7.1A: Shifting Power After 1900

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Learning Objective 1A

Explain how internal and external factors contributed to change in various states after 1900.

Historical Development 1

The West dominated the global political order at the beginning of the 20th century, but both land-based and maritime empires gave way to new states by the century’s end.

Historical Development 2

The older, land-based Ottoman, Russian, and Qing empires collapsed due to a combination of internal and external factors. These changes in Russia eventually led to communist revolution.

Historical Development 3

States around the world challenged the existing political and social order, including the Mexican Revolution that arose as a result of political crisis.


The World in 1900

The events of the 19th century had left the world a vastly different place than it was in 1800. The events of the 20th century would again transform the world. The forces of industrialization and global capitalism were harnessed to their full potential to connect the world’s people and create more wealth for more people than at any point in human history. But these forces also unleashed a wave of mass violence, death, Revolution, and war unlike any seen in prior periods of history. Global change first appeared in the collapse of the world’s great land empires of the preceding centuries. The destruction of these empires symbolized the temporary victory of powerful western industrialized societies. 

Western global political domination: Second-wave colonization left the majority of the world under the direct political control or economic influence of a small number of states. The majority of the world’s territory was under the control of European nations. However, at the start of the 20th century, the United States, Japan, and Russia were significant rising powers. Two world wars weakened European control over its colonies. After World War II, western controlled colonies increasingly fought for and gained their freedom and independence. By the start of the 21st century, European maritime empires had ceased to exist.

Strengthening power

European powers (England, France, and Germany 

The United States 


Weakening powers


Ottoman Empire

The Collapse of the Old Land Empires

During the late 18th and 19th centuries, European powers in Asia weakened the Qing in China, the Mughals in India, and the Ottomans in the Middle East. Without massive industrial economies to fund industrial militaries, these land empires slowly lost control within their territories as European powers defeated them militarily and forced them to sign unequal treaties. These treaties gave European powers increased influence over the land, economy, and political systems of defeated powers.

Important: The Mughal Empire completely collapsed, and the British administration exiled the last Mughal Emperor to British Myanmar after the failure of the First Indian War of Indian Independence (1857-1858). the British Empire controlled much of what had previously been the Mughal Empire. 

The collapse of the Qing dynasty

The early 20th century brought no relief from the challenges faced by the Qing Dynasty and China during the 19th century. By 1910, the Qing would be on the verge of collapse, unable to overcome the internal and external pressures on the empire. When thousands of years of dynastic rule ended in 1912, the change was swift and ushered in a century of chaos within China. 

Internal factors that weakened China
External factors that weakened China
Failure to modernize and industrialize
Unequal treaties forced on China after the Opium Wars
Rebellions and peasant revolts
Foreign powers broke China into spheres of influence
New political leaders outside of the royal dynasty emerged (Sun Yat-sen: first president and founding father of the Republic of China )
Regional leaders resisted imperial control resulting in a loss of state centralization

Failure of the Chinese Self-Strengthening Movement

By the 1890s, the Chinese Self-Strengthening Movement had failed to modernize China enough to stabilize the Chinese state. The movement’s failure resulted from resistance among conservative Chinese interests and a monarchy that viewed too much modernization as a threat to their power. By the time Empress Cixi died in 1908, China had little ability to resist foreign forces within those powers’ Chinese spheres of influence.  

The Boxer Rebellion: In 1900, the Righteous and Harmonious Order of Fists or the “Boxers” broke out into rebellion in Northern China. The uprising was both anti-Qing and anti-foreigner.

  • The Qing government managed to ally with the Boxers to redirect all of their anger towards foreign powers in China.
  • The movement targeted both Christian missionaries and Chinese that had converted to Christianity.
  • Leaders in Southern China refused to support the Boxers and protected those targeted by the Boxers.
  • The British and the Americans led an international force that destroyed the Boxer Rebellion.
  • Europeans forced Chinese Empress Cixi to admit her mistakes publicly and repay the foreign costs of fighting against the rebellion.

Xinhai Revolution: The Xinhai Revolution (the Chinese Revolution of 1911) was a series of skirmishes that led to the final overthrow of the Qing Dynasty, which ended thousands of years of Chinese dynastic rule.

