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The pith helmet, an icon of colonialism in tropical lands. This one was used during the Second French Colonial Empire.

Colonialism is the policy of a polity seeking to extend or retain its authority over other people or territories, generally with the aim of developing or exploiting them to the benefit of the colonizing country and of helping the colonies modernize in terms defined by the colonizers, especially in economics, religion and health.

The European colonial period was the era from the 15th century to 1914 when countries such as Spain, Portugal, Britain, Russia, Sweden, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Belgium established colonies outside Europe. Philip T. Hoffman calculated that by 1914, Europeans had gained control of 84% of the globe, and by 1800, before the Industrial Revolution had taken hold, they already controlled at least 35% (excluding Antarctica). The archetypal European colonial system practically ended between 1945–1975, when nearly all Europe's colonies gained political independence. At first, European colonizing countries followed policies of mercantilism, designed[by whom?] to strengthen the home economy at the expense of rivals, so regulations usually restricted the colonies to trading only with the mother country. By the mid-19th century, however, the powerful British Empire gave up mercantilism and trade restrictions and adopted the principle of free trade, with few restrictions or tariffs. Christian missionaries were active in practically all of Europe's colonies. The 15th century also saw the emergence of the West Asian Ottoman Empire which would go on to be the last colonizer of Europe. Asian colonization of Europe came to an end with Istanbul's loss of most of European Turkey in 1913. By the late-19th century Japan had become an active colonizer. Some Russian and Spanish colonies came United States control in the same period.

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A 1906 cartoon depicting Leopold II as a rubber vine entangling a Congolese man

Belgium, officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a state in Western Europe. The 1830 Belgian Revolution led to the establishment of an independent, Roman Catholic and neutral Belgium under a provisional government and a national congress. Since the installation of Leopold I as king in 1831, Belgium has been a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. The Berlin Conference of 1885 ceded control of the Congo Free State to King Leopold II as his private possession. From around 1900 there was growing international concern for the extreme and savage treatment of the Congolese population under Leopold II, for whom the Congo was primarily a source of revenue from ivory and rubber production. In 1908 this outcry led the Belgian state to assume responsibility for the government of the colony, henceforth called the Belgian Congo.

Germany invaded Belgium in 1914 as part of the Schlieffen Plan and much of the Western Front fighting of World War I occurred in western parts of the country. The opening months of the war were known as the Rape of Belgium due to German atrocities. Belgium took over the German colonies of Ruanda-Urundi (modern day Rwanda and Burundi) during the war, and they were mandated to Belgium in 1924 by the League of Nations. In the aftermath of the First World War, the Prussian districts of Eupen and Malmedy were annexed by Belgium in 1925, thereby causing the presence of a German-speaking minority. The country was again invaded by Germany in 1940 during the Blitzkrieg offensive and occupied until its liberation by the Allies in 1944. After World War II, the Belgian Congo gained independence in 1960 during the Congo Crisis; Ruanda-Urundi followed with its independence two years later.


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Rajpoots 2.png
Credit: The Illustrated London News

An 1876 engraving of Khokar Rajputs of Punjab, from the Illustrated London News. The British colonial officials in general were impressed by the military qualities of the Rajputs.

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The Ryukyu Islands, where explorers were sent by Andrade.

Captain Fernão Pires de Andrade (died September 1523) was a Portuguese merchant, pharmacist, and official diplomat under the explorer and Malacca governor Afonso de Albuquerque. His encounter with the Ming Dynasty in 1517—after initial contacts by Jorge Álvares and Rafael Perestrello in 1513 and 1516, respectively—marked the beginning of direct European commercial and diplomatic contact with China (following medieval trade communities and Marco Polo's travels). Although the mission was initially a success that led the embassy all the way to Beijing, relations were soon soiled by culminating events that led to an extremely negative impression of the Portuguese in China. This included acts of his brother Simão that enraged the Chinese, false reports of the Portuguese being cannibals of kidnapped Chinese children and true reports of their conquest of Malacca, a loyal Ming tributary vassal state. Normalized trade and relations between Portugal and the Ming Dynasty would not resume until the late 1540s and the 1557 establishment of Portuguese rule over Macau.

Andrade was referred to as a "Folangji" (佛郎機) in Ming dynastic archives. Folangji comes from Franques or Franks, which was a generic name the Muslims called Europeans since the Crusades, and which spawned the Indian-Southeast Asian term ferengi. The Chinese adopted the convention when they first thought the Portuguese were related to those Muslim guides and interpreters during Fernão's first encounter and before Europeans directly convened with Chinese.


Colonialism's rise and fall over the past 500 years.


This map shows Colonization's rise and fall over the past 500 years.


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