East India Company
East India Company
COMMANDERS AND LEADERS
* Lord Palmerston
* George Elliot
* Hugh Gough
* William Parker
Humphrey Fleming Senhouse
Guan Tianpei †
Chen Huacheng †
Ge Yunfei †
* Yang Fang
British Army : 5,000
* Indian Army : 7,000
Royal Marines and seamen: 7,069
* 14 sloops
* 8 frigates
* 3 ships of the line
* 12 other ships1
Eight Banners and Han Green Standard
CASUALTIES AND LOSSES
69 killed in battle
Nearly 300 executed or died in captivity in
18,000–20,000 killed and wounded2 (est.)
1 Comprising 5 troop ships , 3 brigs , 2 steamers , 1 survey vessel ,
and 1 hospital ship . 2 Casualties include Manchu bannermen and their
families who committed mass suicide at the
Battle of Chapu and Battle
of Chinkiang .
* 1st Chuenpi
* 1st Chusan
* 2nd Chuenpi
* First Bar
* 1st Canton
* 2nd Canton
* 2nd Chusan
The FIRST OPIUM WAR (第一次鴉片戰爭, 1839–42), also known as
the OPIUM WAR or the ANGLO-CHINESE WAR, was a series of military
engagements fought between the United Kingdom and the Qing dynasty
over conflicting viewpoints on diplomatic relations, trade, and the
administration of justice in
In the 17th and 18th centuries demand for Chinese goods (particularly
silk, porcelain, and tea) in Europe created a trade imbalance between
China and Great Britain. European silver flowed into
China through the
Canton System , which confined incoming foreign
trade to Canton and the Chinese merchants of the
Thirteen Factories .
To counter this imbalance, the British
East India Company
East India Company began to
auction opium grown in India to independent foreign traders in
exchange for silver, and in doing so strengthened its trading
influence in Asia. The opium was transported to the Chinese coast
where local middlemen made massive profits selling the drug inside
China. The influx of narcotics reversed the Chinese trade surplus,
drained the economy of silver, and increased the numbers of opium
addicts inside the country, outcomes that worried Chinese officials.
In 1839 the
Daoguang Emperor , rejecting proposals to legalize and
tax opium, appointed viceroy
Lin Zexu to solve the problem by banning
the opium trade. Lin confiscated around 20,000 chests of opium
(approximately 1210 tons or 2.66 million pounds) without offering
compensation and ordered a blockade of foreign trade in Canton. The
British government, although not officially denying China's right to
control imports of the drug, objected to this unexpected seizure and
dispatched a military force to China. In the ensuing conflict the
Royal Navy used its naval and gunnery power to inflict a series of
decisive defeats on the Chinese Empire, a tactic later referred to as
gunboat diplomacy .
In 1842 the Qing Dynasty was forced to sign the Treaty of Nanking
—the first of what the Chinese later called the unequal treaties
—which granted an indemnity and extraterritoriality to Britain,
opened five treaty ports to foreign merchants, and ceded Hong Kong
Island to the British Empire. The failure of the treaty to satisfy
British goals of improved trade and diplomatic relations led to the
Opium War (1856–60), and the Qing defeat resulted in social
unrest within China. In China, the war is considered the beginning of
modern Chinese history.
* 1 Background
* 1.1 Establishment of trade
* 1.2 Trade philosophy and policy
Opium trade expansion
* 1.4 Napier Affair
Destruction of opium at Humen
* 1.6 Skirmish at
* 1.7 Reaction in Britain
* 1.7.1 Palmerston letters
* 2 War
* 2.1 British offensive begins
* 2.2 Pearl River campaign
* 2.3 Central
* 2.4 Yangtze river campaign
* 2.5 Technology and tactics
* 2.5.1 British
* 2.5.2 Qing Dynasty
* 3 Aftermath
* 3.1 Reactions
* 4 Legacy
* 5 Interactive map
* 6 See also
* 7 Fictional and narrative literature
* 8 Notes
* 9 References and further reading
* 10 External links
View of Canton with merchant ship of the Dutch East India
Company , c. 1665
ESTABLISHMENT OF TRADE
View of the European factories in Canton
Direct maritime trade between Europe and
China began in 1557 when the
Portuguese leased an outpost at
Macau . Other European nations soon
followed the Portuguese lead, inserting themselves into the existing
Asian maritime trade network to compete with
Arab , Chinese , Indian ,
and Japanese traders in intra-regional trade. After the Spanish
conquest of the
Philippines the exchange of goods between
Europe accelerated dramatically. From 1565 on, the Manila Galleons
brought silver into the Asian trade network from mines in South
China was the primary destination for the precious metals,
as the imperial government mandated that Chinese goods could only be
exported in exchange for silver bullion .
British ships began to appear sporadically around the coasts of China
from 1635 on; without establishing formal relations through the
tributary system, British merchants were allowed to trade at the ports
Xiamen in addition to Guangzhou. Official British
trade was conducted through the auspices of the British East India
Company , which held a royal charter for trade with the Far East. The
East India Company
East India Company gradually came to dominate Sino-European trade from
its position in India and due to the strength of the
Royal Navy .
Trade benefited after the newly-risen
Qing dynasty relaxed maritime
trade restrictions in the 1680s. Taiwan came under Qing control in
1683 and rhetoric regarding the "tributary status " of Europeans was
Guangzhou (known as Canton to Europeans) became the port of
preference for incoming foreign trade. Ships did try to call at other
ports, but these locations could not match the benefits of Guangzhou's
geographic position at the mouth of the Pearl River trade network, nor
did they have Guangzhou's long experience in balancing the demands of
Beijing with those of Chinese and foreign merchants. From 1700 onward
Canton was the center of maritime trade with China, and this market
process became known as the "
Canton System ". From the systems'
inception in 1757, trading in
China was extremely lucrative for
European and Chinese merchants alike as goods such as tea, porcelain,
and silk were valued highly enough in Europe to justify the expenses
of traveling to Asia. However, the system was highly regulated by the
Qing government. Foreign traders were only permitted to do business
through a body of Chinese merchants known as the _
Cohong _ and were
forbidden to learn Chinese. Foreigners could only live in one of the
Thirteen Factories and were not allowed to enter or trade in any other
part of China, a policy the Qing called the Yī kŏu tōngshāng
(口通商), or the "Single port commerce system". Only low level
government officials could be dealt with, and the imperial court could
not be lobbied for any reason excepting official diplomatic missions.
The Imperial laws that upheld the system were collectively known as
the Prevention Barbarian Ordinances (防范外夷規條.)
Despite restrictions, silk and porcelain continued to drive trade
through their popularity in the Europe, and an insatiable demand for
Chinese tea existed in Britain. These market forces resulted in a
chronic trade deficit for European governments, who were forced to
risk silver shortages in their domestic economies to supply the needs
of their merchants in Asia (who as private enterprises still turned a
profit by selling valuable Chinese goods to consumers in Europe.)
From the mid-17th century onward around 28 million kilograms of silver
were received by China, principally from European powers, in exchange
for Chinese products. Chinese opium smokers
TRADE PHILOSOPHY AND POLICY
Economic and social innovation led to a change in the parameters of
Sino-European trade. Arguments by
Adam Smith and other economic
theorists caused academic belief in mercantilism to decline in
Britain. During the
Industrial Revolution Britain used its naval
power to spread a broadly liberal economic model encompassing open
markets and relatively barrier free international trade, a policy in
line with the teachings of smithian economics . This stance on trade
was intended to open foreign markets to the resources of Britain's
colonies, as well as provide the British public with greater access to
China followed a Confucian -Modernist economic philosophy that
called for strict government intervention in industry for the sake of
preserving societal stability. While the Qing state was not explicitly
anti-trade, a perceived lack of need for imports limited pressure on
the government to open further ports to international trade. Qing
China's rigid merchant hierarchy also blocked efforts to open ports to
foreign ships and businesses. Chinese merchants in the interior
wanted to avoid market fluctuations caused by importing foreign goods
that would compete with domestic production, while the _Hong_ houses
of Canton profited greatly by keeping their city the only entry point
for foreign products.