  • The Revolution began in October 1911 with the Wuchang uprising that arose in response to the Chinese central government’s attempts to take over and nationalize regional railways (take over and control local railroads).
  • When people began protesting in the Wuchang province, the central government’s troops opened fire on protestors, angering the population and starting the rebellion.
  • The events of Wuchang quickly spiraled out of control for the Chinese government. The Chinese Emperor had no choice but to agree to massive government reforms, including creating democratic institutions.

Major change: The Chinese dynasty period that lasted thousands of years has ended. China will enter a multi-decade period of internal conflict and civil war. 

The founding of the Republic of China

On January 1, 1912, the People’s Republic of China was born with Sun Yat Sin as its first provisional (temporary) president. On February 12, 1912, six-year-old Emperor Puyi abdicated (gave up) the Chinese throne ending thousands of years of Chinese dynastic rule.

  • Originally envisioned as a government built around western-style democratic institutions, the Republic of China quickly became an authoritarian dictatorship.
  • Western nations continued to support the new Chinese government as it slipped into authoritarianism because it adhered to western capitalist economic principles and rejected communism.
  • In 1921 the Chinese Communist Party was founded, ushering in nearly 30 years of civil war in China between the military forces of the Chinese Republic and those of the Communist Party.
  • In 1949, the Chinese Communist Party forces were victorious and took power in China.

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire

While the Ottoman state had limited industrial success, the Ottoman state never produced an industrial-military strong enough to defeat western European armies. By the 1870s, the Ottoman Tanzimat reforms that sought to modernize the government, industrialize, and strengthen the Ottoman state resulted in the bankruptcy of the Ottoman empire. Other reforms such as modern western schools, the secularization of society, and the adoption of some capitalist economic systems did not result in democratic systems that Ottoman Sultan Abd al-Hamid II (1876-1909)  had promised in 1876 to those demanding reform of Ottoman society.

The Young Turk Revolution

After 30 years of unmet democratic demands, a group known as the Young Turks formed and fought for democratic constitutional government. The Young Turks led a revolution in 1908 established a constitutional government in the Ottoman Empire. With the power of the Ottoman Sultan now limited by the Ottoman Parliament, the newly elected Young Turk government went about instituting administrative reforms that removed power from local authorities and gave it to the national government.

WWI destroyed the Ottoman state

When World War I started, the Young Turk Ottoman government initially remained neutral. However, in October 1914, the Ottomans entered the war on the side of Germany and the Central Powers when they attacked Russian forces along the Crimean coast.

  • Initial Ottoman successes quickly turned to defeat.
  • By the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire lay defeated and at the mercy of the English and French victors.
  • Their defeat resulted from their inability to produce weapons and munitions and build rail lines that could outpace the industrial might of the Allied Powers.
  • At the end of World War I, the British and French dismantled the Ottoman state. The country of Turkey emerged as the homeland of the Ottoman Turkish people.
  • The English and the French created new states from the remaining Ottoman territory.
  • The British and French placed these new states under an indirect colonial rule known as the Mandate System.

Important: The Mandate system allowed the British and French to expand their influence into a new region through their indirect control over the new states carved out of the former Ottoman Empire. 

Internal factors that weakened the Ottomans
External factors that weakened the Ottomans
Insufficient levels of industrialization
Unequal treaties gave outsiders too much influence within the Ottoman empire
Economic debt limited economic growth
Superior European military technology
Nationalism from non-Ottoman groups within the empire
European industrial products destroyed the traditional Ottoman artisan craft economy
Failed to modernize the military sufficiently
Loss of influence in global trade as land routes lost importance to maritime routes

Major change: After nearly 1500 years, the last great Islamic empire has collapsed.  

The collapse of the Czarist Russia

By the early 20th century, Russia had begun to industrialize successfully. However, rapid industrialization had resulted in brutal living conditions for many of Russia’s poorest.  

