The Second Opium War was a conflict that lasted from 1856 to 1860 between the British Empire and her allies against the Qing Dynasty of China. It was known by a variety of different names including the Second Anglo-Chinese War and the Arrow War. Following the First Opium War, British merchants established a system of importing opium from India to China against the will of the Chinese government. Due to its addictive properties, the opium trade essentially created a system of control over much of the nation. In addition, new ports of call were established.
Treaties Following the First Opium War
Through a series of treaties written during the middle of the 1800s, the United States, France and Britain all leveraged their power over the imperial nation. The Treaty of Huangpu, Wangxia Treaty and the Treaty of Nanking were all to take precedence over any Chinese laws. These essentially deemed that foreign merchants and ambassadors were some of the most important individuals in the country. Additionally, the treaties called for the suppression of piracy and the regulation of Asian manual labors known as coolies.
The Arrow Incident
After these provisions were rejected by the Qing Dynasty in 1856, it was not long for war to break out. It began on earnest on October 8 of the same year. Officials from the Chinese government boarded a ship registered with the British government, called the Arrow. The 12 sailors on the ship, while Chinese nationals, were arrested on charges of piracy. The British government responded saying that it was an illegal capture and the Qing officials insulted the British ensign. However, records from the era show that neither of these arguments were grounded in reality.
Taiping Rebellion and the Indian Mutiny of 1857
The prisoners were released, but the platform for war was already in full motion. Chinese military officials were engaged in a domestic battle known as the Taiping Rebellion at the time. Likewise, the British were fighting in India in the Mutiny of 1857. Despite these distractions, both sides began to arm up for the eventual conflict. Two more major incidents brought the conflict to the international stage: an attempt to poison the British Superintendent in Hong Kong and the execution of French missionary, Father August Chapdelaine by Chinese officials. This caused the French to join with Britain in the buildup. The United States and Russia, both with interests in the region, also sent envoys to show their support.
Outbreak of the Second Opium War
Full-scale war broke out in late 1857 when a joint British-French force attacked the province of Guangzhou. This first major battle ended with a victory for the alliance. They would hold this area, which became central to the war effort, for the next four years.