大英帝国是第二次世界大战前世界上最大的帝国，其中包括亚洲的许多地方。这些地区包括现在的阿曼，也门，阿拉伯联合酋长国，科威特，伊拉克，约旦，巴勒斯坦，缅甸（缅甸），斯里兰卡（锡兰），马尔代夫，新加坡，马来西亚（马来亚），文莱，沙捞越和北婆罗洲（现在是印度尼西亚的一部分），巴布亚新几内亚和香港。当然，全世界所有英国海外财产的皇冠上都是印度。英国殖民官和英国殖民者一般认为自己是“公平竞争”的典范，理论上，至少，所有皇冠的主体在法律面前都应该是平等的，不论其种族，宗教或种族如何。尽管如此，与其他欧洲人相比，英国殖民者与当地人的关系更为分散，雇佣当地人作为家庭帮助，但很少与他们通婚。在某种程度上，这可能是由于英国关于将阶级分离到海外殖民地的想法的转移。英国人对他们的殖民主体持一种家长式的看法，感受到一种责任 – 正如鲁迪亚德·吉卜林所说的那样“白人的负担” – 使亚洲，非洲和新世界的人民基督化和文明化。事实上，在亚洲，英国建造了公路，铁路和政府，并获得了全国对茶的痴迷。然而，如果一个被征服的人升起，这种绅士风度和人道主义的表面很快就会崩溃。英国无情地镇压了1857年的印度叛乱，并在肯尼亚的茂茂叛乱（1952年至1960年）中残酷地折磨被指控的参与者。 1943年饥荒袭击孟加拉时，温斯顿丘吉尔政府不仅没有采取任何措施来养活孟加拉，它实际上拒绝了美国和加拿大对印度的粮食援助。
虽然法国在亚洲寻求一个广泛的殖民帝国，但它在拿破仑战争中的失败使它只剩下少数几个亚洲领土。其中包括20世纪黎巴嫩和叙利亚的任务，尤其是法属印度支那的主要殖民地 – 现在的越南，老挝和柬埔寨。在某些方面，法国人对殖民主体的态度与英国竞争对手的态度截然不同。一些理想主义的法国人不仅要主宰他们的殖民地，而且要创造一个“大法兰西”，在这里，全世界所有法国臣民都是平等的。例如，阿尔及利亚的北非殖民地成为法国的一个部门或省，并有议会代表。这种态度上的差异可能是由于法国对启蒙思想的接受，以及法国大革命，它已经打破了仍然在英国下令社会的一些阶级障碍。尽管如此，法国殖民者也感受到了“白人的负担”，即将所谓的文明和基督教带给野蛮的臣民。在个人层面上，法国殖民者比英国人更容易嫁给当地妇女，并在殖民地社会中创造文化融合。然而，一些法国种族理论家如古斯塔夫·勒邦（Gustave Le Bon）和亚瑟·戈比诺（Arthur Gobineau）谴责这种倾向是法国人天生的遗传优势的腐败。随着时间的推移，法国殖民者的社会压力增加，以保持“法国种族”的“纯洁”。在法属印度支那，与阿尔及利亚不同，殖民统治者没有建立大型定居点。法属印度支那是一个经济殖民地，旨在为本国创造利润。然而，尽管缺乏定居者需要保护，但在第二次世界大战后他们抵抗法国回归时，法国很快就与越南人发生了血腥的战争。今天，小型天主教社区，对法式长棍面包和羊角面包的喜爱，以及一些漂亮的殖民建筑，都是法国在东南亚的影响力。
荷兰人通过他们各自的东印度公司竞争并争取控制印度洋贸易路线和与英国的香料生产。最终，荷兰失去了对英国的斯里兰卡，并在1662年将台湾（福尔摩沙）输给了中国，但仍保留了对现在构成印度尼西亚的大部分富裕香料岛的控制权。对于荷兰人来说，这个殖民地企业都是关于金钱的。对于异教徒的文化改善或基督教化的借口很少 – 荷兰人想要的利润，简单明了。结果，他们毫不犹豫地无情地捕获当地人并将其用作种植园的奴隶劳动力，甚至对班达群岛的所有居民进行大屠杀以保护他们对肉豆蔻和肉豆蔻贸易的垄断。
Several different Western European powers established colonies in Asia during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Each of the imperial powers had its own style of administration, and colonial officers from the different nations also displayed various attitudes towards their imperial subjects.