Continued economic expansion in 17th and 18th century Europe
increased the European demand for precious metals, raising prices and
reducing the supply of bullion available for trade in China. The
Great Recoinage of 1816 coupled with the adoption of the gold
standard in 1821 resulted in the empire minting silver shillings,
further reducing the availability of silver for trade in Asia. The
decline in silver supplies sapped the ability of European merchants to
purchase Chinese goods, which remained in high demand. Merchants were
no longer able to sustain the
China trade purely through profits made
by selling Chinese goods in the west and were forced to take bullion
out of circulation in Europe to buy goods in China. This angered
governments and fostered a great deal of animosity towards the
Chinese. Despite tensions, trade between
China and Europe grew by an
estimated 4% annually in the years leading up to the start of the
The Chinese economy was unaffected by fluctuation in silver prices,
China was able to import silver from Japan to stabilize its money
supply. European goods remained in low demand in China, ensuring a
trade surplus with European nations.
At the turn of the 18th-century countries such as Great Britain, the
Netherlands, Denmark, Russia, and the United States began to seek
additional trading rights in China. Foremost among the concerns of
the western nations was the end of the
Canton System and the opening
of China's vast consumer markets to trade. Britain in particular was
keen on reducing its trade deficit, as the empire's implementation of
the gold standard forced it to purchase silver from continental Europe
and Mexico to satisfy domestic demand and British traders in China.
The perpetual expenditure of British bullion on Chinese products
limited the amount of currency in British circulation, weakening the
domestic economy, preventing economic growth and causing deflation .
Attempts by a British embassy (led by Macartney in 1793), a Dutch
mission (under Van Braam in 1794), Russia's Golovkin in 1805 and the
British again (Amherst in 1816) to negotiate increased access to the
Chinese market were all vetoed by successive Qing Emperors. Upon his
Jiaqing Emperor in 1816, Amherst refused to perform the
traditional kowtow , an act that the Qing saw as a severe breach of
etiquette . Amherst and his party were expelled from China, a
diplomatic rebuke that angered the British East India Company.
OPIUM TRADE EXPANSION
See also: History of opium in
At the turn of the 18th century the British realised they could
reduce the trade deficit by counter-trading in narcotic opium. The
Qing administration initially tolerated opium importation because it
created an indirect tax on Chinese subjects; increasing the silver
supply available to foreign merchants through the sale of opium
encouraged Europeans to spend more money on Chinese goods. This policy
allowed the British to double tea exports from
China to England,
thereby profiting the Qing monopoly on tea exports held by the
imperial treasury and its agents in Canton.
Opium ships at
Lintin , China, 1824
The opium sold was produced in the traditionally cotton-growing
regions of India under British
East India Company
East India Company monopoly in
Opium was also produced and traded in the Princely states of
which remained outside the company's direct control. Both areas had
been hard hit by the introduction of factory-produced cotton cloth,
which used cotton grown in
Egypt or the American South . The opium was
auctioned in Calcutta and from there shipped abroad.
Opium as a
medicinal ingredient was documented in texts as early as the Tang
dynasty , but its recreational use was limited and there were laws
against its abuse.
East India Company
East India Company warehouse stocked with
Limited British sales of opium began in 1781, with exports to China
increasing as the
East India Company
East India Company solidified its control over
East India Company
East India Company ships brought their cargoes to islands off
the coast, especially
Lintin Island , where Chinese traders with fast
and well-armed small boats took the goods inland for distribution,
paying for them with silver. In the early 19th century American
merchants joined the trade and began to introduce opium from Turkey
into the Chinese market — this was of lesser quality but cheaper to
produce, and the resulting competition among British and American
merchants drove down the price of opium, leading to an increase in the
availability of the drug for Chinese consumers. The demand for opium
rose rapidly and was so profitable in the
China that Chinese opium
merchants (who, unlike European merchants, could legally sell goods in
the Chinese interior) began to seek out more suppliers for the drug.
The resulting shortage in supply drew more European merchants into the
increasingly lucrative opium trade to meet the Chinese demand. In the
words of one trading house agent, " it is like gold. I can sell it
anytime." From 1804 to 1820, a period when the Qing treasury needed
to finance the suppression of rebellions , the flow of money gradually
reversed, and Chinese merchants were soon exporting silver to pay for
opium rather than Europeans paying for Chinese goods with the precious
metal. European and American ships were able to arrive in Canton with
their holds filled with opium, sell their cargo, use the proceeds to
buy Chinese goods, and turn a profit in the form of silver bullion.
This silver would then be used to acquire further goods in
shipped back to Europe. While opium remain the most profitable good
to trade with China, foreign merchants began to export other cargoes,
such as machine-spun cotton cloth, ginseng, fur, clocks, and tools.
However, these goods never reached the same level of importance as
narcotics, nor were they as lucrative. Graph showing the
increase in Chinese opium imports.
The Qing imperial court debated whether or how to end the opium
trade, but their efforts to curtail opium abuse were complicated by
local officials (including the Governor-general of Canton) and the
_Hongs_, who profited greatly from the bribes and taxes involved in
the narcotics trade. Early efforts by Qing officials to curb opium
imports through regulations on consumption resulted in an increase in
drug smuggling by European traders. In 1810 the Daoguang Emperor
issued an edict concerning the matter, declaring,
Opium has a harm.
Opium is a poison, undermining our good customs and
morality. Its use is prohibited by law. Now the commoner, Yang, dares
to bring it into the
Forbidden City . Indeed, he flouts the law!
However, recently the purchasers, eaters, and consumers of opium have
become numerous. Deceitful merchants buy and sell it to gain profit.
The customs house at the Ch'ung-wen Gate was originally set up to
supervise the collection of imports (it had no responsibility with
regard to opium smuggling). If we confine our search for opium to the
seaports, we fear the search will not be sufficiently thorough. We
should also order the general commandant of the police and police-
censors at the five gates to prohibit opium and to search for it at
all gates. If they capture any violators, they should immediately
punish them and should destroy the opium at once. As to Kwangtung and
Fukien , the provinces from which opium comes, we order their
viceroys, governors, and superintendents of the maritime customs to
conduct a thorough search for opium, and cut off its supply. They
should in no ways consider this order a dead letter and allow opium to
be smuggled out!
A significant development came in 1834 when reformers in England who
advocated free trade succeeded in ending the monopoly of the British
East India Company
East India Company under the Charter Act of the previous year. This
shift in trade policy opened the British
China trade to private
entrepreneurs, many of whom joined the highly profitable opium trade.
In late 1834, to accommodate the revocation of the East India
Company's monopoly, the British sent Lord
William John Napier to Macau
John Francis Davis and Sir George Best Robinson, 2nd
Baronet as British Superintendents of Trade in China. Napier was
instructed to obey Chinese regulations, communicate directly with
Chinese authorities, superintend trade pertaining to the contraband
trade of opium, and to survey China's coastline. Upon his arrival in
China, Napier tried to circumvent the restrictive system that forbade
direct contact with Chinese officials by sending a letter directly to
the Viceroy of Canton. The Viceroy refused to accept it, and on 2
September of that year an edict was issued that temporarily closed
British trade. In response, Napier ordered two
Royal Navy vessels to
bombard Chinese forts on the Pearl River in a show of nautical force.
This command was followed through, but war was avoided due to Napier
falling ill with typhus and ordering a retreat. The brief gunnery duel
drew condemnation by the Chinese government, as well as criticism from
the British government and foreign merchants. Other nationalities,
such as the Americans, prospered through their continued peaceful
trade with China, but the British were told to leave Canton for either
Whampoa or Macau. Lord Napier was forced to return to Macau, where he
died of typhus a few days later. After Lord Napier's death, Captain
Charles Elliot received the King Commission in 1836 to continue
Napier's work of conciliating the Chinese. Commissioner Lin
Zexu, dubbed "Lin of Clear Sky" for his moral integrity.
DESTRUCTION OF OPIUM AT HUMEN
Destruction of opium at Humen
Lin Zexu 's
"memorial" (摺奏) written directly to Queen Victoria
By 1838, the British were selling roughly 1,400 tons of opium per
year to China. Legalization of the opium trade was the subject of
ongoing debate within the Chinese administration, but it was
repeatedly rejected, and in 1838 the government began to actively
sentence native drug traffickers to death. It has been estimated that
by the start of the Qing crackdown on opium, 27% of the male Chinese
population was actively consuming opium.
