Around the World in 80 Days

Around the World in 80 Days Imperial Britain in India and Hong Kong

Throughout a large portion of modern history, the British Empire colonized and ruled over much of the world. Around the World in Eighty Days was written and published during this period of imperialism, and on his journey across the world, Phileas Fogg spends time in both India and Hong Kong, two territories owned and administrated by Britain at the time. Understanding the British occupation of these places can aid in further understanding the historical context of this novel.


The British came to rule India through the influence of the British East India Company over the region. The British East India Company was given a charter to pursue trade in the East Indies in 1600AD. The British began to build trading factories and settlements with the permission of local kings, and persuaded the current emperor of India's reigning Mogul Empire, Aurangzeb, to allow them to trade without paying taxes.

When Aurangzeb died, however, the Company began to conflict with various Indian Nawabs, or governors of certain regions. In the mid 1700s, Sirajuddaulah, the Nawab of Bengal, knew that the British were planning to colonize India and tried to shut down their trading factories and warehouses. The British retaliated, resulting in the famous Battle of Plassey in 1757, which they won because of a bribe.

From this point on, the British installed and periodically dethroned puppet kings throughout India so that they could gain power. They subdued revolts with imperial troops, and by 1858, the British monarchy took over supervising the region. In 1876 Queen Victoria was crowned empress of India, and India officially became the largest colony of the British Empire.

The British ruled two-thirds of the Indian subcontinent until 1947. By the early 20th century, nationalism began to rise in India, aided by leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi. Indians sought self-rule and independence from Britain, and this was pursued both through civil disobedience and through revolutionary violence. In 1947, India was officially granted independence, and the British colony was partitioned into two separate nations, India and Pakistan, because of rising tensions between Hindus and Muslims in the region.

Hong Kong

In the 19th century, the British Empire traded heavily with imperial China for their tea. They imported so much tea that trade was significantly imbalanced, so a substance called Opium became an additional British export to China. But China's Qing state opposed this opium trade, which resulted in the First Opium War. The British emerged victorious, and thus the territory of Hong Kong was ceded to the British as a colony in 1842.

Christian missionaries established schools and churches in Hong Kong, and as universities began to develop, individuals that would soon be important figures in Chinese history were educated in Hong Kong. This included Sun Yat-sen, who would lead the revolution that transformed China from an empire into a republic in 1911.

British rule was interrupted by Japanese occupation in Hong Kong from 1941-1945. After Japan surrendered in World War II, however, Britain reclaimed the territory. Despite the decolonization movement that emerged after World War II, the British chose to keep Hong Kong for various strategic reasons. It became a major economic center, but also began working more closely with Mainland China. In 1984 Britain and China signed an agreement that Hong Kong would be ceded to China in 1997.