Has there ever been a situation where the "motherland" treated its colonies well anywhere in the world?

So being born in a former French protectorate, I've been taught about the horrendous treatment of the French on my country and the other two Indochinese ones. Learning world history also tells me that most powers back then just exploited the crap out of their colonies. No wonder people wanted to revolt against them and gain independence.

I'm not really history-savvy, so I just wonder what would have happened if a power (is this what you call them, powers?) treated their colonized people well, got them educated, provided them the same treatment as they do with their citizens. I know that's a very thin stretch, because of racism and chauvinism and all, and that is far from the core ideology of colonialism, but I have heard of stories about Hong Kong, which apparently has become miserable since they were "returned" to the PRC, as opposed to when they were under British rule. Are there any other notable examples?

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    It depends on what you understand as "well", to what you compare it, and which population group you want to focus on. In colonial times there was the concept of "civilization mission" by which colonized people profitted from colonization because of the introduction of more advanced technologies. Some people may have valued independence more than material wealth, some Egyptians might have prefered British rule to the alternative of Ottoman rule, some people may have profited from the change of regime and social structures while others suffered great hardships because of that...
    – SJuan76
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 8:56
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    How far back in history do we want to go & what do you mean precisly with motherland & colony? I'm asking because the 'colonies' founded by phoenicians or greeks around the mediterranean may count, but those shared very few characteristics with the later colonial empires.
    – mart
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 9:01
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    The idea of a "motherland" acting is also somewhat underdefined. The Dutch VOC was a company, not a country. After the Dutch State took over Indonesia, it did introduce higher education and a People's Council, but companies did continue to treat their Indonesian workers rather poorly. Then again, this was the late 19th century, and the exact same complaints were made all over the world.
    – MSalters
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 9:11
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    What have the romans ever done for us? ;)
    – Rekesoft
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 9:30
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    You have to understand that you probably are getting a one-sided view of things. The people who ran the anti-colonial revolutions, and most likely placed themselves in positions of power after those revolutions, have a vested interest in convincing people that they're better off. It's even more difficult to find a neutral view because "colonialism" is out of fashion even in the mainstream of the former colonial powers. History is written by the victors :-(
    – jamesqf
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 18:06

6 Answers 6


Some of the UK colonies became independent on very friendly terms, and still maintain close ties to the UK. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand come to mind. However... their indigenous populations were pushed aside by the arriving colonists, so those people might feel otherwise about the experience.

Hong Kong didn't move from colony to self rule, it moved from colony of one nation to becoming part of a more authoritarian nation, with no real input from the HK residents on the transition.


Baltic states such as Estonia remember Swedish rule as the "good old [Swedish] times." That's because Swedish kings followed a policy of "reduction" that limited the power of nobles at home and abroad, thereby sparing the peasants from oppression more than German or Russian rulers.

  • I have a hard time seeing how you could call the Baltic areas colonies. It was conquered territory that was not totally incorporated in the Swedish state. You would hardly call e.g. Scotland an English colony. (There were Swedish settlers on some of the islands in Estonia, but they had first arrived much earlier than Sweden gained control.)
    – andejons
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 6:05
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    I think you missed a very good choice with this answer -- namely, while the Baltic and Estonian lands were already populated (by "civilised Westerners") when the Swedes/Danes got there, does Finland not share this opinion? Perhaps this would be a better place to mention as Finland was part of an extensive "re-plantation" of Swedes, insofar as I can understand their complex Medieaval development.
    – gktscrk
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 22:43
  • Estonia was certainly an overseas colony for the German Catholics who converted it to Christianity in the 1200s or so.
    – C Monsour
    Commented Oct 31, 2020 at 1:00
  • Sweden by the time of the Baltic provinces became an conglomerate state. Finland is different because it was completely integrated in Sweden (the same laws applied.) Commented Oct 31, 2020 at 13:57

The answer to this is, of course, a matter of opinion, rather than fact. However, in my view, the British Empire was largely a benevolent imperial power which generally treated the colonised nations/peoples exceptionally well, and was a tremendous force for good in the world. But many others would disagree. I would add that the French Empire was also a largely benevolent imperial power which arguably contributed to the progress of its colonised peoples.

