Arrow War

Arrow War
   Also known at the Second Opium War, the Arrow War was a conflict of Britain and France against China. Although China was forced to concede many of its territorial and sovereignty rights in the years following the First Opium War, the Western imperial powers also had to face rising antiforeign sentiment, as many Chinese believed that uncultured barbarians should be excluded from the Middle Kingdom.
   On October 8, 1856, in this tense atmosphere in Guangzhou, Chinese policemen boarded the Arrow, a Chinese ship registered in Hong Kong under a British flag, and arrested 12 crewmen accused of smuggling and piracy. The British flag was reportedly torn during the struggle. The incident was immediately seized upon by Harry Parkes (1828–1885), the British consul in Guangzhou who wanted to legalize the opium and expand trade in China yet was frustrated by Cantonese opposition. Parkes demanded that the Qing Government release the Arrow ’s crew and apologize for the insult to the British flag. When Ye Mingchen (1807–1859), the Viceroy of Liangguang, released the Chinese crewmen but refused to apologize, Parkes had a fleet bombard Guangzhou. The British parliament sent an expedition under James Bruce (1811–1863), the Earl of Elgin, to defend its honor. Meanwhile, France also dispatched its fleet under Baron Gros (1793–1870) to China. On the pretext of retaliating for the murder of a French missionary in the Guangxi Province. The Anglo-French force fought its way to Guangzhou and captured Ye Mingchen by the end of 1857. When local officials still did not produce the results the Western powers demanded, the joint fleet moved northwards along the Chinese coast and captured the Daku (Taku) fort outside Tianjin (Tientsin) in March 1858. In the meantime Russia and the United States sent representatives to Beijing for diplomatic maneuvering.
   The Qing government had no choice but to comply with the Anglo-French terms, which included the payment of indemnities, the residence of foreign diplomats in Beijing, the right of foreigners to travel in China’s interior, the opening of the Yangtze River to foreign navigation, the permission for Christian missionaries to propagate their faith, the legalization of opium importation and the coolie trade, and the opening of 10 new ports to foreign trade and residence. As “neutral” mediators, the Russian and American diplomats secured similar privileges to those gained by Britain and France. In June 1858, the Chinese government reached separate Tianjin ( Tientsin) treaties with the four Western powers.
   A year later Elgin was dispatched to China to exchange the ratifications. He demanded exchanging the treaty in Beijing rather than in Shanghai as the Chinese wanted. Ignoring warnings he sailed north and ran into a blockade at Daku, where his convoy suffered many casualties and four British gunboats were sunk by the Chinese. In 1860, the British sent 10,500 troops and 41 warships, again under Elgin, along with 6,300 French soldiers and more than 60 French ships for the purpose of retaliation. The Chinese imperial army under the command of Mongol Prince Senggerinchin (1811–1865) was quickly defeated. The allied force entered Beijing and looted the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace in October 1860. Emperor Xianfeng fled to Chengde, and his younger brother, Prince Gong Qinwang, was appointed imperial commissioner in charge of negotiation. Nonetheless, when the chief British negotiator was seized while under a flag of truce and some of his people were executed by the Chinese, Elgin took personal revenge against the emperor by burning the Summer Palace, the royal retreat of Yuanmingyuan in northwest Beijing. Faced with the arrival of winter and short of ammunition, the Anglo-French force had to seek a quick settlement and withdraw. The Conventions of Beijing were promptly reached, ending a war of four years and resulting in further Chinese concessions.
   See also <>.
    Hurd, Douglas. The Arrow War: An Anglo-Chinese Confusion, 1856-1860. New York: Macmillan, 1968;
    Wong, J. Y. Deadly Dreams: Opium, Imperialism, and the Arrow War in China. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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