When the Barbarians Meet: The Clash of Two Great Civilizations in the Second Opium War

We Europeans are the civilized ones, and for us the Chinese are the barbarians.” -Victor Hugo, 1861

He who wishes to control the outer barbarians [Westerners] must begin by understanding their circumstances.” -Wei Yuan, 1842

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “barbarism” as “an idea, act, or expression that in form or use offends against contemporary standards or good taste or acceptability.” Accordingly, an act of barbarism is perceived as primitive, uncivilized behavior in opposition with the level of class and decorum expected by the observer. It is a precursor to condescension from other groups and a cause for disrespect and contempt that can cause many problems. In the mid-19th century, both the Westerners and the Chinese viewed the other as a barbarians who expressed ideas, committed acts, and used expressions that offended good taste and acceptability. Their feelings of superiority cleared the path for the Second Opium War, when the “barbarians” met.

After two thousand years of isolation and solitude, the Western world and China finally collided at sea in the early 19th century, a result of European exploration and advanced transportation. This influential encounter between two of the world’s greatest civilizations started with the trade in Canton, a remote frontier of the Chinese Empire, and climaxed with the face-off of forces in Peking which came to be known as the Second Opium War. The exchanges from this memorable encounter have had significant and long-lasting effects that still influence today’s Western-Sino relationship. By military power, the Westerners transformed the formerly arrogant China into a nation respectful towards foreign sovereign states in the modern world order.

Yet the humiliating memories from the Second Opium War remain as a source of rage ingrained in the minds of the Chinese, who are left with a sense of distrust and hostility towards Westerners. The history and legacy of the Second Opium War serve as an educational example of mutual misunderstanding in the world order, in which both nations were blinded by their own cultural achievements, viewed the other as barbaric, and became barbaric themselves from this attitude of internalized superiority.

Budding Tensions on the Chinese Front

Prior to the conflict, Britain and China were already two prominent centers of blooming civilizations. However, they differed in that the Western, trade-oriented leaders viewed other sovereigns as their equals while the Chinese did not. Having governed great populations and territories for over a millennium, they were accustomed to being the center of civilization and had no desire to acknowledge foreign “barbarians” as their counterparts. In fact, China only adopted foreign trade to gain the respect and reverence of other nations. They were completely unfamiliar with the concepts of international law that the Europeans had become accustomed to through hundreds of battles and compromises. Therefore, China had no intent to follow these treaties, thus laying the foundation for inevitable conflict.

The first encounter between British and Chinese sovereigns took place in 1793, when British ambassador Lord Macartney met with Chinese Emperor Hongli. Macartney had originally hoped to establish a trading partnership and a recognition of equal power between the countries. However, Emperor Hongli, viewing himself as a superior figure and believing the British to be barbaric, insisted that Macartney kowtow to show submission and respect. During these times, “kowtow” was a Chinese ritual in which guests of the emperor were obliged to kneel down and bow so low that their heads touched the ground. It represented the submission of the guest and his reverence towards the emperor.

Out of honor for his country and his king, Macartney refused to comply with the requirement of this act of submission, and Hongli reacted by rejecting all British requests, ending the meeting with mutual frustration. Nevertheless, relations between the two remained peaceful, until intense dissension arose in the early 1800s.

In 1839, after years of tension and unrest, Britain declared war against China, marking the start of the First Opium War. Relentless squabbles between the British and the Chinese over the Opium Trade culminated in a 271 to 262 pro-war vote from the British Parliament. After three years of tumultuous combat dominated by the British, the war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Nanking. In this treaty, China opened up 5 trading ports, Canton, Amoy, Foochowfu, Ningpo, and Shanghai, to the British, and agreed to pay twenty-one million taels as an indemnity. As China’s first modern international treaty, the Treaty of Nanking played a significant role in the bigger picture of China’s development. It signified the beginning of China’s evolution from an isolated recluse to a more cognizant, accessible nation for the rest of the world. Although the treaty ended physical aggression, both nations still assumed the existence of distinctive world orders beneath the surface. The Westerners believed that China had opened to foreign commerce, but the Chinese, still blinded by arrogance, considered their concessions as a mere strategy to appease the nagging Europeans. They continued to view the Westerners as a primitive race and therefore had no desire to comply by the treaty’s stipulations. Peace would not last for long.