  • Peasants that the Russian Czar had freed from serfdom in 1861 did not have enough land to support their families.
  • Life was not much better for those who had migrated to urban areas to work in factories. Factory conditions in Russia were far worse than those in other industrialized nations.
  • When workers attempted to unionize and protest, Czarist forces crushed their activities, often with brutal force.

1905 Russian Revolution

In 1905, Russia broke out in Revolution. The Czar was caught unprepared to respond. Czar Nicholas II agreed to reforms to contain the rebellion and hold onto power. Reforms included the following:

turning Russia from a state ruled by his absolute power into a constitutional monarchy that limited Czarist power

creating an elected legislature (the Duma) that would write laws

It quickly became apparent that Czar Nicholas II had no intentions of relinquishing his power to elected officials. Nicholas backed out of his promised reforms, such as allowing the Duma to appoint his government ministers. He also created a second legislature, the State Council, that he selected and had equal power to the Duma. The Czar also arrested opposition leaders that had led the protests and repressed any open dissent that remained. 

The Russian Revolution of 1917

Russia entered World War One on the side of the Allied powers (England and France). Increasing death rates and shortages of food and goods increased instability in Russian society leftover from the Revolution of 1905. Stories of horrible conditions for Russian soldiers who sometimes lacked bullets, guns, or shoes spread through the Russian population. Strikes against the Czar broke out in 1917, and by March 1917, the Czar’s hold on power had evaporated. He abdicated the Russian Imperial throne ending 300 years of Romanov family rule over Russia. A provisional (temporary) government took over Russia.

Internal factors that weakened Czarist Russia
External factors that weakened Czarist Russia
Social discontent from economic problems in rural areas
Early German military success during WWI
Negative impacts of industrialization on factory workers
Return of communist leader Vladimir Lenin to Russia from exile in Germany
Failure of czarist leadership during WWI
Revolutionary movements

Important: The collapse of the Car’s rule did not result in a long period of a weakened Russia. Under their new communist dictatorship, Russia continued to strengthen through the building of an industrial military. 

The rise of communism

Civil war broke out in Russia as groups fought for power over the new government. The White Army supported the provisional government, while the Red Army supported the Bolsheviks Communists led by Vladamir Lenin. In November 1917, Lenin seized power over the Russian government, and Russia became the first communist state. Claiming he would govern for the people using the ideas of Karl Marx, Lenin quickly went about setting up a single-party dictatorship under the Russian Communist Party. In March 1918, Lenin pursued peace with Germany, ending Russia’s involvement in World War I.

Major change: The world’s first communist government has come to power.  

Important: The collapse of the Car’s rule did not result in a long period of a weakened Russia. Under their new communist dictatorship, Russia continued to strengthen through the building of an industrial-military. 

Challenges to Political Authorities without Collapse of the State

The 20th century also saw revolutionary challenges to existing political authorities that did not result in the complete collapse of governments and political systems.

The Mexican Revolution

One significant challenge to political elites was the Mexican Revolution challenged the power of the country’s longtime dictator Porfirio Diaz and the capitalist ruling elite that supported his dictatorship. 

Failure of the first Mexican Revolution

The Mexican Revolution against Spain in the 1810s had been an effort of all of Mexico’s people. The lowest classes had hoped that their conditions and opportunity would improve following the end of Spanish rule–their hope went unfulfilled.

  • The Mexican Revolution of 1910 began with growing dissatisfaction among the lower classes.
  • They aimed their anger at the 30-year dictatorship of dictator Porfirio Diaz and his government’s support of large landowners and industrialists.
  • In Mexico, 1% of people owned 97% of the land.

A new government and constitution

In 1910, when Francisco Madero ran for president of Mexico, he was arrested and jailed by President Diaz. He escaped from Mexico and set up an office in El Paso to continue his campaign and struggle.

  • In 1911, Madero’s troops, under the command of Pancho Villa, defeated the Mexican army.
  • Madero became the new Mexican President, and former President Diaz escaped into exile.
  • The Mexican constitution of 1917 allowed for universal suffrage (voting rights), greater access to primary education, and land redistribution from wealthy landowners to poorer peasants.

While conditions improved for some in the lower classes, most Mexican people’s hopes went unfulfilled.