Empire in Asia

A New Global History

Islands and Empires

Book Cover

Book Title

Islands and Empires: Western Impact on the Pacific and East Asia (Series, Europe and the World in the Age of Expansion, Vol. 7). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1976


Dodge, Ernest S.


The book is an account of the massive impact of occidental civilization upon the Pacific islands and the Far East (principally China and Japan) and its effect upon the island peoples and the Eastern civilizations. Specifically, the first beginnings of European economic relations in China were highly disreputable to the latter. The Portuguese was said to have mistreated the Chinese, as well as broken their rules so much so that it soured early trading relations between East and West. However, Macao emerged as the Portuguese trading port for China and also became a centre for the new missionary zeal of the Roman Catholic Church in the sixteenth century.

Since the main topic covered is concerned with the degree of change that was occurring because of the arrival of Europeans in the Pacific and the Far East, the perspective seen in this book is largely that of the external powers. One sees the cultural, economic and political issues that were evoked when the people from two different civilizations interacted, as well as the preconceptions of the Europeans when they arrived in Asia.

Scope (Topics Covered, Time Period)

The book's emphasis remains on the western impact, which were examined in various degrees the consequences of the European's arrival in the Pacific islands and the Far East. This means that there is little room to consider events from an internal perspective. The scope covers the early stages of European arrival in the Pacific and East Asia, focusing largely on the trade and the 'opening' of ports in China and Japan.

Argument (Methodology, Significance)

The subject of this volume almost automatically divided itself into two parts according to the region under examination; the Pacific islands and East Asia. The author aims to present distinctive issues encountered by the European powers as well as the indigenous people from this encounter. The main argument itself is however, difficult to substantiate. The author claims that "so traumatic, swift and so all pervading was the sweep of Western civilization that every shore lapped by its waters and every island dotting its surface was affected, engulfed, or changed in a relatively brief period of time" This seems to have diminished the importance of internal agency and fails to consider the consequences of actions carried out by both the internal parties and the Europeans.

Finally, Dodge argues with a problematic Euro-centric and a more narrow perspective since he argues that China, Japan, the Philippines and Southeast Asia have all been transformed by the Europeans' arrival in Asia. This is problematic in that the evaluation would therefore not take into account the existing political and economic structures found in Asia. For example, the author claims that Japan was reconfigured by Western contact and imitated its teachers impeccably to succeed in becoming an imperial power scarcely ever equaled in a similar length of time. While there is some truth that Japan were motivated by the Western colonial powers, Japan's internal political and economic concerns and policies are not directed the appropriate amount of attention that they should have in their imperialist tendencies in the late nineteenth century.

Annotated by Michelle Djong