The British Empire was the largest in the world prior to World War II, and included a number of places in Asia. Those territories include what is now Oman, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Myanmar (Burma), Sri Lanka (Ceylon), the Maldives, Singapore, Malaysia (Malaya), Brunei, Sarawak and North Borneo (now part of Indonesia), Papua New Guinea, and Hong Kong. The crown jewel of all of Britain’s overseas possessions around the world, of course, was India. British colonial officers and British colonists in general saw themselves as exemplars of “fair play,” and in theory, at least, all of the crown’s subjects were supposed to be equal before the law, regardless of their race, religion, or ethnicity. Nonetheless, British colonials held themselves apart from local people more than other Europeans did, hiring locals as domestic help, but rarely intermarrying with them. In part, this may have been due to a transfer of British ideas about the separation of classes to their overseas colonies. The British took a paternalistic view of their colonial subjects, feeling a duty – the “white man’s burden,” as Rudyard Kipling put it – to Christianize and civilize the peoples of Asia, Africa, and the New World. In Asia, the story goes, Britain built roads, railways, and governments, and acquired a national obsession with tea. This veneer of gentility and humanitarianism quickly crumbled, however, if a subjugated people rose up. Britain ruthlessly put down the Indian Revolt of 1857, and brutally tortured accused participants in Kenya’s Mau Mau Rebellion (1952 – 1960). When famine struck Bengal in 1943, Winston Churchill’s government not only did nothing to feed Bengalis, it actually turned down food aid from the US and Canada meant for India.
Although France sought an extensive colonial empire in Asia, its defeat in the Napoleonic Wars left it with just a handful of Asian territories. Those included the 20th-century mandates of Lebanon and Syria, and more especially the key colony of French Indochina – what is now Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. French attitudes about colonial subjects were, in some ways, quite different from those of their British rivals. Some idealistic French sought not just to dominate their colonial holdings, but to create a “Greater France” in which all French subjects around the world truly would be equal. For example, the North African colony of Algeria became a depertment, or a province, of France, complete with parliamentary representation. This difference in attitude may be due to France’s embrace of Enlightenment thinking, and to the French Revolution, which had broken down some of the class barriers that still ordered society in Britain. Nonetheless, French colonizers also felt the “white man’s burden” of bringing so-called civilization and Christianity to barbaric subject peoples. On the personal level, French colonials were more apt than the British to marry local women and create a cultural fusion in their colonial societies. Some French racial theorists such as Gustave Le Bon and Arthur Gobineau, however, decried this tendency as a corruption of Frenchmen’s innate genetic superiority. As time went on, social pressure increased for French colonials to preserve the “purity” of the “French race.” In French Indochina, unlike Algeria, the colonial rulers did not establish large settlements. French Indochina was an economic colony, meant to produce a profit for the home country. Despite the lack of settlers to protect, however, France was quick to jump into a bloody war with the Vietnamese when they resisted a French return after World War II. Today, small Catholic communities, a fondness for baguettes and croissants, and some pretty colonial architecture is all that remains of visible French influence in Southeast Asia.
The Dutch competed and fought for control of the Indian Ocean trade routes and spice production with the British, through their respective East India Companies. In the end, the Netherlands lost Sri Lanka to the British, and in 1662, lost Taiwan (Formosa) to the Chinese, but retained control over most of the rich spice islands that now make up Indonesia. For the Dutch, this colonial enterprise was all about money. There was very little pretense of cultural improvement or Christianization of the heathens – the Dutch wanted profits, plain and simple. As a result, they showed no qualms about ruthlessly capturing locals and using them as slave labor on the plantations, or even carrying out a massacre of all the inhabitants of the Banda Islands to protect their monopoly on the nutmeg and mace trade.