Regarding the first sentence of your second paragraph, I would sound a note of caution. Every revolutionary government needs to justify the revolution ex post, which means that governments and the educational establishment have a very strong incentive to "teach" the next generation about the supposed horrors of the ancien regime. In the case of former colonies, this means ensuring that the next generation believes in the supposed evils of the colonial power (which are often exaggerated for this purpose), and that the benefits of the imperial era - education, healthcare, parliamentary democracy, a modern and objective legal system, etc - are downplayed. And historical support for the colonial power among the native population is ignored as a historical inconvenience. E.g. in Ireland, the fact that about 20% of the Irish population had been Unionists was very inconvenient for the post-revolutionary Irish government (and society), and so this was downplayed. The supposed (and, it has to be said, often real) crimes of the British authorities in Ireland were exaggerated, and Britain was made in 20th-century Irish historiography into an evil imperial power subjugating Ireland by force, with Irish Unionists portrayed as either Quisling-esque collaborationists or an elite governing class. The fact that many contemporary Irishmen regarded the revolutionaries of 1916 as extremists was also ignored for some time.

None of this is an attempt to justify the colonisation of Ireland - just an example of how historical nuance is lost in this, and many other cases, because post-revolution, it is necessary to create a historicistic narrative which justifies the revolution - partly because the authorities have an incentive to do so, and partly because the people of the country feel the need to.

So yeah, a long-winded way of saying, I wouldn't necessarily accept your schoolteachers' accounts of the evils of the French Empire without qualification, but take them with a pinch of salt. Consider at least that they may be either exaggerated, or else true, but selectively chosen.

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    Similarly, the benefits "education", "healthcare" etc. from colonization might also be an exaggeration. Is being exploited by a foreign colonial power really the best way to get those? Can't they develop on their own without being colonized? For example, in Asia, why does Japan and China have more advanced economies than India and Indonesia, even though the latter two are the ones more thoroughly endowed by colonial powers?
    – user69715
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 19:38
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    -1. The treatment of indigenous populations by colonising powers is not at all a matter of personal opinion, but part of the documented historical record. We have an abundance of sources that testify to the suppression of local nationalisms, the use of slavery and even genocide. While there is always scope for divergent opinions, the extent to which you have actually reversed the scholarly consensus finds no support in the sources themselves, and looks apologetic.
    – Shimon bM
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 21:11
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    @ShimonbM the British Empire was the primary reason why the slave trade ended. We were an anti-slave power. Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 21:21
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    @user69715: In 1833 the British government issued a bond to finance the purchase of freedom for every black slave in the empire - which was only paid off in 2015. (India was under E.I.C. and was dealt with separately a decade later.) Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 22:32
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    not a few countries in africa would be better if they were still colonies instead of having been handed over to commie dictators. Some GDPs fell steeply just after decolonization due to commie destruction and ineptitude, and productive people fleeing their misrule.
    – Luiz
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 20:15

Well, Spain founded many schools, hospitals and universities in their "colonies". The "New Laws" where approved a few years after the conquest of the Americas (1542) forbbiding the slavery and setting fair laws to protect the natives, officialy at least: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Laws There was no official/legal discrimination agains specific races or ethnicities in New Spain territories, as stated by many authors: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casta#cite_note-1 Spaniards and natives mixed race during centuries and the "mestizos" were one of the dominant social statements. It could be discussed if what Spain did in their conquered territories could be called colonialism or not, actually.

I would recommend you to take a look at this good related answer from Lars: https://history.stackexchange.com/a/41974/40566

Of course there were often mistreatments, even more during the conquest times and wars, but overall I would say that this could be a fair example of what you were asking for.

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    "There was no official/legal discrimination agains specific races or ethnicities in New Spain territories" err... That might be vaguely true on paper, but there was an extremely strong sense of racial hierarchy. Also, while the slavery of the natives quickly went out of favor indeed, Haiti only agreed to help Bolivar on the condition that they'd free their enslaved Venezuelan brethren. Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 14:54

After WW2 West-Germany and Japan were governed by the United States for a short time and thus were in essence colonies/protectorates during that period. I think most historians agree these countries were treated extremely well by their "master-country" during this period. Especially when you take into account the actions of these countries that resulted in them being protectorates.


Of course answering this question requires a lot of subjective judgments.

One interesting way that people have looked at this (which itself embeds a lot of partially-considered value judgments) is to compare different colonial regimes with each other on various dimensions.

The most prominent example of this approach that I know of is this paper by Acemogulu et al, which has come in for a ton of criticism but also inspired a lot more work.

I'm guessing there is more like this from before the latest "wave."

(h/t to Statsanalyst; the Acemoglu et al paper broadly agrees with his point that Britain seems to have been better)

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    Please don't comment on your own answer; edit the answer to include all the information. Comments are (bad) barn cats. See When should you comment
    – MCW
    Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 20:24
  • Thanks! What's a barn cat?
    – capet
    Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 20:41
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    I re-edited the prior comment - I had pasted the wrong URL; this should now work. Sorry for the confusion
    – MCW
    Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 21:25
  • Thanks @MarkC.Wallace. I decided that the comments were more clutter than additional information.
    – capet
    Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 21:34

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