In 1839 the
Daoguang Emperor appointed scholar-official
Lin Zexu to
the post of
Special Imperial Commissioner with the task of eradicating
the opium trade. Lin wrote an open letter to Queen Victoria
questioning the moral reasoning of the British government. Citing what
he understood to be a strict prohibition of the trade within Great
Britain, Lin questioned how Britain could declare itself moral while
it's merchants profited from the sale of the drug in China. He wrote:
"Your Majesty has not before been thus officially notified, and you
may plead ignorance of the severity of our laws, but I now give my
assurance that we mean to cut this harmful drug forever." The letter
never reached the Queen, with one source suggesting that it was lost
in transit. Lin pledged that nothing would divert him from his
mission, "If the traffic in opium were not stopped a few decades from
now we shall not only be without soldiers to resist the enemy, but
also in want of silver to provide an army." Lin banned the sale of
opium and demanded that all supplies of the drug be surrendered to the
Chinese authorities. He also closed the Pearl River Channel , trapping
British traders in Canton. As well as seizing opium stockpiles in
warehouses and the thirteen factories, Chinese troops boarded British
ships in the Pearl River and South
China Sea and destroyed the opium
on board. Contemporary Chinese depiction of the destruction of
opium under Commissioner Lin.
The British Superintendent of Trade in China,
Charles Elliot ,
protested the decision to forcibly seize the opium stockpiles. He
ordered all ships carrying opium to flee and prepare for battle. Lin
responded by quarantining the foreign dealers in their warehouses, and
kept them from communicating with their ships in port. To defuse the
situation, Elliot convinced the British traders to cooperate with
Chinese authorities and hand over their opium stockpiles, with the
promise of eventual compensation for their losses by the British
government. While this amounted to a tacit acknowledgment that the
British government did not disapprove of the trade, it also placed a
huge liability on the exchequer. This promise, and the inability of
the British government to pay it without causing a political storm,
was an important _casus belli _ for the subsequent British offensive.
During April and May 1839, British and American dealers surrendered
20,283 chests and 200 sacks of opium which was publicly destroyed on
the beach outside of Guangzhou. Lin was able to sustain the
prohibition policy for many months.
After the opium was surrendered, trade was restarted on the strict
condition that no more opium be shipped into China. Lin demanded that
all merchants sign a bond promising not to deal in opium, under
penalty of death. The British government opposed their signing of the
bond, feeling that it violated the principle of free trade, but some
merchants who did not trade in opium (such as Olyphant "> 1841
painting of the Chinese fort on Kowloon.
Angered by the violation of China's sovereignty, Lin recalled Chinese
Macau and issued an edict preventing the sale of food to
the British. War
Junks were deployed to the mouth of the Pearl River,
while signs were placed and rumors spread by the Qing that they had
poisoned the freshwater springs traditional used to restock foreign
merchant ships. On 24 August the Portuguese governance at
ordered to expel the British, causing a flight from the city by
British merchants. By the end of August over 60 British ships and over
2000 people were idling off of the Chinese coast, fast running out of
provisions. On 30 August HMS _Volage_ arrived to defend the fleet from
a potential Chinese attack, and Elliot warned Qing authorities in
Kowloon that the embargo on food and water must be ended soon.
Early on 4 September Elliot dispatched an armed schooner and a cutter
Kowloon to buy provisions from Chinese peasants. The two ships
approached three Chinese war junks in the harbor and requested
permission to land men in order to procure supplies. The British were
waved through and basic necessities were provided to the British by
Chinese sailors, but the Chinese commander inside
Kowloon fort refused
to allow the locals to trade with the British and confined the
townspeople inside settlement. The situation grew more intense as the
day went on, and in the afternoon Elliot issued an ultimatum that, if
the Chinese refused to allow the British to purchase supplies, they
would be fired upon. A 3:00 pm deadline set by Elliot past and the
British ships opened fire on the Chinese vessels. The junks returned
fire, and Chinese gunners on land began to fire at the British ships.
Nightfall ended the battle, and the Chinese junks withdrew, ending
what would be known as the
Battle of Kowloon . Many British officers
wanted to launch a land attack on
Kowloon fort the next day, but
Elliot decided against it, stating that such an action would cause
"great injury and irritation" to the town's inhabitants. After the
skirmish, Elliot circulated a paper in Kowloon, reading;
The men of the English nation desire nothing but peace; but they
cannot submit to be poisoned and starved. The Imperial cruizers they
have no wish to molest or impede; but they must not prevent the people
from selling. To deprive men of food is the act only of the unfriendly
Having driven off the Chinese ships, the British fleet began to
purchase provisions from the local villagers, often with the aid of
bribed Chinese officials in Kowloon.
Lai Enjue , the local commander at Kowloon, declared that a victory
had been won against the British. He claimed that a two masted
British warship had been sunk, and that 40-50 British had been killed.
He also reported that the British had been unable to acquire supplies,
and his reports severely understated the strength of the Royal Navy.
His notes on the skirmish were passed on to the
Daoguang Emperor by
REACTION IN BRITAIN
Following the Chinese crackdown on the opium trade, discussion arose
as to how Britain would respond, as the public in the United States
and Britain had expressed outrage that Britain was supporting the
opium trade. Many British citizens sympathized with the Chinese and
wanted to halt the sale of opium, while others want to contain or
regulate the international narcotics trade. However, a great deal of
anger was expressed over the treatment of British diplomats and
towards the protectionist trading polices of Qing China. The Whig
controlled government in particular advocated for war with China, and
the pro-Whig press printed stories about Chinese "despotism and
Calls for military action were met with mixed responses when the
matter went before Parliament. Foreign Secretary Henry John Temple,
3rd Viscount Palmerston , a politician known for his aggressive
foreign policy and advocacy for free trade, led the pro war camp.
Palmerston strongly believed that the destroyed opium should be
considered property, not contraband, and as such reparations had to be
made for its destruction. He justified military action by saying that
no one could "say that he honestly believed the motive of the Chinese
Government to have been the promotion of moral habits" and that the
war was being fought to stem China's balance of payments deficit.
After consulting with William Jardine (a powerful merchant and
prominent opium trader), the foreign secretary drafted a letter to
Prime Minister William Melbourne calling for a military response.
Other merchants called for an opening of free trade with China, and it
was commonly cited that the Chinese consumers were the driving factor
of the opium trade. The periodic expulsion of British merchants from
Canton and the refusal of the Qing government to treat Britain as a
diplomatic equal were seen as a slight to national pride.
Few Tory politicians supported the war. Sir James Graham , Lord
Phillip Stanhope , and future Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone
headed the anti-war faction in Britain, and denounced the ethics of
the opium trade.
The final vote for the sending of a military task force to
a tally of 271 votes for, 262 votes against.
On 20 February 1840 Foreign Secretary Palmerston (who remained
unaware of the First
Battle of Chuenpi in November 1839) drafted two
letters detailing the British response to the situation in China. One
letter was addressed to the Elliots, the other to the Daoguang Emperor
and the Qing government. The letter to the Emperor informed
Great Britain had sent a military expeditionary force to the Chinese
coast. In the letter, Palmerston stated that,
"These measures of hostility on the part of Great Britain against
China are not only justified, but even rendered absolutely necessary,
by the outrages which have been committed by the Chinese Authorities
against British officers and Subjects, and these hostilities will not
cease, until a satisfactory arrangement shall have been made by the
In his letter to the Elliots, Lord Palmerston instructed the
commanders to set up a blockade of the Pearl River and forward to a
Chinese official the letter from Palmerston addressing the Chinese
Emperor. They were to then capture the Chusan Islands, blockade the
mouth of the Yang-Tse River, start negotiations with Qing officials,
and finally sail the fleet into the
Bohai Sea , where they would send
another copy of the aforementioned letter to Beijing. Palmerston also
issued a list of objectives that the British government wanted
accomplished, with said objectives being:
* Demand to be treated with the respect due to a royal envoy by the
* Secure the right of the British superintendent in
administer justice to British subjects in China.
* Seek recompense for destroyed British property.
* Gain most favored trading status with the Chinese government.
* Request the right for foreigners to safely inhabit and own private
property in China.
* Ensure that, while contraband can be seized, no harm comes to the
person of British subjects carrying illicit goods in China.
