for support. This was made possible through international cooperation which internationalised national business interests. If the relationship between political and economic entities can be regarded as a crucial aspect of imperialism in China, then there is no reason why the smaller powers and their private businesses should be neglected.

Itinerario 20/1, March 1996. Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 June 2011. Click on the image below to go to the article.