In 1854, General Bowring of Britain endeavored to acquire permanent residence and entry into Canton, in accordance with a stipulation of the Treaty of Nanking that the Chinese had refused to follow. Bowring directed his requests at Yeh Mingchen, high-ranking official and viceroy of Canton, who had assumed many of the responsibilities of a foreign affairs minister. To the dismay of Bowring, Yeh denied him permanent entry, believing that Bowring’s intentions were underhanded and devious. As a result, tensions simmered under the surface, until the Arrow incident sparked the beginning of physical aggression.

In October 1856, Canton officials detained the Lorcha Arrow, a Chinese vessel flying a British flag, because they suspected the sailors to be pirates. According to the British Consul Harry Parkes who resided in Canton, the Chinese officials tore down the British flag and stomped on it, intending to shame and insult the British government. Enraged and disgusted by these acts of irreverence, Parkes decided threaten the “savages” with military action. Parkes demanded that Yeh immediately release the prisoners and offer a letter of apology; if the conditions were not met within 24 hours, British forces would lay siege to Canton.

However, Parkes soon discovered that the registration of the Arrow had expired, leaving no legal backing for his aggressive ultimatum. In spite of this, he persisted with his demands, determined to teach the “barbarians” a lesson. Responding to Parkes’s letter, Yeh released the prisoners, but did not send a letter of apology. The British used this event as a casus belli, an act or situation justifying war, and British forces entered the city before withdrawing to await further commands from London. The clash of two great civilizations had begun.

When Barbarians Meet

Reacting to the offense against the British flag and attempting to revise disputed portions of the treaty, Prime Minister Lord Palmerston dispatched an expedition headed by Lord Elgin and General Grant to return to Canton. Similarly outraged because the Chinese had previously executed French missionary Father Chapdelaine for preaching the Christian religion Gospel in China, France sent its own army to join forces with the British.

Led by Lord Elgin of Britain and Baron Gros of France, the Anglo-French army began to deploy towards Canton, bent on its capture. The Allied forces easily occupied Canton, capturing Viceroy Yeh in the process. Although originally disturbed by “the bombardment of an unresisting town”, Elgin later stated: “the measure proved to be a good one…, as the terror which it has excited in the minds of the Cantonese is more than in proportion to the injury inflicted, and therefore it will have the effect, I trust, of preventing any attempts on their part to dislodge or attack us, which would entail very great calamities on themselves…”

Merely sacking Canton, however, did not satisfy the Westerners. Plagued by the Chinese officials’ disregard for the Treaty of Nanking, the Anglo-French navy pushed north, seeking direct treaty negotiations with the imperial court. On May 28, 1858, Admiral Seymour’s fleet attacked and captured the Taku Forts, a seaport located 100 miles away from Peking. Threatened by an Anglo-French attack against Peking, Chinese Emperor Hsien-feng signed the Treaty of Tientsin, temporarily ending the war. In this lopsided treaty, China opened up ten new trading ports, allowed foreigners into interior regions, and paid an indemnity of four million taels of silver.

The Treaty of Tientsin stated China’s concessions clearly and in detail. However, Emperor Hsien-feng never had any intention to respect the treaty. His reasoning and behavior perfectly symbolizes the premises of ancient Chinese foreign relations. In the traditional system of Chinese politics, it was commonplace and expected for the Chinese to violate any treaties they had signed after losing a war. The “treaty” was only useful for providing temporary peace, but the clauses of the treaty were taken with lightly and generally disregarded. Furthermore, Emperor Hsien-feng exemplifies this behavior when recounting the effects of the Second Opium War in 1860. He clearly articulates: “From ancient times, it has been a common understanding that even the most important treaty signed under duress cannot be trusted. In most cases, such treaties are a way to get around the defeat.”

Furthermore, the Chinese had other reasons to ignore the treaty. Just as Parkes viewed the desecration of the British flag as barbaric, the Chinese were utterly disgusted by Britain’s treatment towards Viceroy Yeh, who had died in captivity in Calcutta. Blinded by arrogance and infuriated by the actions of the Europeans, China refortified the Taku forts to prepare for any future conflict.

On the other side, Britain and France expected the Chinese to treat the treaty with honor and to follow it wholeheartedly. In order to ensure this conduct, the Anglo-French Plenipotentiaries Elgin and Gros insisted that the ratified treaty be exchanged in Peking. They were so persistent that they even inscribed a message into Article LVI of the Treaty of Tientsin, stating: “The Ratification of this Treaty… shall be exchanged at Peking, within a year from this day of signature.” Believing that the mission had been accomplished, Elgin returned home, happy with his success.