* End the system by which British merchants are restricted to
trading solely in Canton.
* Ask that the cites of Canton, Amoy, Shanghai, Ningpo, and northern
Formosa be freely opened to trade from all foreign powers.
* Secure island(s) along the Chinese coast that can be easily
defended and provisioned, or exchange captured islands for favorable
Lord Palmerston left it to the Superintendent Elliot's discretion as
to how these objectives would be fulfilled, but noted that while
negotiation would be a preferable outcome, he did not trust that
diplomacy would succeed, writing;
"To sum up in a few words the result of this Instruction, you will
see, from what I have stated, that the British Government demands from
China satisfaction for the past and security for the future;
and does not choose to trust to negotiation for obtaining either of
these things; but has sent out a Naval and Military Force with orders
to begin at once to take the Measures necessary for attaining the
object in view."
Engagement between British and Chinese ships in the First Battle
of Chuenpi, 1839.
In late October 1839 the merchant ship _Thomas Coutts_ arrived in
China and sailed to Canton. _Thomas Coutts_'s Quaker owners refused on
religious grounds to deal in opium, a fact which the Chinese
authorities were aware of. The ship's captain, Warner, believed Elliot
had exceeded his legal authority by banning the signing of the "no
opium trade" bond, and negotiated with the governor of Canton. Warner
hoped that all British ships not carrying opium could negotiate to
legally unload their goods at Chuenpi, an island near
To prevent other British ships from following _Thomas Coutts_'s
precedent, Elliot ordered a blockade of British shipping in the Pearl
River . Fighting began on 3 November 1839, when a second British ship,
Royal Saxon _, attempted to sail to Canton. The British Royal Navy
ships HMS _Volage_ and HMS _Hyacinth_ fired warning shots at _Royal
Saxon_. In response to this commotion, a fleet of Chinese war junks
under the command of
Guan Tianpei sailed out to protect _Royal Saxon_.
The ensuing First
Battle of Chuenpi resulted in the destruction of 4
Chinese war junks and the withdrawal of both fleets. In the following
days a series of skirmishes broke out in
Kwun Chung , during which the
British were repulsed.
The Qing navy's official report on the
Battle of Chuenpi claimed that
the navy had protected the British merchant vessel and reported a
great victory for the day. In reality, the Chinese had been
out-classed by the British vessels and several Chinese ships were
disabled. Elliot, for his part, reported that his squadron was
protecting the 29 British ships in Chuenpi, and began to prepare for
the Qing reprisal. Knowing that the Chinese would reject any contacts
with the British and eventually attack with fire rafts, he ordered all
ships to leave Chuenpi and head for Tung Lo Wan , 20 miles (30 km)
from Macau. Elliot asked Adrião Acácio da Silveira Pinto , the
Portuguese governor of Macau, to let British ships load and unload
their goods there in exchange for paying rent and any duties. The
governor refused for fear that the Chinese would discontinue supplying
food and other necessities to Macau, and on 14 January 1840 the
Emperor asked all foreigners to halt material assistance to the
Left without a major base of operations in China, the British
withdrew their merchant shipping from the region while maintaining the
China squadron. Per Lord Palmerston's letter, plans were
made by the British to regroup and launch a series of attacks on
Chinese ports. From London, Lord Palmerston continued to dictate
operations in China, ordering the
East India Company
East India Company to divert troops
from India in preparation for a limited war against the Chinese. It
was decided that the war would not be fought as a full-scale war, but
rather as a punitive expedition . Superintendent Elliot remained in
command of the Royal Navy's warships, Commodore
James Bremer led the
Royal Marines , and Major General Hugh Gough (when he arrived in
China) commanded the British land forces in addition to serving as the
overall commander of British forces in China. The cost of the war
would be paid by the British Government.
Qishan (ᡴᡳᡧᠠᠨ), replaced
Lin Zexu in 1840 as the Viceroy of
Liangguang . The Chinese Naval forces in Canton were under the
Guan Tianpei , who had fought the British at Chuenpi. The
Qing southern army and garrisons were under the command of General
Yang Fang . Overall command was invested in the
Daoguang Emperor and
his court. The Chinese government initially believed that, as in the
1834 Nappier Affair, the British had been successfully expelled. Few
preparations were made for a British attack in northern China, and the
events leading to the eventual outbreak of the
Sino-Sikh War in 1841
were seen as a greater cause for concern.
BRITISH OFFENSIVE BEGINS
Capture of Chusan , July 1840
In June 1840, an expeditionary force of British troops aboard 15
barracks ships, four steam-powered gunboats and 25 smaller boats
reached the mouth of the Pearl River before sailing north. The
flotilla was under the command of Commodore
James Bremer . The British
issued an ultimatum demanding the Qing Government pay compensation for
losses suffered from interrupted trade and the destruction of opium.
Palmerston instructed the joint plenipotentiaries Elliot and his
cousin Admiral George Elliot to acquire the cession of at least one
island for trade on the Chinese coast. With the British expeditionary
force now in place, a combined naval and ground assault was launched
on the Chusan Archipelago.
Zhoushan Island , the largest and best
defended of the islands was the primary target, as was its vital port
of Chusan . The British captured the city on 5 July after the Chinese
defenders withdrew. The British occupied Dinghai harbor and prepared
to use it as a staging point for operations in China.
With the strategic harbor in
Zhoushan secured, the British began to
focus on the war in southern China. Major General Gough judged that
gaining control of the Pearl River and Canton would put the British in
a strong negotiating position with the Qing authorities, as well as
allow for the renewal of trade when the war ended. After a skirmish on
19 August two British ships and 380 marines took control of the
land-bridge separating Portuguese
Macau from the mainland. Five
months after the British victory at Chusan the
Royal Navy sailed south
Humen , known to the British as Bogue.
PEARL RIVER CAMPAIGN
During this time Admiral Guan Taipei greatly reinforced the Qing
positions in Humen, as he was aware (sources state that Guan had been
preparing for an eventual attack on the position since 1835) that the
British would attempt to force their way up the Pearl River to Canton.
Humen forts blocked transit of the river, and were garrisoned with
3000 men and 306 cannon. By the time the British fleet arrived, 10000
Qing soldiers were in position to defend Canton and the surrounding
area. The British fleet arrived in early January and began to bombard
the Qing defenses there. On 7 January 1841 the British won a decisive
victory in the
Second Battle of Chuenpi , destroying 11
Junks of the
Chinese fleet and capturing the
Humen forts. The victory allowed the
British to set up a blockade of the lower Pearl River, a blow forced
the Qing Navy to retreat upriver into the shallows.
Knowing the strategic value of
Pearl River Delta to
China and aware
that British naval superiority made a reconquest of the region
unlikely, Qishan attempted to prevent the war for widening further.
On 21 January Qishan and Elliot drafted the
Convention of Chuenpi , a
document which they hoped would end the war. The convention would
establish equal diplomatic rights between Britain and China, exchange
Hong Kong Island
Hong Kong Island for Chusan, and reopen trade in Canton by 1 February
China would also pay six millions of silver dollars as
recompense for the opium destroyed at
Humen in 1838. The status of the
opium trade was left open to be discussed at a future date. Despite
the success of the negotiations between Qishan and Elliot, both of
their respective governments refused to sign the convention. The
Daoguang Emperor was infuriated that Qing territory would be given up
in a treaty that had been signed without his permission, and ordered
Qishan arrested (who was later sentenced to death, then commuted to
military service.) Lord Palmerston recalled Elliot from his post and
refused to sign the convention, wanting more concessions to be forced
from the Chinese per his original instructions. British ships
approaching Canton in May 1841
The brief interlude in the fighting ended in the beginning of
February after the Chinese refused to reopen Canton to British trade.
