SECOND OPIUM WAR
The Second Opium War was an important conflict between the Qing Dynasty of China and the British and French Empires. It that took place from October 8th, 1856 until October 24th, 1860. It was related to the period of imperialism in China and paved the way for the major imperialistic nations of the time to establish spheres of influence in China. As such, historians consider the Second Opium War to be a significant event in the Age of Imperialism and was important European imperialism in China. In fact, the Second Opium War followed along similar lines of the First Opium War, which occurred roughly fifteen years earlier.
CAUSES OF THE SECOND OPIUM WAR
In order to understand the outbreak of the Second Opium War, its first important to know the details of the First Opium War. The First Opium War took place from 1839 until 1842 and saw the British Empire defeat the Qing Dynasty. The was fought over the continuation of the opium trade in China. In short, the Qing Dynasty wanted to end the sale of opium in China due to the negative impacts it had on Chinese society, combined with its implications for trade. As such, the Qing government banned the sale of opium and seized and destroyed some of the opium stocks brought into China by British merchants. The British responded to this by carrying out a naval assault against China, which historians call the First Opium War. Due to their overwhelming naval power, the British were able to dominate the Chinese forces and quickly forced the Qing leadership to accept terms of defeat.
As part of its defeat, the Qing government was forced to accept the terms of the Treaty of Nanking. Signed in 1842, the Treaty of Nanking opened China up to more trade including the sale of opium. As well, it gave Britain more power over trade in China. At the time, Britain was producing large amounts of opium from its colonies in India. While the Treaty of Nanking was incredibly beneficial to British interests in China, Britain wanted to gain more access to the region throughout the 1840s and 1850s.
In fact, Britain demanded that opium be legalized in China, and argued for even more control over general trade within all of China. For example, the British merchants wanted access to all of China and not just designated trading ports. As well, the British argued that they should be exempt from paying import fees on their goods.
The event that sparked the outbreak of the Second Opium War was the attack of a British cargo ship called the Arrow, by Chinese authorities in October of 1856. The British responded to the event by bombarding local Chinese forts.
As well, France joined Britain in the fighting of the Second Opium War following the execution of Auguste Chapdelaine, a French missionary in China. As such, the Second Opium War was carried out by both the British and French against the Qing.
MAJOR EVENTS OF THE SECOND OPIUM WAR
One of the first major events of the Second Opium War was the Battle of Canton, which took place from December 28th to the 31st in 1857. The city of Canton (today is referred to as Guangzhou) was an important trading port in China, and the site of an important conflict of interest in the First Opium War. The 1857 Battle of Canton involved British and French forces storming the city of Canton and resulted in a British and French victory over the Qing Dynasty. In the battle, the British captured Ye Mingchen, a Qing official who openly opposed British influence in Canton and resisted the terms of the Nanking Treaty. After the Battle of Canton, Ye Mingchen was taken to India, which was also part of the British Empire, but died just a year later after suffering from illness and starving himself.
The first part of the Second Opium War ended in June of 1858 with the signing of the four Treaties of Tientsin. The western powers that agreed to these terms with the Qing included Britain, France, Russia and the United States. In general, the treaties gave the western powers increased access to the markets in China. For example, the major terms of the treaty included:
- The western powers (Britain, France, Russia, and United States) have the right to establish diplomatic representations in Peking.
- The Qing government must open ten more Chinese ports for foreign trade.
- The right of all foreign ships to travel on the Yangtze River.
- The right of foreigners to travel in the internal regions of China, which had previously been banned.
- China to pay Britain and France for war costs and losses.
Although the Treaties of Tientsin were agreed to in June of 1858, the conflict of the Second Opium War continued for a couple of more years. This was largely due to the Qing leadership not ratifying the terms of the treaty, which angered the British. As a result, the British forces continued carrying out attacks against China, including three significant battles against the Taku forts. These three battles took place between 1858 and 1860.
The conflict between the Qing and the western powers of Britain and France reached a high point with the burning of the Summer Palace in October 1860. In fact, the British and French decided to destroy the Chinese emperor’s Summer Palace as punishment for failed negotiations and mistreatment of prisoners. Around the same time, the United States and Russia agreed to terms with the Qing leadership over their own treaties.
These treaties, along with earlier ones from the British became known as the ‘unequal treaties’. This was due to the way in which the treaties benefitted the western powers over the Chinese and Qing leadership.
OUTCOME & SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SECOND OPIUM WAR
The Second Opium War ended in October of 1860 following the Convention of Peking, which saw the Qing leadership agree to terms with the British, French and Russia. In all, the Second Opium War (combined with the First Opium War) was a humiliating loss for the Qing Dynasty and led to increased western influence in China. In fact, the major western powers of the time (Britain, France, Russia, Japan and Germany) established major spheres of influence in China that lasted throughout the end of the 19th century. As a result, the Qing loss in the Second Opium War led to increased trade by the western powers in China and resulted in growth for the overall trade of opium in China.
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