One year later, in June of 1859, the Anglo-French fleet returned to the Taku Forts, eager to make their way to Peking and ratify the Treaty of Tientsin with the Imperial Court. Leading the forces was an experienced leader, Admiral Hope, who had served tirelessly in the Crimean War from 1853 to 1856. Admiral Hope demanded that the river passage be opened for transportation to Peking, so that the ratified treaties could be exchanged in the capital. However, after the first Taku battle in 1858, the Chinese had rebuilt the fort and blockaded the river passage. Thus, the Chinese officials instructed Hope to land at Peh-Tang port, ten miles north of Taku, where they could proceed to Peking by land. In an outrage, the British ships began forcing their way through the blockade, until they met the defensive units of Sengge Rinchen. A feared Mongolian army in charge of the Chinese army, Sengge Rinchen had heavily fortified the forts within the past year, learning from the mistakes in the First Battle of Taku and allowing the Chinese to fire back with better cover. In addition, the wet marshes surrounding the forts inhibited the movement of the fleet and made it an easy target for Chinese marksmen. As a result, the Chinese walked away from the battle victorious, and the Anglo-French retreated in humiliation.

Both sides were considerably influenced by the second Taku battle, with the British more adamant than ever to regain the upper hand. Losing their first battle of the Second Opium War, the British retreated south to Shanghai and gave up the treaty exchange effort “until we [the Westerners] recover our superiority in the eyes of the Chinese.” Back home, the British government received input from the public, who demanded that the British must reclaim Taku no matter the cost. If they did not, colonies like India and Nepal might be encouraged to mutiny against a defeated British army.

With this advice and a desire to regain the high ground, the Allies mustered a substantial force consisting of 41 warships, 143 transports, and 17,700 foot soldiers. Once again led by Elgin and Gros, this brigade confronted the Chinese in August of 1860 with a new approach. Instead of navigating directly to the Taku Forts, the war ships landed at Peh-Tang, which was less fortified and weaker. From here, the Allies advanced against the Chinese army, conquering forts along the way, and finally occupying Taku on August 21, 1860.

Abductions and “the Indignities of the Torturers”

Having obtained a temporary peace agreement with the Chinese, the Allies were determined to exchange the ratified treaty without any further setbacks. No longer trusting the Chinese’s sincerity in keeping peace, the Allies decided to march to Peking, providing a grand military escort for their plenipotentiaries. The preliminary negotiation destination was therefore shifted from Tientsin to Tung-chow, a city thirteen miles east of Peking.

However, Emperor Hsien-feng had major objections to these military escorts. According to the emperor, the only way the Allies would be allowed into the capital would be if a Chinese army escorted the Plenipotentiaries and their unarmed staff. Any troops or armed foreigners would be required to stay in Tientsin, away from the capital. Only then could the foreigners ratify the exchanged treaty in the capital with the emperor.

The Westerners, not surprisingly, responded with disbelief. While the Emperor was prepared and ready to ratify the treaty under these conditions, the Anglo-French believed that the barbaric Chinese were in no position to make demands. Not surprisingly, Emperor Hsien-feng received an ultimatum from the French Plenipotentiary Gros on September 14, 1860. It demanded that the Emperor allow a direct pathway from Tung-Chow to Peking for the armed Allied forces. If Hsien-feng refused, Gros declared that combat would resume.

Meanwhile, further complications and mistrust developed as Parkes met with the Chinese representatives in Tung-chow. During the negotiations, the same ceremonial complication between Macartney and Emperor Hongli regarding the kowtow ritual policy reemerged. Just as Macartney refused out of honor for his country, Parkes stressed that the Westerners would not kowtow before the emperor. Gros’s ultimatum and Parkes’s reluctance to Kowtow convinced the Emperor that the Allies were being uncooperative on purpose. Feeling threatened, he took on the belief that the Allies were being deliberately recalcitrant so that a forceful, violent entry into Peking would be justified. Emperor Hsien-feng believed that the actual desire of these Western barbarians was to use military might and warfare as a method of instilling fear, beating down the Chinese, and forcing a meeting with the Emperor.

Just like all the Chinese emperors before him, Hsien-feng viewed himself as the Son of Heaven, the king of kings, and he was determined to not allow such a humiliation to take place. Therefore, Emperor Hsien-feng immediately retracted the peace agreement, commanded Sengge Rinchen to reopen warfare in Tung-Chow, and ordered that Parkes and his party be incarcerated.

Following the arrest of Parkes and his party, the Chinese took their “barbaric” prisoners to a dungeon in Peking, where they treated them with utter brutality. They confined the captives in tiny cells and rubbed their faces with dirt. Furthermore, when Parkes did not respond immediately to his interrogation, the Chinese ruthlessly beat him. “The indignities of the torturers were used without scruple,” for interrogators yanked his ears and pulled his hair as he kneeled submissively.