On 19 February a longboat from HMS _Nemesis_ came under fire from a
fort on North Wangtong Island , prompting a British response. Henry
Pottinger ordered another blockade of the Pearl River and resumed
combat operations against the Chinese. The British captured the
remaining Bogue forts on 26 February during the Battle of the Bogue
Battle of First Bar on the following day, allowing the fleet
to move further upriver towards Canton. Admiral Taipei was killed in
action during the fighting on 26 February. On 2 March the British
destroyed a Qing fort near
Pazhou and captured Whamoa , an action that
directly threatened Canton's east flank. The attack on Whamoa was
directed in person by Major General Gough, who had recently arrived
Madras aboard HMS _Cruizer_ . Superintendent Elliot (who was
unaware that he had been dismissed) and the Governor-General of Canton
declared a 3-day truce on 3 March. Between the 3rd and the 6th the
British forces that had evacuated Chusan per the Convention of Chuenpi
arrived in the Pearl River. The Chinese military was likewise
reinforced, and by 16 March General Yang Fang commanded 30,000 men in
the area surrounding Canton.
While the main British fleet prepared to sail up the Pearl River to
Canton, a group of three warships departed for the
Xi River estuary,
intending to navigate the waterway between
Macau and Canton. The
fleet, led by Captain James Scott and Superintendent Elliot, was
composed of the frigate HMS _Samarang_ and the steamships _HMS
Nemesis_ and _HMS Atalanta _. Though the waterway was at places only
6 feet deep, the shallow drafts of the steamships allowed the British
to approach Canton from a direction the Qing believed to be
impossible. In a series of engagements along the river from March
13-15th, the British captured or destroyed Chinese ships, guns, and
military materiel. 9 junks, 6 fortresses, and 105 guns were destroyed
or captured in what was known as the
Broadway expedition .
British map of the Pearl River.
With the Pearl River cleared of Chinese defenses, the British debated
advancing on Canton. Though the truce had ended on 6 March,
Superintendent Elliot believed that the British should negotiate with
the Qing authorities from their current position of strength rather
than risk a battle in Canton. The Qing army made no aggressive moves
towards the British and instead began to fortify the city. Chinese
military engineers began to construct a number of mud earthworks on
the riverbank, sank junks to create riverblocks , and started
constructing fire rafts and gunboats. Chinese merchants were ordered
to remove all of the silk and tea from Canton to impede trade, and the
local populace was barred from selling food to the British ships on
the river. On 16 March a British ship approaching a Chinese fort
under a flag of truce was fired upon, leading to the British setting
the fort on fire. These actions convinced Elliot that the Chinese were
preparing to fight, and following the return of the ships of the
Broadway expedition to the fleet, the British attacked Canton on 18
March, taking the
Thirteen Factories with very few casualties and
raising the Union Jack above the British factory. The city was
partially occupied by the British and trade was reopened after
negotiation with the Hong merchants. After several days of further
military successes, British forces commanded the high ground around
Canton. Another truce was declared on 20 March. Against the advice of
some of his captains, Elliot withdrew most of the
Royal Navy warships
from Canton. Sketch of British soldiers occupying the high ground
above Canton in 1841.
In mid April Yishan (Qishan's replacement and the Daoguang Emperor's
cousin) arrived in Canton. He declared that trade should continue to
remain open, sent emissaries to Elliot, and began to gather military
assets outside Canton. The Qing army camped outside of the city soon
numbered 50,000 strong, and the money earned from the reopened trade
was spent repairing and expanding Canton's defenses. Concealed
artillery batteries were built along the Pear River, Chinese soldiers
were deployed in Whampoa and the Bocca Tigris, and hundreds of small
river craft were armed for war. A bulletin sent from the Daoguang
Emperor commanded the Qing forces to "Exterminate the rebels at all
points," and orders were given to drive the British from the Pearl
River before reclaiming Hong Kong and driving the invaders out of
China altogether. This order was leaked and became widely circulated
in Canton among foreign merchants, who were already suspicious of the
Chinese intentions after learning of the Qing military buildup. In May
many Hong merchants and their families left the city, raising further
concerns about a renewal of hostilities. Rumors spread that Chinese
divers were being trained to drill holes in the hulls of British
ships, and that fleets of fire rafts were being prepared for
deployment against the Royal Navy. During the buildup the Qing army
was weakened by infighting between units and lack of confidence in
Yishan, who openly distrusted Cantonese civilians and soldiers,
instead choosing to rely on forces drawn from other Chinese provinces.
On 20 May Yishan issued a statement, asking the "people of Canton,
and all foreign merchants who are respectfully obedient, not to
tremble with alarm and be frightened out of their wits at the military
hosts that are gathering around, there being no probability of
hostilities." The next day Elliot requested that all British merchants
evacuate the city by sundown, and several warships were recalled to
their positions in front of Canton.
On the night of 21 May the Qing launched a coordinated night attack
on the British army and navy. Artillery batteries hidden in Canton
and on the Pearl River (many of which the British believed they had
disabled earlier) opened fire, and Qing infantry retook the British
Factory. A large formation of 200 fire rafts connected by a chain was
sent drifting towards the British ships at Canton, and fishing boats
armed with matchlocks began to engage the Royal Navy. The British
warships were able to evade the attack, and stray rafts set Canton's
waterfront on fire, illuminating the river and foiling the night
attack. Downriver at Whamoa the Chinese attacked the British vessels
at anchor there and attempted to prevent ships from reaching Canton.
Having suspected an attack, (and as a consequence delaying his own
offensive) Major General Gough consolidated the British forces at Hong
Kong and ordered a rapid advance upriver to Canton. These
reinforcements arrived on 25 May, and the British counter-attacked,
taking the last four Qing forts in Canton and bombarding the city.
The Qing army fled in panic when the heights were taken, and the
British pursed them into the countryside. On 29 May a crowd of around
20,000 Cantonese villagers and townspeople attacked and defeated a
company of 60 Indian sepoys in what became known as the Sanyuanli
Incident , and Gough ordered a retreat back to the river. The fighting
subsided on 30 May 1841 and Canton came fully under British
occupation. Following the capture of Canton the British command and
the governor-general of Canton agreed to a cease-fire in the region.
Under the terms of the limited peace, the British were paid to
withdraw beyond the Bogue forts, an action they completed on 28 May.
The peace treaty was signed by Elliot without consulting the British
army and Navy, an act which displeased General Gough.
The defense of Canton was declared a diplomatic success by Yishan. In
a letter to the Emperor, he wrote that the barbarians had begged "the
chief general that he would implore the great Emperor in their behalf,
that he would have mercy upon them, and cause their debts to be repaid
them, and graciously permit them to carry on their commerce, when they
would immediately withdraw their ships from the Bocca Tigris, and
never dare again to raise any disturbance." However, General Yang
Fang was reprimanded by the Emperor for his agreeing to a truce rather
than resisting the British. The imperial court continued to debate
China's next course of action for the war, as the Daoguang Emperor
wanted Hong Kong retaken.
_ HMS Wellesley_ and the British squadron sailing from Hong Kong
for the attack on Amoy in 1841.
Following their withdraw from Canton, the British relocated the
expeditionary force to Hong Kong. As with the Chinese commanders, the
British debated how the war should be continued. Elliot wanted to
cease military operations and reopen trade, while Major General Gough
wanted to capture the city of Amoy and blockade the Yangtse River. In
July a typhoon struck Hong Kong, damaging British ships in the harbor
and destroying some of the faucilities the expedition was building on
the island. The situation changed when on 29 July Elliot learned that
he had been replaced as Superintendent by
Henry Pottinger , who
arrived in Hong Kong on 10 August to begin his administration.
Pottinger wanted to negotiate terms with the Qing for the entire
country of China, rather than just the Pearl River, and so he turned
away Chinese envoys from Canton and gave permission for the
expeditionary force to proceed with their war plans. Admiral Sir
William Parker also arrived in Hong Kong to replace Humphrey Fleming
Senhouse (who had died of a fever on 29 June) as the commander of the
British naval forces in China. Admiral Parker was a proponent of
combined operations between the navy and army, and believed that these
tactics could be implemented against the Chinese. It was agreed by the
British commanders that combat operations should be moved north to put
pressure on Beijing, and on 21 August the fleet sailed for Amoy.
