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Friday, September 22, 2023

Second Opium War (1856 – 1860)

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The second opium war was a war between Britain and France and the Qing Empire, which lasted from 1856 to 1860. In the journalism of the XIX century, the military actions of 1859-1860 were considered a separate war, known as the “Third Opium War”, in modern historiography all events of 1856-1860 are considered to be a single conflict.

Background & Reason

In 1851-1864, the Qing Empire was in a civil war. The weakening power of the Manchu emperors after the First Opium War was a turning point in the history for this state. On the territory of the empire the Taiping State was formed, with which the Manchu government struggled against it. At the outset of the civil war, foreign traders and missionaries sympathized with the Taiping.

Formally, Great Britain, France, and the United States in the initial stage of the Taiping uprising maintained neutrality. However, in fact they already in 1854 tried to use the civil war for their own purposes. Diplomatic representatives of these countries presented the emperor with a joint demand for the renegotiation of the treaties of 1842-1844. The powers demanded unlimited trade rights throughout China, the admission of their permanent ambassadors to Beijing, the official right to trade in opium. The Qing government rejected these demands, but this did not lead to an open conflict, since the British military forces at this time were linked by wars with Russia and Persia and suppression of an uprising in India.

When Britain, France and Russia liberated their forces after the Crimean War, the British began to look for an excuse for unleashing a military conflict in the Qing Empire. Such an occasion was found when the Chinese authorities of the English ship “Arrow” engaged in smuggling.

On October 8, 1856, Chinese officials boarded Arrow, a Chinese ship sailing under the flag of Great Britain. It was suspected that the ship was engaged in piracy, smuggling and opium trade. Twelve people were arrested and, despite UK demands, they were not released. After this incident, Britain declared war on the Qing Empire.

Course of War

In late October 1856, the British squadron bombed the port of Guangzhou. In early 1857, American ships also took part in the hostilities and soon France joined.

After the defeat by the Qing Empire of the battle for Dagh forts on May 20, 1858, the Chinese government realized that further resistance was pointless. Immediately after the arrival of the allied squadron in Tianjin, a notice was received that the Chinese emperor had appointed two commissioners to conclude a peace treaty. Imperial representatives arrived on May 30, and after negotiations with representatives of Britain, France, Russia and the United States, the Tianjin Treaties were signed. Six new ports were opened for them in the European trade, missionaries were allowed to move freely inside China, all foreigners accused of any crimes were to be transferred to consulates and be judged according to their own laws,.

In 1858, Russia signed the Treaty of Aygun with the Qing Empire, which allowed Russia to return lands lost under the Treaty of Nerchinsk in 1689. Russia received rights to the left bank of the Amur and control over the Ussuri region.

The Tianjin treaties, signed in 1858, were to be ratified in Beijing in 1859. Personal envoy of the Emperor of Russia Alexander II, Count, Adjutant General, 28-year-old Nikolai Pavlovich Ignatiev arrived in the capital of China by land, however English, French and American representatives followed the sea route. Arriving at the mouth of the river Baihe, they discovered that the fortresses Dagou, which was destroyed last year has been rebuilt in a modern manner. A representative of the Chinese administration suggested that the western envoys should land in Batan , a few kilometers to the north, and from there to follow Beijing dryly, but the envoys were determined to swim to Tianjin, and asked the commanding squadron of the British admiral James Hope to open the entrance to Bayhe by force. On June 25, 1859, Admiral Hope agreed to fulfill the request of the envoys, believing, following the example of the last war, that it would be enough to fire one of the forts to open the entrance to the river. However, the Anglo-French troops, counting on an easy assault on the model of the attack of the previous year, unexpectedly stumbled upon the hard Chinese defense and, having suffered considerable losses, were compelled to ingloriously retreat to Shanghai and wait for new directions from Europe.

In 1860, Anglo-French troops met in Hong Kong , landed in Batan on August 12 and successfully attacked the fortress of Dagu on August 21. The fortresses were badly damaged and General Sangarinci’s forces were forced to withdraw.

Then the allied forces occupied Tianjin. After waiting until September 7 and realizing that the Chinese representatives do not intend to negotiate normally, but to only delay, the allies decided to speak to Tongzhou and enter into negotiations with Chinese representatives there. Multiple military actions were successfully executed during the following days.

Having received news of the defeat of his army, the Emperor fled to the province of Jehol, leaving his younger brother – Grand Duke Gun to negotiate. After a week of negotiations it became clear that the Chinese were again trying to gain time, and the Allies decided to advance on Beijing. The stop at Baliciao gave the British and French the opportunity to pull up the rear, organize a supply system and deliver the siege artillery necessary to storm the capital.

On October 5, both Allied armies marched and on October 6 reached the northeast corner of Beijing’s city wall. Intelligence reported that at the north-west corner there is a fortified camp, which occupies 10,000 Manchu troops. The commanders-in-chief decided to immediately move there and smash the enemy in a field battle. However, it turned out that the camp was abandoned on the previous night. Having received this news, the allied commanders-in-chief decided to immediately go towards the palace, and the palace itself was designated as the general assembly point for both armies.

October 7, 1860, began a joint robbery of the summer imperial palace, as well as adjacent buildings to it. Due to the fact that the British were located at a distance from the palace, the British soldiers could not take part in the robberies, it could be done only by officers who had greater freedom of movement. To restore justice, the commander of the British troops, General Grant, established a commission for the fair distribution of the looted servicemen.

October 13 at 10 o’clock in the morning the Grand Duke Gong sent from himself the commissioner Han Qi, who tried to dissuade the Allies from the demands of the transfer of the gates, or at least delay the transfer. Only a few minutes before noon, when the artillery servants had already occupied places near the guns, the gates were opened and handed over to General Napier.


On October 24-25, 1860, the Beijing Treaty was signed, under which the Qing government agreed to pay 8 million yuan of indemnity to Great Britain and France, open for foreign trade of Tianjin, allow Chinese workers to be used as coolies in the British and French colonies. From this point on, the southern part of the Kwanglun Peninsula was moving to the UK . The constant flow of opium, sold by the British to China, led to a huge spread of drug addiction among the Chinese.


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