Meanwhile, the Allied forces won a decisive victory in Tung-Chow on September 2144 by completely defeating Sengge Rinchen’s Mongolian cavalry at Baliqiao. This victory gave the Allies a direct path to Peking, where they hoped to ratify the Treaty of Tientsin and suppress the “barbarians.” Upon hearing of this, Emperor Hsien-feng fled to Rehe Palace, 160 miles north of Peking, under the excuse of an annual hunting trip. Hsien-feng left his brother Prince Kung in charge of negotiations with the Westerners.

Shortly after Hsien-feng’s retreat, Elgin issued an ultimatum on September 27, saying: “unless [the prisoners] are returned to the camp within three days’ time, and a pledge is given that the Convention I drew up at Tientsin is signed, Peking will be assaulted.” The Chinese gave no response to this declaration. Disappointed by the absence of a satisfactory answer, the Allies advanced to Peking, following a map made by General Ignatiev of Russia, and camped outside the north side of the city. They were unaware however, that the Summer Palace of Emperor Hsien-feng was a mere four miles away from the Anglo-Saxon campsite. A couple days after settling down, the Westerners accidentally stumbled upon this luxurious dwelling. Unable to resist the treasures of the Summer Palace, the Allies plundered every movable object within the landmark until anything tangible had been snatched or destroyed.

On October 8, the Chinese finally responded to the ultimatum, releasing Parkes and seven other French and Indian soldiers. On October 12, one French soldier was released with eight Indian cavalry members, and on October 14, two remaining Indian cavalry members were released. However, these were only 19 of the 39 Allied soldiers originally captured, leaving the Anglo-French army curious about the rest of the captives. Their questions were answered when the Chinese general Sengge Rinchen delivered six coffins to the Allies. These coffins contained mutilated and mangled bodies that were “so decomposed that they could not be recognized.”

The defilement of the captives disgusted the Westerners, who thought that the Chinese “barbarians” had gone too far. Elgin said: “It is an atrocious crime, and, not for vengeance, but for future security, ought to be severely dealt with.” The desire for revenge was felt throughout the Allies, but the method of vengeance took some thinking to devise.

Rampage and Retaliation

On October 13, The Anglo-French forces seized the Anting Gate, leading to the unconditional surrender of the Chinese.

Meanwhile, the Westerners collaborated with one another regarding the best form of retaliation. General Grant refused to attack Peking or burn any public buildings, such as the Forbidden City. Instead, he promoted the destruction of the Summer Palace because “it was in that place that the prisoners were treated with such barbarity, being bound hand and foot together for three days, with nothing to eat and drink.” Grant believed that the demolition would teach the Chinese that they could not wrong the Europeans with impunity. Lord Elgin appreciated this proposition, for he believed that it would directly punish the Hsien-feng, who cherished the Summer Palace as his favorite vacation home.

On October 18, Elgin ordered the British to incinerate the Summer Palace. The fire lasted for three days, and Prince Kung could clearly see the smoke from the city. Having stood since 1709, the beautiful royal palace had been completely wiped out (see Appendices II and III). On October 25th, to justify a deed that would otherwise be considered barbaric, Elgin sent a detailed rationale of his actions to British foreign minister Russell. He argued that among the limited options, destroying the Summer Palace was the only viable and effective method of punishing the barbaric acts of the Chinese. Prime Minister Palmerston later endorsed his decision, commenting: “I am heartily glad that Elgin and Grant determined to burn down the Summer Palace.”

Influential and enduring, the devastation of the Summer Palace affected more than just the emperor. Elgin himself was deeply disturbed by this savagery against savages, acknowledging: “No one regretted more sincerely than I did the destruction of that collection of summer-houses and kiosks.” Similarly, Grant admitted: “I could not but grieve at the destruction of so much ancient grandeur, and felt that it was an uncivilized proceeding; but I believed it to be necessary as a future warning to the Chinese against the murder of European envoys.” To this day, historians have described the sack of the Summer Palace as a brutal act by the Westerners who, in their own superciliousness and arrogance, had become blinded by barbarism and became the very thing they accused their enemies of being.

The utter destruction of the Summer Palace remains entrenched in the collective Chinese consciousness even to this day. Chinese citizens across the nation remember it as one of the most horrendous things to ever happen in all the nation’s long history.

