Second Opium War

Second Opium War

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Second Opium War
partof=the Opium Wars

caption=Upper North Taku Fort in 1860.
casus=Chinese boarding of British-registered ship the "Arrow"
result=Anglo-French victory; Treaties of Tianjin
combatant1=flag|Qing Dynasty
combatant2=flag|United Kingdom
flagicon|France French Empire
commander1=flagicon|Qing Dynasty Xianfeng Emperor
commander2=flagicon|United Kingdom Michael Seymour
flagicon|United Kingdom James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin
flagicon|France Jean-Baptiste Louis Gros
flagicon|FranceAuguste Léopold Protet
The Second Opium War, the Second Anglo-Chinese War, the Arrow War, or the Anglo-French expedition to China, [Michel Vié, "Histoire du Japon des origines a Meiji", PUF, p.99. ISBN 2130528937] was a war of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the Second French Empire against the Qing Dynasty of China from 1856 to 1860.


"Second Opium War" is the term most popular in the PRC. It shows the continuation of a historical process of China's colonisation according to the Marxist view (which played the decisive role in the picking of the name, while being not quite objective). The importance of the opium factor in the war is disputed, so many historians prefer the other terms. The "Arrow War" refers to the name of a vessel which became the starting point of the conflict.


The 1850s saw the rapid growth of imperialism. Some of the shared goals of the western powers were the expansion of their overseas markets and the establishment of new ports of call. The French Treaty of Huangpu and the American Wangxia Treaty both contained clauses allowing renegotiation of the treaties after twelve years. In an effort to expand their privileges in China, Britain demanded the Qing authorities renegotiate the Treaty of Nanjing (signed in 1842), citing their most favoured nation status. The British demands included opening all of China to British merchants, legalizing the opium trade, exempting foreign imports from internal transit duties, suppression of piracy, regulation of the coolie trade, permission for a British ambassador to reside in Beijing and for the English-language version of all treaties to take precedence over the Chinese.

The Qing Dynasty court rejected the demands from Britain, France, and the US.


On 8 October 1856 Qing officials boarded the "Arrow", a Chinese-owned ship (a lorcha) that had been registered in Hong Kong and was suspected of piracy and smuggling. Twelve Chinese subjects were arrested and imprisoned. The British officials in Guangzhou demanded the release of the sailors, claiming that because the ship had recently been British-registered, it was protected under the Treaty of Nanjing. Only when this was shown to be a weak argument did the British insist that the "Arrow" had been flying a British ensign and that the Qing soldiers had insulted the flag. As China insisted that it did not hang out the national flag at that time, negotiations eventually broke down. In fact, the registration of the nationality of the "Arrow" already had the time limit hence she did not have the right to fly the colours of the Crown at this time, and her crew's arrest by the Qing authorities was lawful in any case. Faced with fighting the Taiping Rebellion, the Qing government was in no position to resist the West militarily. This came to be known as the "Arrow" Incident. [Tsai, Jung-fang. [1995] (1995). Hong Kong in Chinese History: community and social unrest in the British Colony, 1842–1913. ISBN 0231079338]

Although the British were delayed by the Indian Mutiny, they responded to the "Arrow" Incident in 1857 and attacked Guangzhou from the Pearl River. Ye Mingchen, the governor of Guangdong and Guangxi provinces, ordered all Chinese soldiers manning the forts not to resist the British incursion. After taking the fort near Guangzhou with little effort, the British Army attacked Guangzhou.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, there was an attempt to poison the entire European community in January. However, local bakers, who had been charged with lacing bread with arsenic bungled the attempt by putting an excess of the poison into the dough, in sufficient quantities to be detected. Criers were sent out with an alert, averting disaster. [John Thomson 1837–1921, [ Chap on Hong Kong] , Illustrations of China and Its People (London,1873-1874)]

When known in Britain, the issue became the subject of controversy. The liberals' voices in support of China were harshed down, and in 1857 the Parliament was dissolved by Lord Palmerston.

The new parliament decided to seek redress from China based on the report about the "Arrow" Incident submitted by Harry Parkes, British Consul to Guangzhou. France, the USA, and Russia received requests from Britain to form an alliance.

France joined the British action against China, prompted by the execution of a French missionary, Father August Chapdelaine ("Father Chapdelaine Incident"), by Chinese local authorities in Guangxi province. ["Religion Under Socialism in China" by Zhufeng Luo, Chu-feng Lo, Luo Zhufeng p.42: "France started the second Opium War under the pretext of the "Father Chapdelaine Incident." [] ] ["Taiwan in Modern Times" by Paul Kwang Tsien Sih p.105: "The two incidents that eventually caused a war were the Arrow incident and the murder of the French Catholic priest, Abbe Auguste Chapdelaine"] ["A History of Christian Missions in China" p.273by Kenneth Scott Latourette: "A casus belli was found in an unfortunate incident which had occurred before the Arrow affair, the judicial murder of a French priest, Auguste Chapdelaine" [] ]

The USA and Russia sent envoys to Hong Kong to offer help to the British and French, though in the end they sent no military aid.