British troops at the
Battle of Amoy , 1841
On 25 August the British fleet entered the
Jiulong River estuary and
arrived at Amoy. The city was prepared for a naval assault, as Qing
military engineers had built several batteries into the granite cliffs
overlooking the river. A purely naval assault was considered too
risky, prompting Gough to order a combined naval and ground attack on
the defenses. On 26 August British marines and regular infantry
flanked and destroyed the Chinese defenses guarding the river. Several
large British ships failed to destroy the largest of the Chinese
batteries (which withstood over 12,000 cannonballs fired at it), so
it was scaled and captured by the British infantry . The city of Amoy
was abandoned on 27 August, and British soldiers entered the inner
town and blew up the citadel\'s powder magazine. 26 Chinese junks and
128 cannons were captured. As Lord Palmerston wanted Amoy to become an
international trade port at the end of the war, Gough ordered that no
looting be tolerated and had officers enforce the death penalty for
anyone found to be plundering. However, many merchants refused to ask
for British protection out of fear of being branded as traitors to the
Qing dynasty. The British withdrew to an island on the river, where
they established a small garrison and blockaded the Jiulong River.
With the city empty of any army, peasants, criminals, and deserters
looted the town. The Qing army retook the city and restored order
several days later, after which the city governor declared that a
victory had been won and 5 British ships sunk.
Changes in the British parliament resulted in Lord Palmerston being
removed from his post as Foreign Minister on 30 August. William Lamb,
2nd Viscount Melbourne replaced him, and sought a more measured
approach to the situation in China. He remained a supporter of the
In September 1841, the British transport ship _Nerbudda _ was
shipwrecked on a reef off the northern coast of Taiwan after a brief
gunnery duel with a Chinese fort. This sinking was followed by the
loss of the brig _Ann_ on another reef in March 1842. The survivors of
both ships were marched to southern Taiwan, where they were
imprisoned. 197 were executed on 10 August 1842. An additional 87 died
from ill-treatment in captivity. This became known as the Nerbudda
October 1841 saw the British solidify their control over the central
Chinese coast. Chusan had been exchanged for Hong Kong on the
authority of Qishan in January 1841, after which the city had been
re-garrisoned by the Qing. Fearing that the Chinese would improve the
island's defenses, the British captured Chusan for a second time on 1
October and reestablished their control over Dinghai's important
On 10 October a British naval force bombarded and captured a fort on
the outskirts of
Ningbo in central China. A Chinese force of 1500
infantry was routed on the road between Chinhai and Ningbo. Following
the defeat, Chinese authorities evacuated
Ningbo and the empty city
was taken by the British on 13 October. An imperial cannon manufactory
in the city was captured by the British, reducing the ability of the
Qing to replace their lost equipment, and the fall of the city
threatened the nearby
Qiantang River . The capture of
the British command to examine their policy towards occupied Chinese
territory and spoils of war . Admiral Parker and Superintendent
Pottinger wanted a percentage of all Chinese property captured to be
turned over to the British as legal prizes of war, while Gough argued
that this would only turn the Chinese population against the British,
and that if property had to be seized, it should be public property
rather than private . British policy eventual settled that 10% of all
property captured by the British expeditionary forces would be seized
as war loot in retaliation for injustices done to British merchants.
Gough later stated that this edict would disperse his men to "punish
one set of robbers for the benefit of another."
Fighting ceased for the winter of 1841 while the British resupplied.
False reports sent by Yishan to the Emperor in
Beijing resulted in the
continued British threat being downplayed. In late 1841 the Daoguang
Emperor discovered that his officials in Canton and Amoy had been
sending him embellished reports. He ordered the Governor of
Liang Chang-chü , to send him clear accounts of the events in Canton,
noting that since
Guangxi was a neighboring province, Liang must be
receiving independent accounts. He warned Liang that he would be able
to verify his information by obtaining secret inquiries from other
places. Yishan was recalled to the capital and faced trial by the
Imperial War court, which removed him from command. Now aware of the
threat, provincial leaders began to fortify against further naval
Daoguang Emperor ordered his cousin Yijing to retake the city of
Ningpo in the spring. In the ensuing
Battle of Ningpo on 10 March, the
British garrison repelled the assault with rifle fire and naval
artillery. At Ningpo the British lured the Qing army into the city
streets before opening fire, resulting in heavy Chinese casualties.
The British pursed the retreating Chinese army, capturing the nearby
city of Cixi on 15 March.
The important harbor of
Zhapu was captured on 18 May following the
Battle of Chapu . A British fleet bombarded the town, forcing its
surrender. A holdout of 300 soldiers of the
Eight Banners stalled the
advance of British army for several hours, an act that was commended
by General Gough.
YANGTZE RIVER CAMPAIGN
With many Chinese ports now blocked or under British occupation,
Major General Gough sought to cripple the finances of the Qing Empire
by striking up the Yangtze River. 25 Warships and 10000 men were
assembled in Ningpo and at
Zhapu in May for a planned advance into the
Chinese interior. Advance ships sailed up the Yangtze and captured
the emperor's tax barges, a devastating blow that slashed the revenue
of the imperial court in
Beijing to just a fraction of what it had
been. British troops capture Chinkiang in the last major battle
of the war, 21 July 1842
On 14 June the mouth of the
Huangpu River was captured by the British
fleet. On 16 June the
Battle of Woosung occurred, after which the
British captured the towns of Wusong and Baoshan . The undefended
Shanghai were occupied by the British on 19 June.
Following the battle,
Shanghai was looted by retreating Qing
banner-men, British soldiers, and local civilians. Qing Admiral Chen
Huacheng was killed while defending a fort in Woosong.
The fall of
Shanghai left the vital city of
Nanjing (Known as
Jiangning under the Qing) vulnerable. The Qing amassed an army of
56,000 Manchu Banner-men and Han Green Standards to defend Liangjiang
Province, and strengthened their river defences on the Yangtze.
However, British naval activity in Northern
China led to resources and
manpower being withdrawn to defend
Beijing . The Qing commander in
Liangjiang Province released 16 British prisoners with the hope that a
ceasefire could be reached, but poor communications led both the Qing
government and the British to reject any overtures at peace. In
Daoguang Emperor considered signing a peace treaty with
the British, but only in regards to the
Yangtze River and not the war
as a whole. Had it been signed, the British forces would have be paid
to not enter the Yangtze River.
On 14 July the British fleet on the Yangtze began to sail up the
river. Reconnaissance alerted Gough to the logistical importance of
the city of
Zhenjiang , and plans were made to capture it. Most of
the city's guns had been relocated to Wusong and had been captured by
the British when said city had been taken. The Qing commanders inside
the city were disorganized, with Chinese sources stating that over 100
traitors were executed in
Zhenjiang before the battle. The British
fleet arrived off of the city on the morning of 21 July. The Chinese
defenders initially retreated from the city into the surrounding
hills, causing a premature British landing. Fighting soon erupted,
Battle of Chinkiang . British soldiers blew open the
western gate and stormed into the city, where fierce street to street
Zhenjiang was devastated by the battle, with many
Chinese soldiers and their families committing suicide rather than be
taken prisoner. The British suffered their highest combat losses of
the war (36 killed) taking the city. Oil painting of the
signing of the Treaty of Nanking.
Zhenjiang the British fleet cut the vital Grand Canal
, paralyzing the
Caoyun system and severely disrupting the Chinese
ability to distribute grain throughout the Empire.
The British departed
Zhenjiang on 3 August, intending to sail on to
Nanking. They arrived outside the
Jiangning District on 9 August, and
were in position to assault the city by the 11th. On the 14th a
Chinese delegation met with the British, and on the 21st the Daoguang
Emperor authorized his diplomats to sign a peace treaty with the
Opium war officially ended on 29 August 1842 with the
signing of the
Treaty of Nanking . The document was signed by
officials of the British and Qing empires aboard the HMS _Cornwallis_
TECHNOLOGY AND TACTICS
The British military superiority during the conflict drew heavily on
the success of the Royal Navy. A
Royal Navy steamship destroying
a Chinese junk with a Congreve rocket. Lightly armored Chinese
warships were decimated by heavy guns and explosive weaponry.
British warships carried more guns than their Chinese opponents and
were maneuverable enough to evade Chinese boarding actions. Steam
ships such as the HMS _Nemesis_ were able to move against winds and
tides in Chinese rivers, and were armed with heavy guns and congreve
rockets . Several of the larger British warships in
the third-rates HMS _Cornwallis_, HMS _Wellesley_ , and HMS _Melville_
) carried more guns than entire fleets of Chinese junks. British
naval superiority allowed the
Royal Navy to attack Chinese forts at
will with very little danger to themselves, as British naval cannons
out-ranged the vast majority of the Qing artillery. British
line infantry advancing on a Chinese position.