“What Civilization Has Done to Barbarism”

Following the obliteration of the Summer Palace, the Chinese agreed to negotiate peace with the Allies. On October 24, 1860, the Allies and the Chinese finally exchanged the Treaty of Tientsin and signed the additional Convention of Peking, ending the Second Opium War. In the agreement, China ceded Kowloon to Britain, legalized the opium trade, and paid an indemnity of sixteen taels of silver. By imposing this “unequal” treaty upon China and getting it signed in Peking, Britain and France ultimately accomplished their goal: to be treated as equal sovereign states in the Chinese world order.

Meanwhile, the Chinese knew that changes were needed, for “beyond a doubt, by 1860 the ancient civilization that was China had been thoroughly defeated and humiliated by the West.” The changes began with an alteration in perspective. From the negotiations, Prince Kung discovered that the “barbaric” Westerners only desired commercial benefits and truly did not care for territorial conquest. Therefore, in his report to Hsien-feng, Kung spoke of the Westerners with respect, leaving behind the China-centric attitude that had been so prevalent for two thousand years. Adapting to the Western viewpoint, China began to use international law in dealing with European nations, and for the first time in Chinese history, they dropped their feelings of superiority and no longer regarded every other nation as barbaric.

Furthermore, Prince Kung advocated for a self-strengthening movement, one that would make the Chinese Empire stronger and better prepared to resist foreign powers. First off, Kung suggested that the Chinese stay at peace with the West, so that more time could be devoted to quelling internal rebellions. In addition, the Chinese started a program that selected intelligent boys to study foreign languages, so that they could interact with foreign sovereigns in the future. Lastly, and most importantly, the Chinese created a foreign affairs department in Peking. For the first time in history, the birth of these institutions indicated China’s willingness to treat other nations with equal respect; it signified China’s momentous transition into the Western world order.

Ironically, both parties viewed the other as barbaric over the course of the war. The Chinese regarded the Europeans as intrusive and uncultured barbarians, while the Europeans regarded the Chinese as savage and inferior barbarians. The Europeans, in fact, came to describe the war as “what civilization has done to barbarism.” To answer who truly was the civilized and who was the barbarian without bias is impossible. Nonetheless, history’s purpose is not to differentiate between the good and the bad. Neither does it heal itself with time. History remembers and retells the past, and it transforms the present into the future. In this instance, the Westerners exchanged new treaties and ideas with the Chinese; their encounter prompted a change in life seen in both Europe and China. Europe began exploring new ways to maximize commerce with China, while China began exploring its self-strengthening movement and therefore transformed itself into a modernized nation.

Although China no longer despises Europeans as primitive people, Chinese citizens still have not forgotten the shameful memories of the Second Opium War even after over one fifty years later, having attached a “not-to-be-trusted” label on the Anglo-French. Furthermore, this experience has made the Chinese more cautious and wary of Western powers. Some would say that, consequently, the former antipathy towards the British has been transferred to the United States, the new Western powerhouse, helping to explain the many strained relations that exist between America and China today. Perhaps, then, it is worth applying the lessons of history to Sino-Western relations today. Through the Second Opium War, both the Allies and the Chinese began to understand one another as a great civilization, not just as a barbaric other. Today, it might be necessary to revisit that lesson to optimize meaningful commercial and cultural exchange, rather than animosity.


Primary Sources

“China: The Capture of Canton.” The Times. February 26, 1858. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/archive/article/1858-02-26/9/2.html.

Written shortly after the Capture of Canton, this newspaper article discloses the details regarding the Battle of Canton and the British bombardment. In addition, it provides information as to the aftermath of the battle and the effects it had on both the Allied army and Chinese civilians.

“Correspondence Between Lord Elgin and General Grant.” London Gazette. December 28, 1860.

Taken from the London Gazette, this dispatch shows a series of letters between Elgin and Grant. In the letters, the leaders discuss their winter plans for the Anglo-French army. In addition, disgusted by the Chinese’s brutal treatment of Parkes and other Western prisoners, the two men discuss appropriate plans of retaliation, ruling out attacks on Peking and public buildings before Grant proposes the destruction of the Summer Palace.

“Dr. Bowring on China.” The Times. January 14, 1854. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/archive/article/1854-01-14/10/1.html.

This article from The Times quotes Bowring’s address in a meeting with the Manchester Chamber of Commerce and of the Commercial Association. In it, Bowring tells the members of the committee his plans regarding increased commercial relations with China.

Dunne, John Hart. From Calcutta to Pekin: Being Notes Taken from the Journal of an Officer Between Those Places. S. Low, 1861.