The British and the French joined forces under Admiral Sir Michael Seymour. The British army led by Lord Elgin, and the French army led by Gros, attacked and occupied Guangzhou in late 1857. Ye Mingchen was captured, and Bo-gui, the governor of Guangdong, surrendered. A joint committee of the Alliance was formed. Bo-gui remained at his original post in order to maintain order on behalf of the victors. The British-French Alliance maintained control of Guangzhou for nearly four years. Ye Mingchen was exiled to Calcutta, India, where he starved himself to death.

The coalition then cruised north to briefly capture the Taku Forts near Tianjin in May, 1858.

Treaties of Tianjin

In June 1858 the first part of the war ended with the Treaties of Tianjin, to which France, Russia, and the United States were parties. These treaties opened eleven more ports to Western trade. The Chinese initially refused to ratify the treaties.

The major points of the treaty were:

# Britain, France, Russia, and the United States would have the right to establish diplomatic legations (small embassies) in Peking (a closed city at the time)
# Ten more Chinese ports would be opened for foreign trade, including Niuzhuang, Danshui, Hankou, and Nanjing
# The right of all foreign vessels including commercial ships to navigate freely on the Yangtze River
# The right of foreigners to travel in the internal regions of China, which had been formerly banned
# China was to pay an indemnity to Britain and France in 2 million taels of silver each
# China was to pay compensation to British merchants in 2 million taels of silver for destruction of their property

Treaty of Aigun

On 28 May 1858, the separate Treaty of Aigun was signed with Russia to revise the Chinese and Russian border as determined by the Nerchinsk Treaty in 1689. Russia gained the left bank of the Amur River, pushing the border back from the Argun River. The treaty gave Russia control over a non-freezing area on the Pacific coast, where Russia founded the city of Vladivostok in 1860.

Continuation of the war

In June 1858, shortly after the Qing Court agreed to the disadvantageous treaties, more hawkish ministers prevailed upon the Xianfeng Emperor to resist encroachment by the West. On 2 June 1858, the Xianfeng Emperor ordered the Mongolian general Sengge Rinchen to guard the Dagu Fort in Tianjin. Sengge Richen reinforced the Dagu Forts with added artillery. He also brought 4,000 Mongolian cavalry from Chahar and Suiyuan.

In June, 1859, a British naval force with 2,200 troops and 21 ships, under the command of Admiral Sir James Hope sailed north from Shanghai to Tianjin with newly-appointed Anglo-French envoys for the embassies in Beijing. They sailed to the mouth of the Hai River guarded by the Dagu Fort near Tianjin and demanded to continue inland to Beijing. Sengge Rinchen replied that the Anglo-French envoys may land up the coast at Beitang and proceed to Beijing but refused to allow armed troops to accompany them to the Chinese capital. The Anglo-French forces insisted on landing at Dagu instead of Beitang and escorting the envoy to Beijing. On the night of 24 June 1859, a small batch of British forces blew up iron obstacles that the Chinese had placed in the Baihe River. The next day, the British forces sought to forcibly sail into the river, and shelled Dagu Fort. They encountered fierce resistance from Sengge Rinchen's positions. After one day and one night's fighting, four gunboats were lost and two others severely damaged. The convoy withdrew under the cover of fire from a naval squadron commanded by Commodore Josiah Tattnall. Tattnall's intervention violated U.S. neutrality in China. For a time, anti-foreign resistance reached a crescendo within the Qing Court.

In the summer of 1860, a larger Anglo-French force (11,000 British under General James Hope Grant, 6,700 French under General Cousin-Montauban) [Encyclopedie Larousse Illustree, 1898, Cousin-Montuaban article] [Le Figaro, Hors-Serie "Pekin", Feb. 2008] with 173 ships sailed from Hong Kong and captured the port cities of Yantai and Dalian to seal the Bohai Gulf. Then they carried out a landing near at Bei Tang (also spelled Pei Tang), some km to mi|3|spell=UK from the Dagu Fort on 3 August, which they captured after three weeks' on 21 August. After taking Tienstin on 3 August, the Anglo-French forces marched inland toward Beijing. The Xianfeng Emperor then dispatched ministers to for peace talks, but relations broke down completely when a British diplomatic envoy, Harry Parkes, was arrested during negotiations on 18 September. He and his small entourage were imprisoned and tortured (some were murdered by the Chinese in a fashion that infuriated British leadership upon discovery in October). The Anglo-French invasion clashed with Sengge Rinchen's Mongolian cavalry on 18 September near Zhangjiawan before proceeding toward the outskirts of Beijing for a decisive battle in Tongzhou District.

On 21 September, at the Battle of Palikao, Sengge Rinchen's 10,000 troops including elite Mongolian cavalry were completely annihilated after several doomed frontal charges against concentrated firepower of the Anglo-French forces, which entered Beijing on 6 October.