British soldiers in
China were equipped with Brunswick rifles and
rifle-modified Brown Bess muskets , both of which possessed an
effective firing range of 200–300 metres. British marines were
equipped with percussion caps that greatly reduced weapon misfires and
allowed firearms to be used in damp environments. In terms of
gunpowder, the British formula was better manufactured and contained
more sulfur than the Chinese mixture. This granted British weapons an
advantage in terms of range, accuracy and projectile velocity. British
artillery was lighter (owing to improved forging methods) and more
maneuverable than the cannons used by the Chinese. As with the naval
artillery, British guns out-ranged the Chinese cannon.
In terms of tactics, the British forces in
China followed doctrines
established during the
Napoleonic Wars that had been adapted during
the various colonial wars of the 1820s and 1830s. Many of the British
soldiers deployed to
China were veterans of colonial wars in India and
had experience fighting larger but technologically inferior armies.
In battle, the British line infantry would advance towards the enemy
in columns, forming ranks once they had closed to firing range.
Companies would commence firing volleys into the enemy ranks until
they retreated. If a position needed to be taken, an advance or charge
with bayonets would be ordered.
Light infantry companies screened the
line infantry formations, protecting their flanks and utilizing
skirmishing tactics to disrupt the enemy. British artillery was used
to destroy the Qing artillery and break up enemy formations. During
the conflict, the British superiority in range, rate of fire, and
accuracy allowed the infantry to deal significant damage to their
enemy before the Chinese could return fire. The use of naval
artillery to support infantry operations allowed the British to take
cities and forts will minimal casualties.
The overall strategy of the British during the war was to inhibit the
finances of the Qing Empire, with the ultimate goal of acquiring a
colonial possession on the Chinese coast. This was accomplished
through the capture of Chinese cities and by blockading major river
systems. Once a fort or city had been captured, the British would
destroy the local arsenal and disable all of the captured guns. They
would then move on to the next target, leaving a small garrison
behind. This strategy was planned and implemented by Major General
Gough, who was able to operate with minimal input from the British
government after Superintendent Elliot was recalled in January 1841.
The large number of private British merchants and East India Company
ships deployed in Singapore and the India colonies ensured that the
British forces in
China were adequately supplied.
Chinese soldiers armed with gingals during the First
From the onset of the war the Chinese navy was severely
disadvantaged. Chinese war junks were intended for use against pirates
or equivalent types of vessels, and were most effective in close range
river engagements. Due to their slow speed, Qing captains consistently
found themselves sailing towards much more maneuverable British ships,
and as a consequence the Chinese could only use their bow guns. The
size of the British ships made traditional boarding tactics useless,
and the junks carried smaller numbers of inferior weaponry. In
addition, the Chinese ships were poorly armored; in several battles,
British shells and rockets penetrated Chinese magazines and detonated
the junk's gunpowder stores. Highly maneuverable steamships such the
HMS _Nemesis_ could decimate small fleets of junks. The only
western-style warship in the Qing Navy, the converted East Indiaman
_Cambridge_ , was destroyed in the Battle of First Bar.
The defensive nature of the conflict resulted in the Chinese relying
heavily an extensive network of fortifications. The Kangxi Emperor
(1654–1722) began the construction of river defenses to combat
pirates, and encouraged the use of cannons. By the time of the First
Opium War, multiple forts defended most major Chinese cities and
waterways. Although the forts were well armed and strategically
positioned, the Qing defeat exposed major flaws in their design. The
cannon used in the Qing defensive fortifications were a collection of
Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, and British pieces. The domestically
produced Chinese cannon were crafted using sub-par forging methods,
limiting their effectiveness in combat and causing ware on their gun
barrels. The Chinese blend of gunpowder contained more charcoal than
the British mixture did. While this made the explosive more stable
and thus easier to store, it also limited its potential as a
propellant, decreasing projectile range and accuracy. Overall,
Chinese cannon technology was 200 years behind that of the British.
Chinese forts were unable to withstand attacks by European weaponry,
as they were designed without angled glacis and many did not have
protected magazines. The limited range of the Qing cannon allowed
the British to bombard the Qing defenses from a safe distance, then
land soldiers to storm them with minimal risk. Many of the larger
Chinese guns were built as fixed emplacements and were unable to be
maneuvered to fire at British ships. The failure of the Qing
fortifications coupled with the Chinese underestimation of the Royal
Navy allowed the British to force their way up major rivers and impede
Qing logistics. Most notably, the powerful series of forts at Humen
were well positioned to stop an invader from proceeding upriver to
Canton, but it was not considered that an enemy could attack and
destroy the forts themselves, which the British did.
At the start of the war the Qing army consisted of over 200,000
soldiers, with around 800,000 men being able to be called for war.
These forces consisted of Manchu Bannermen , the
Green Standard Army ,
provincial militias, and imperial garrisons. The Qing armies were
armed with matchlocks and shotguns, which had an effective range of
100 metres. Chinese historians estimate 30–40% of the Qing forces
were armed with firearms. Chinese soldiers were also equipped with
halberds , spears, swords, and crossbows . The
Qing dynasty employed
large batteries of artillery in battle. Painting of a battle
between Qing matchlock infantry and British line infantry at the
Battle of Chinkiang. The retreat of the Qing infantry into the city
and the ensuing close-quarters combat led to heavy casualties on both
The tactics of the Qing remained consistent with what they had been
in previous centuries. Soldiers with firearms would form ranks and
fire volleys into the enemy while men armed with spears and pikes
would drive (described by the Chinese as Tuī (推) push) the enemy
off of the battlefield. Cavalry was used to break infantry formations
and pursue routed enemies, while Qing artillery was used to scatter
enemy formations and destroy fortifications. During the First Opium
War, these tactics were unable to successfully deal with British
firepower. Chinese melee formations were decimated by artillery, and
Chinese soldiers armed with matchlocks could not effectively exchange
fire with British ranks, who greatly out ranged them. Most battles
of the war were fought in cities or on cliffs and riverbanks, limiting
the Qing usage of cavalry. Many Qing cannon were destroyed by British
counter-battery fire , and British light infantry companies were
consistently able to outflank and capture Chinese artillery batteries.
A British officer said of the opposing Qing forces, "The Chinese are
robust muscular fellows, and no cowards; the Tartars desperate; but
neither are well commanded nor acquainted with European warfare.
Having had, however, experience of three of them, I am inclined to
supposed that a Tartar bullet is not a whit softer than a French one."
The strategy of the Qing Dynasty during the war was to prevent the
British from seizing Chinese territory. This defensive strategy was
hampered by the Qing severely underestimating the capacity of the
British military. Qing defenses on the Pearl and Yangtze rivers were
ineffective in stopping the British push inland, and superior naval
artillery prevented the Chinese from retaking cities. The Qing
imperial bureaucracy was unable to react quickly to the prodding
British attacks, while officials and commanders often reported false,
faulty, or incomplete information to their superiors. The Qing
military system made it difficult to deploy troops. In addition, the
ongoing conflict with Sikhs on the Qing border with India drew away
some of the most experienced Qing units from the war with Britain.
The war ended in the signing of China's first Unequal Treaty , the
Treaty of Nanking . In the supplementary
Treaty of the Bogue , the
Qing empire also recognized Britain as an equal to
China and gave
British subjects extraterritorial privileges in treaty ports. In 1844,
the United States and France concluded similar treaties with China,
Treaty of Wanghia and
Treaty of Whampoa , respectively.
Some historians claim that Lord Palmerston, the British Foreign
Secretary, initiated the
Opium War to maintain the principle of free
trade. Professor Glenn Melancon, for example, argues that the issue
in going to war was not opium but Britain's need to uphold its
reputation, its honour, and its commitment to global free trade. China
was pressing Britain just when the British faced serious pressures in
the Near East, on the Indian frontier, and in Latin America. In the
end, says Melancon, the government's need to maintain its honour in
Britain and prestige abroad forced the decision to go to war. Former
John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams commented that opium was "a mere
incident to the dispute ... the cause of the war is the kowtow —the
arrogant and insupportable pretensions of
China that she will hold
commercial intercourse with the rest of mankind not upon terms of
equal reciprocity, but upon the insulting and degrading forms of the
relations between lord and vassal."