This book was written by an Allied soldier fighting in the Second Opium War. It is a journal of his encounters and the events that happened while he was stationed in China. Originally writing the journal as a book for the amusement of relatives, the author details his experiences in the war, and the book was eventually published.

Grant, Sir James Hope. Incidents in the China War of 1860: Comp. from the Private Journals of General Sir Hope Grant. W. Blackwood and sons, 1875.

This book is a compilation of General Grant’s journal entries during the Second Opium War. After the war had ended, Grant entrusted his journals and correspondences to Knollys, who published portions of his journals which would merit attention. Therefore, the book contains Grant’s feelings and descriptions regarding the war in China.

Hoe, Susanna, and Derek Roebuck. The Taking of Hong Kong: Charles and Clara Elliot in China Waters. 1 edition. Richmond, Surrey: Routledge, 1999.

In the First Opium War, British Plenipotentiary Captain Charles Elliott captured Hong Kong, an action that has caused him to be vilified by both the Chinese and his own nation. This book is an aggregation of Elliot’s and his wife’s personal letters from the war. In these letters Elliott explains his motivation for doing what he did in the war.

Hugo, Victor. “The Chinese Expedition: Victor Hugo on the Sack of the Summer Palace.” November 25, 1861. http://www.napoleon.org/en/reading_room/articles/files/477511.asp.

This letter from the French poet Victor Hugo talks about Hugo’s response to the Allies’ burning of the Summer Palace. Hugo expresses deep distaste and disapproval towards the actions of the Westerners. He condemns the burning of the Summer Palace and even goes as far to label it as barbaric.

“Intelligence: The Second War at Taku.” The Times. September 16, 1859. http://goo.gl/Syj531.

Published shortly after the Allies’ defeat in the Second Battle of Taku, this The Times article describes the details of the battle and the reaction that was incited in Britain as a result of the loss.

James, Eighth Earl of Elgin. Letters and Journals of James, Eighth Earl of Elgin. n.d.

This book is a collection of Lord Elgin’s journal entries during the events of the Second Opium War. They tell about the events of the war, personal, non-political experiences in Elgin’s life, and his reactions to many of the incidents in the war. Elgin’s journal entries describe him as a kind, compassionate man who oftentimes regretted taking hostile actions because he did not want to affect innocent civilians.

“Lord Elgin’s Despatches and Their Enclosures.” The Times. November 30, 1860. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/archive/article/1860-11-30/6/4.html.

Written after the end of the Second Opium War, this article analyzes Lord Elgin’s dispatches regarding the signing of the Convention of Peking that ended the war. It also delves into the sly actions of the Chinese, who attempted to back out of pre-agreed stipulations by pretending to be ignorant to any prior agreements.

“Lord Elgin’s Dispatch to Lord Russell.” London Gazette. December 28, 1860.

In Lord Elgin’s report to Foreign Minister John Russell, Elgin describes the progress of the expedition in China, and he also contemplates possible options of retaliation against the Chinese for their brutal treatment of Western prisoners. In addition, Lord Elgin describes his interactions with Prince Kung, the authority whom the Allies will negotiate with.

Lane-Poole, Stanley, and Frederick Victor Dickins. The Life of Sir Harry Parkes: Consul in China. Macmillian and Company, 1894.

This book contains journal entries from Parkes, a British consul during the Second Opium War. Parkes’ journal presents his interpretations on many of the disputes between the Allies and the Chinese. Furthermore, it sheds light onto the events of the war for which he was present. Most importantly, his journal explains what happened to him when he and other Allies were detained by the Chinese and imprisoned. Parkes’ capture was a momentous event of the war, and Parkes, being the victim, provides the most reliable source in his journal descriptions.

“Mr. Bruce to the Earl of Malmesbury.” London Gazette. October 5, 1859.

This correspondence was written by Frederick Bruce, British diplomat and youngest brother of James Bruce, or Lord Elgin. In this source, Bruce recorded the Second Battle of Taku, focusing on the strategies of the Western army and their failure.

“Opium War with China.” The Times. April 25, 1840. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/archive/article/1840-04-25/5/9.html.

Written after the beginning of the First Opium War, this The Times article talks about the politics discussed in a public meeting. The purpose of this meeting was to petition Parliament against the war with China. In addition, the meeting discussed the details and updates on the war and commercial aspects of the altercation.

Parkes, Harry. “Correspondence Between Parkes and Yeh.” London Gazette. January 6, 1857.

This source includes several letters between Parkes, British consul, and Yeh Mingchen, viceroy of Canton. In these letters, Yeh and Parkes discuss the Arrow incident. Parkes discusses the necessary repercussions that the Chinese must provide for insulting the British while Yeh discusses reforms that the Chinese will undergo to prevent a similar event from happening again.

