Second War" and "Arrow War" are both used in the literature. "Second Opium War" refers to one of the British strategic objectives: legalising the opium trade, expanding coolie trade, opening all of China to British merchants, and exempting foreign imports from internal transit duties. The "Arrow War" refers to the name of a vessel which became the starting point of the conflict. The importance of the opium factor in the war is in debate among historians.
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 12 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, legalising 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 and France.
Although the British were delayed by the Indian Rebellion of 1857, they followed up the Arrow Incident in 1856 and attacked Guangzhou from the Pearl River. The governor of Guangdong and Guangxi provinces, Yeh Mingchen, 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 British Superintendent of Trade, Sir John Bowring and his family in January. However, the baker who had been charged with lacing bread with arsenic bungled the attempt by putting an excess of the poison into the dough. This meant that his victims threw up sufficient quantities of the poison as to only have a non-lethal dose left in their system. Criers were sent out with an alert, averting disaster.
When known in Britain, the issue became the subject of controversy. The British House of Commons on 3 March passed a resolution by 263 to 249 against the Government saying: That this House has heard with concern of the conflicts which have occurred between the British and Chinese authorities on the Canton River; and, without expressing an opinion as to the extent to which the Government of China may have afforded this country cause of complaint respecting the non-fulfilment of the Treaty of 1842, this House considers that the papers which have been laid on the table fail to establish satisfactory grounds for the violent measures resorted to at Canton in the late affair of the Arrow, and that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the state of our commercial relations with China. In response, Lord Palmerston assaulted the patriotism of the Whigs who sponsored the resolution and Parliament was dissolved.
election and an increased majority for Palmerston, the voices within the Whig faction who were in support of China were hushed, and 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. The French Empire, the United States, and the Russian Empire received requests from Britain to form an alliance.
Second Opium War - Causes:
In the mid-1850s, the European powers and the United States sought to renegotiate their commercial treaties with China. This effort was led by the British who sought the opening of all of China to their merchants, an ambassador in Beijing, legalization of the opium trade, and the exemption of imports from tariffs. Unwilling to make further concessions to the West, the Qing government of Emperor Xianfeng refused these requests. Tensions were further heightened on October 8, 1856, when Chinese officials boarded the Hong Kong (then British) registered ship Arrow and removed 12 Chinese crewmen.
In response to the Arrow Incident, British diplomats in Canton demanded the release of the prisoners and sought redress. The Chinese refused, stating that Arrow was involved in smuggling and piracy. To aid in dealing with the Chinese, the British contacted France, Russia, and the United States about forming an alliance. The French, angered by the recent execution of missionary August Chapdelaine by the Chinese, joined while the Americans and Russians sent envoys. In Hong Kong, the situation worsened following a failed attempt by the city's Chinese bakers to poison the city's European population.
Second Opium War - Early Actions:
In 1857, after dealing with the Indian Mutiny, British forces arrived at Hong Kong. Led by Admiral Sir Michael Seymour and Lord Elgin, they joined with the French under Marshall Gros and then attacked the forts on the Pearl River south of Canton. The governor of Guangdong and Guangxi provinces, Ye Mingchen, ordered his soldiers not to resist and the British easily took control of the forts. Pressing north, the British and French seized Canton after a brief fight and captured Ye Mingchen. Leaving an occupying force at Canton, they sailed north and took the Taku Forts outside Tianjin in May 1858.
Second Opium War - Treaty of Tianjin:
With his military already dealing with the Taiping Rebellion, Xianfeng was unable to resist the advancing British and French. Seeking peace, the Chinese negotiated the Treaties of Tianjin. As part of the treaties, the British, French, Americans, and Russians were permitted to install legations in Beijing, ten additional ports would be opened to foreign trade, foreigners would be permitted to travel through the interior, and reparations would be paid to Britain and France. In addition, the Russians signed the separate Treaty of Aigun which gave them coastal land in northern China.
Second Opium War - Fighting Resumes:
While the treaties ended the fighting, they were immensely unpopular within Xianfeng's government. Shortly after agreeing to the terms, he was persuaded to renege and dispatched Mongolian General Sengge Rinchen to defend the newly returned Taku Forts. The following June hostilities recommenced following Rinchen's refusal to allow Admiral Sir James Hope to land troops to escort the new ambassadors to Beijing. While Richen was willing to allow the ambassador's to land elsewhere, he prohibited armed troops to accompany them.
On the night of June 24, 1859, British forces cleared the Baihe River of obstacles and the next day Hope's squadron sailed in to bombard the Taku Forts. Meeting heavy resistance from the fort's batteries, Hope was ultimately forced to withdrawal with the aid of Commodore Josiah Tattnall, whose ships violated US neutrality to assist the British. When asked why he intervened, Tattnall replied that "blood is thicker than water." Stunned by this reversal, the British and French began assembling a large force at Hong Kong. By the summer of 1860, the army numbered 17,700 men (11,000 British, 6,700 French).
Sailing with 173 ships, Lord Elgin and General Charles Cousin-Montauban returned to the Tianjin and landed on August 3 near Bei Tang, two miles from the Taku Forts. The forts fell on August 21. Having occupied Tianjin, the Anglo-French army began moving inland towards Beijing. As the enemy host approached, Xianfeng called for peace talks. These stalled following the arrest and torture of British envoy Harry Parkes and his party. On September 18, Rinchen attacked the invaders near Zhangjiawan but was repelled. As the British and French entered the Beijing suburbs, Rinchen made his final stand at Baliqiao.
Mustering over 30,000 men, Rinchen launched several frontal assaults on the Anglo-French positions and was repulsed, destroying his army in the process. The way now open, Lord Elgin and Cousin-Montauban entered Beijing on October 6. With the army gone, Xianfeng fled the capital, leaving Prince Gong to negotiate peace. While in the city, British and French troops looted the Old Summer Palace and freed Western prisoners. Lord Elgin considered burning the Forbidden City as punishment for Chinese use of kidnapping and torture, but was talked into burning the Old Summer Palace instead by other diplomats.
Second Opium War - Aftermath:
In the following days, Prince Gong met with the Western diplomats and accepted the Convention of Peking. By the terms of the convention, the Chinese were forced to accept the validity of the Treaties of Tianjin, cede part of Kowloon to Britain, open Tianjin as a trade port, allow religious freedom, legalize the opium trade, and pay reparations to Britain and France. Though not a belligerent, Russia took advantage of China's weakness and concluded the Supplementary Treaty of Peking which ceded approximately 400,000 square miles of territory to St. Petersburg.
The defeat of its military by a much smaller Western army showed the weakness of the Qing Dynasty and began a new age of imperialism in China. Domestically, this, coupled with the flight of the emperor and the burning of the Old Summer Palace, greatly damaged the Qing's prestige leading many within China to begin questioning the government's effectiveness.