Burning of the Summer Palaces

With the Qing army devastated, Emperor Xianfeng fled the capital, leaving his brother, Prince Gong, to be in charge of negotiations. Xianfeng first fled to the Chengde Summer Palace and then to Jehol in Manchuria."The Rise of Modern China", Immanual Hsu, 1985, pg. 215.] Anglo-French troops in Beijing began looting the New Summer Palace (Yihe Yuan) and Old Summer Palace (Yuan Ming Yuan) immediately (it was full of valuable artwork). After Parkes and the surviving diplomatic prisoners were freed, Lord Elgin ordered the Summer Palaces destroyed starting on 18 October. Beijing was not occupied; the Anglo-French army remained outside the city.

The destruction of the Forbidden City was discussed, as proposed by Lord Elgin to discourage the Chinese from using kidnapping as a bargaining tool, and to exact revenge on the mistreatment of their prisoners.Endacott, George Beer. Carroll, John M. [2005] (2005). A Biographical Sketch-book of Early Hong Kong. HK University press. ISBN 9622097421] Elgin's decision was further motivated by the torture and murder of almost twenty Western prisoners, including two British envoys and a journalist for "The Times". The Russian envoy Count Ignatiev and the French diplomat Baron Gros settled on the burning of the Summer Palaces instead, since it was "least objectionable" and would not jeopardize the treaty signing.

Chinese historians Who|date=August 2007 have argued that the destruction was a cover-up for widespread looting. That the Summer Palaces was looted before being destroyed is certain but it is not surprising. Elgin was acutely sensitive to the charge of looting Fact|date=August 2007, as it was his own father, Thomas Bruce (1776–1841), who, from 1799 to 1803, removed from the Acropolis in Greece what are now known as the Elgin Marbles to Britain, where they remain to this day, a subject of rancor between the Greek and British governments.


After the Xianfeng emperor and his entourage fled Beijing, the June 1858 Treaty of Tianjin was finally ratified by the emperor's brother, Yixin, the Prince Gong, in the Convention of Peking on 18 October 1860, bringing The Second Opium War to an end.

The British, French and - thanks to the schemes of Ignatiev - the Russians were all granted a permanent diplomatic presence in Beijing (something the Qing resisted to the very end as it suggested equality between China and the European powers). The Chinese had to pay 8 million taels to Britain and France. Britain acquired Kowloon (next to Hong Kong). The opium trade was legalized and Christians were granted full civil rights, including the right to own property, and the right to evangelize.

The content of the Convention of Peking included:

# China's recognition of the validity of the Treaty of Tianjin
# Opening Tianjin as a trade port
# Cede No.1 District of Kowloon (south of present day Boundary Street) to Britain
# Freedom of religion established in China
# British ships were allowed to carry indentured Chinese to the Americas
# Indemnity to Britain and France increasing to 8 million taels of silver a piece
# Legalization of the opium trade

Two weeks later, Ignatiev convinced the Manchu to sign a "Supplementary Treaty of Peking", in which the Manchu signed away some 300,000 to 400,000 square miles (777,000–1,036,000 km²) of land to the Russians. The defeat of the Imperial army by a small Anglo-French military force (outnumbered at least 10 to 1 by the Manchu army) coupled with the flight (and subsequent death) of the Emperor and the burning of the Summer Palace was a shocking blow to the once powerful Qing Dynasty. "Beyond a doubt, by 1860 the ancient civilization that was China had been thoroughly defeated and humiliated by the West." [Immanuel C.Y. Hsu "The Rise of Modern China", 6th ed., Oxford University Press, 2000: 219.]

Footnotes and references

Further reading

* Jack Beeching, "The Chinese Opium Wars" (1975), ISBN 0-15-617094-9
* Bonner-Smith and E. Lumley, "The Second China War", 1944.
* W. Travis Hanes III and Frank Sanello, "The Opium Wars", 2002, ISBN 0-7607-7638-5
* Immanual Hsu, "The Rise of Modern China", 1985.
* Henry Loch, "Personal narrative of occurrences during Lord Elgin's second embassy to China 1860", 1869.
* Erik Ringmar, [ "Fury of the Europeans: Liberal Barbarism and the Destruction of the Emperor's Summer Palace"]
* J.W. Wong, "Deadly Dreams: Opium, Imperialism, and the Arrow War (1856-1860) in China", (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) 1998.

The Second Opium War in popular media

* cite book

first = George MacDonald
last = Fraser
year = 1986
title = Flashman and the Dragon
publisher = Knopf
location = New York, NY
id = ISBN 0-394-55357-8
— A portion of the memoirs of the fictional Harry Paget Flashman recounting his adventures during the Second Opium War and Taiping Rebellion.

See also

* Unequal treaties
* David Sassoon
* Anglo-Chinese relations
* Imperialism in Asia
* Taiping Rebellion (1851-1864)
* Charles George Gordon
* British military history
* Felice Beato#China
* Taku Forts#Second Opium War

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