Parkes, Harry. “Parkes’ Capture and Subsequent Imprisonment.” London Gazette. December 28, 1860.

This is a letter from British consul Parkes to the British Headquarters written shortly after he was released from imprisonment. It describes the incidences leading up to his capture, the details of what happened to him in captivity, and his release from confinement. Parkes even includes quotes from the incidences to provide a more reliable narrative.

Seymour, Michael. “Admiral Seymour’s Dispatch to London.” London Gazette. January 6, 1857.

The following dispatch from Admiral Seymour describes the Lorcha Arrow incident and its defilement of the British flag. In addition, it talks about the effects of the incident, regarding the British demands for an apology and a British attack on Canton after the Chinese failed to deliver an apology letter on time.

“The Allied Armies in China.” The Times. November 29, 1860. http://goo.gl/1SmJFS.

This The Times article focuses on the Allied expedition in China in 1860. It details its plans to march to Tungchow, the essential British victory in Tungchow, and other events that happened within that year.

“The British Expedition to China.” The Times. August 7, 1860. http://goo.gl/t4Q1A4.

Having lost the Second Battle of Taku, the Europeans are thirsty for revenge and vengeance. In this source, details are given regarding the returning expedition to China. It describes the details and logistics of this trip.

“The China Disaster.” The Times. September 15, 1859. http://goo.gl/IYLXb1.

This article describes the Second Battle of Taku, one that was a disaster for the British. The British were overpowered by the better prepared Chinese, and the British were forced to retreat with many casualties. This account describes the battle and gives a list of the unfortunate British soldiers who lost their lives in the disaster at Taku.

“The Convention of Peking.” London Gazette. December 28, 1860.

Written in 1860, The Convention of Peking marked the end of the Second Opium War. In the London Gazette, this document is attached to show the many articles and agreements between both the British and the Chinese. It was viewed by the Chinese as a lopsided agreement, as it aided the British far more than the Chinese, since the British gained territorial advantages in China and the Chinese were forced to pay an indemnity.

“The Late Earl of Aberdeen.” The Times. December 15, 1860. http://goo.gl/RrmsAN.

This article describes the releasing of Parkes and other Allies. It details the people who were released and also accounts for how the prisoners were treated. Taken from the prisoners, the article describes the prisoners to have been treated brutally without mercy.

“The Treaty of Nanking.” London Gazette. November 7, 1843. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/20276/page/3597.

The First Opium War between the British and the Chinese ended by the signing of this document, the Treaty of Nanking. The terms and agreements of the contract were supposed to help open China to foreign trade and end commercial disagreements. It was viewed by the Chinese as a lopsided treaty, as the British gained trading port cities in China and money from the Chinese in the form of indemnities while China did not earn much from the treaty.

“The Treaty of Tientsin.” London Gazette. December 28, 1860.

Signed after the First Battle of Taku, the Treaty of Tientsin temporarily ended the Second Opium War. It was signed because the defeat of Taku left Peking in danger of attack, and the Chinese decided to simply adhere to the British needs to protect the capital. However, following the Chinese victory at the Second Battle of Taku, China stopped following the treaty, leading to more tension.

Wolseley, Garnet. Narrative of the War With China in 1860. 1862.

This book comes from an Allied soldier who served in the Second Opium War. The book is full of his journal entries written at the time that certain events happened. Therefore, it provides an at-the-scene description of the events that took place in the war and also breathes light on his own interpretations on the British actions.


This Chinese book is a historical archive that collects all the edicts, orders, and letters from Emperor Hsien-feng. Both the Ming and Tsing Chinese empires systematically archived the government documents. The documents generated by Emperor Hsien-feng consists of a total of 356 volumes.


This Chinese book is a historical archive that collects all the correspondence between the emperor and the government officers on the matter of foreign affairs from 1836 to 1874. There are 80 volumes that depict the archives related to Emperor Hsien-feng.

Secondary Sources

Fairbank, John. Trade and Diplomacy on the China Coast: The Opening of the Treaty Ports, 1842–1854. December 1953.

Originally written as Fairbank’s PhD thesis, this book depicts how the Western and Chinese traditions merged together to form the treaty arrangements created in 1860, at the resolution of the Second Opium War. It illustrates China’s response and adaptation to the Western world order.

Fairbank, John King. The Great Chinese Revolution 1800–1985. 1st Perennial Library edition. Harper Perennial, 1987.

As its title suggests, this book integrates 19th century China and 20th century China, or, as Fairbank described it at the time, “past and present.” Due to the long period of time it covers, the book describes events in a broad scope, starting from the late imperial China and expanding all the way to the Chinese People’s Republic. Therefore, it provides additional information regarding China’s relationship with Western powers during the Second Opium War, and about events that happened within this time frame.

Hevia, James. Cherishing Men from Afar: Qing Guest Ritual and the Macartney Embassy of 1793. First edition. Durham: Duke University Press Books, 1995.

This book focuses on guest rituals and imperial audiences of the Chinese. It delves into the concept of Qing foreign relations by focusing on the embassy of the king of Britain, whose ambassador, Lord Macartney, travelled to China in 1793 to meet with Emperor Hongli.

James Hevia. English Lessons: The Pedagogy of Imperialism in Nineteenth-Century China. First edition. Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books, 2003.

The work of Hevia critically examines past British Foreign Office documents and diplomatic memoirs to describe the methods that Euroamerican powers used to humiliate the Qing monarchy and discipline the Chinese into submission to the Western order. The book focuses on invasions of China in 1860, that of the Second Opium War, and in 1900 which helped contribute to this cause.

Hsu, Immanuel C. Y. The Rise of Modern China. 6 edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Hsu’s comprehensive publication focuses on China’s transition into a new world order that had been forced upon it by the West. It goes into detail regarding events in the 19th and 20th centuries which helped China transition into the nation it is today. One specific area of the book is the Second Opium War and the Self-Strengthening Movement that the war created.

Huntington, Samuel. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. 1st Edition, Text Only. Amazon.com Books. 1996.

Huntington’s book is an insightful, profound analysis of the foreign affairs and policies following the fall of communism. Huntington argues that “civilizations” are now the driving force in global affairs. He goes even further to predict the world’s future political culture. Dealing with many different world orders, it disclosed the underlying differences between the Westerners and the Chinese regarding the perspectives of power.

Michie, Alexander. The Englishman in China During the Victorian Era: As Illustrated in the Career of Sir Rutherford Alcock. W. Blackwood & sons, 1900.

This book tells of the life of Rutherford Alcock, the first British democratic representative to live in Japan. In addition to Alcock’s experiences, the book also reveals the history between China and Britain, covering events such as the First Opium War, the Second Opium War, and the signings of many treaties such as the Treaty of Nanking. By doing this, Michie is able to analyze the effects that Alcock has had on the British-Sino relationship.

Ridley, Jasper Godwin. Lord Palmerston. First American edition. New York: Dutton, 1971.

This biography of Prime Minister Lord Palmerston makes use of Palmerston’s personal papers to create a reliable recounting of his life and his foreign policies. It describes his rise to power, his actions in office, and his character as a leader through the Second Opium War.

Teng, Ssu-yu, and Fairbank John. China’s Response to the West: A Documentary Survey, 1839–1923. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1979.

Teng and Fairbank’s work gives a broad account of China’s reactions to the West, beginning with the First Opium War and ending with the rise of the Kuomingtang. This broad description of Chinese history shows China’s transformation as a country and adaptation to Western weaponry and industry.

Wright, Mary Clabaugh. The Last Stand of Chinese Conservatism: The T’ung-Chih Restoration, 1862–1874. New edition. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford Univ Press, 1957.

This book by Wright tells of the Chinese restoration period under Emperor T’ung Chih. It is a systematic description regarding how China reacted to the Second Opium War from 1862–1874. In addition, the book depicts China’s series of serious, foreign changes that made China’s world order more open to the outside.

“Yuanmingyuan (The Old Summer Palace of Qing Dynasty).” Online Video. Journeys in Time. CCTV (Chinese Central Television Network). July 8, 2011. http://english.cntv.cn/program/journeysintime/20110708/110814.shtml.

The sixth installment of a series of seven episodes, “Journeys in Time: Yuanmingyuan Part 6” describes the sacking of the Summer Palace by the Anglo-French forces. It describes the event and goes into detail regarding both the short and long-term effects it has had on China. Lastly, it educates the watcher about how the event has changed China’s perception of the Western world.

茅海建. 苦命天子:咸丰皇帝奕詝. 第2版 ed. 生活•读书•新知三联书店, 2013.

This Chinese book is the biography of Emperor Hsien-feng. It thoroughly describes his life starting from his youth and ending at his demise. Convenient to this paper, it accurately recounts many of the events of the Second Opium War and the emperor’s reaction to these events.

ArticlesG. Wright Doyle