Critics, however, focused on the immorality of opium. William Ewart
Gladstone denounced the war as "unjust and iniquitous" and criticised
Lord Palmerston's willingness "to protect an infamous contraband
Entrance of the
Opium War Museum in
Humen Town ,
The war marked the start of what 20th century nationalists called the
"Century of Humiliation ". The ease with which the British forces
defeated the numerically superior Chinese armies damaged the Qing
dynasty's prestige. The
Treaty of Nanking was a step to opening the
lucrative Chinese market to global commerce and the opium trade. The
interpretation of the war, which was long the standard in the People's
Republic of China, was summarized in 1976: The
Opium War, "in which
the Chinese people fought against British aggression, marked the
beginning of modern Chinese history and the start of the Chinese
people's bourgeois-democratic revolution against imperialism and
The Treaty of Nanking, the Supplementary Treaty of the Bogue, and two
French and American agreements were all "unequal treaties" signed
between 1842 and 1844. The terms of these treaties undermined China's
traditional mechanisms of foreign relations and methods of controlled
trade. Five ports were opened for trade, gunboats, and foreign
residence: Guangzhou, Xiamen, Fuzhou, Ningbo, and Shanghai. Hong Kong
was seized by the British to become a free and open port. Tariffs were
abolished thus preventing the Chinese from raising future duties to
protect domestic industries and extraterritorial practices exempted
Westerners from Chinese law. This made them subject to their own civil
and criminal laws of their home country. Most importantly, the opium
problem was never addressed and after the treaty was signed opium
China was forced to pay 21 million silver taels as
an indemnity, which was used to pay compensation for the traders'
opium destroyed by Commissioner Lin. A couple of years after the
treaties were signed internal rebellion began to threaten foreign
trade. Due to the Qing government's inability to control collection of
taxes on imported goods, the British government convinced the Manchu
court to allow Westerners to partake in government official affairs.
By the 1850s the
Chinese Maritime Customs Service , one of the most
important bureaucracies in the Manchu Government, was partially
staffed and managed by Western Foreigners. In 1858 opium was
legalised, and would remain a problem
Commissioner Lin, often referred to as "Lin the Clear Sky" for his
moral probity, was made a scapegoat. He was blamed for ultimately
failing to stem the tide of opium imports and usage as well as for
provoking an unwinnable war through his rigidity and lack of
understanding of the changing world. Nevertheless, as the Chinese
nation formed in the 20th century, Lin became viewed as a hero, and
has been immortalized at various locations around China.
Opium War both reflected and contributed to a further
weakening of the Chinese state's power and legitimacy. Anti-Qing
sentiment grew in the form of rebellions, such as the Taiping
Rebellion , a war lasting from 1850–64 in which at least 20 million
Chinese died. The decline of the
Qing dynasty was beginning to be felt
by much of the Chinese population.
The opium trade faced intense enmity from the later British Prime
William Ewart Gladstone
William Ewart Gladstone . As a member of Parliament,
Gladstone called it "most infamous and atrocious" referring to the
opium trade between
China and British India in particular. Gladstone
was fiercely against both of the
Opium Wars Britain waged in
Opium War initiated in 1840 and the Second
initiated in 1857, denounced British violence against Chinese, and was
ardently opposed to the British trade in opium to China. Gladstone
lambasted it as "Palmerston's
Opium War" and said that he felt "in
dread of the judgments of God upon England for our national iniquity
towards China" in May 1840. A famous speech was made by Gladstone in
Parliament against the First
Opium War. Gladstone criticised it as
"a war more unjust in its origin, a war more calculated in its
progress to cover this country with permanent disgrace". His
hostility to opium stemmed from the effects opium brought upon his
sister Helen. Due to the First
Opium war brought on by Palmerston,
there was initial reluctance to join the government of Peel on part of
Gladstone before 1841.
CLICK ON A BATTLE TO GO DIRECTLY TO THE RELEVANT ARTICLE.
Illustrated Treatise on the Maritime Kingdoms
The Opium War (film)
William Jardine (surgeon)
William John Napier, 9th Lord Napier
CONTEMPORANEOUS QING DYNASTY WARS:
Sino-Sikh war (1841–1842)
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REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING
* McPherson, Duncan, Carruthers, Bob, "The First
Opium War, The
Chinese Expedition 1840–1842, the illustrated edition", Coda Books
Ltd (2013). ISBN 978-1781583609 .
* Beeching, Jack , _The Chinese
Opium Wars_, Hutchinson, 1975,
* Fairbank, John King , _Trade and Diplomacy on the
China Coast; the
Opening of the Treaty Ports, 1842–1854_ (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1953).
* Fay, Peter Ward, _The
Opium War, 1840–1842: Barbarians in the
Celestial Empire in the early part of the nineteenth century and the
way by which they forced the gates ajar_ (Chapel Hill, North Carolina:
University of North Carolina Press , 1975).
* Gao, Shujuan (高淑娟); Feng, Bin (冯斌) (2003). _Comparative
Outline of Chinese and Japanese Foreign Policy: Central Trade Policy
in the Final Years of the Imperial Era
Qinghua University Chinese
Economic Historiography Series (清华大学中国经济史学丛书)
Qinghua University Publishing (清华大学出版社).
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* Gray, Jack (2002). _Rebellions and Revolutions:
China from the
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Oxford University Press
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* Greenberg, Michael. _British Trade and the Opening of China,
1800–42._ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Studies
in Economic History, 1951). Various reprints. Uses Jardine Matheson
papers to detail the British side of the trade.
* Greenwood, Adrian (2015). _Victoria\'s Scottish Lion: The Life of
Colin Campbell, Lord Clyde_. UK: History Press. p. 496. ISBN
* Hanes, W. Travis; Sanello, Frank (2004). _
Opium Wars: The
Addiction of One Empire and the Corruption of Another_. Sourcebooks.
ISBN 978-1-4022-2969-5 .
* Hoe, Susanna; Roebuck, Derek (1999). _The Taking of Hong Kong:
Charles and Clara Elliot in
China Waters_. Curzon Press. ISBN
* Hsin-Pao Chang. _Commissioner Lin and the
Opium War._ (Cambridge,:
Harvard University Press, Harvard East Asian Series, 1964).
* Hoiberg, Dale H., ed. (2010). "Aberdeen, George Hamilton-Gordon,
4th Earl of,". _Encyclopædia Britannica_. I: A-ak Bayes (15th ed.).
Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. p. 28. ISBN
* Johnson, Kendall , _The New Middle Kingdom:
China and the Early
American Romance of Free Trade_ (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University
Press, 2017 ISBN 978-1-4214-2251-0 ).
* Lovell, Julia , _The
Opium War: Drug, Dreams and the Making of
China_ (London, Picador, 2011 ISBN 0-330-45747-0 ). Well referenced
narrative using both Chinese and western sources and scholarship.
* Manhong Lin. _
China Upside Down: Currency, Society, and
Ideologies, 1808–1856._ (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Asia
Center, Harvard East Asian Monographs, 2006). ISBN 0-674-02268-8 .
Detailed study of the economics of the trade.
* MacPherson, D. (1842). _Two Years in China: Narrative of the
Chinese Expedition, from Its Formation in April, 1840, Till April,
1842 : with an Appendix, Containing the Most Important of the General
Orders & Despatches Published During the Above Period_. London:
Saunders and Otley.
* Makeham, John (2008). _China: The World\'s Oldest Living
Civilization Revealed_. Thames & Hudson. p. 331. ISBN
* Miron, Jeffrey A. and Feige, Chris. _The
Opium Wars: Opium
Opium Consumption in China_. National Bureau of
Economic Research, 2005.
* Polachek, James M., _The Inner
Opium War_ (Cambridge,
Massachusetts: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University,
1992.) Based on court records and diaries, presents the debates among
Chinese officials whether to legalise or suppress the use and trade in
* Perdue, Peter C., "The First
Opium War: The Anglo-Chinese War of
1839–1842: Hostilities" (Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, 2011. MIT Visualizing Cultures).
* Haijian, Mao (2016-10-18). _The Qing Empire and the
Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781107069879 .
* Rait, Robert S. (1903). _The Life and Campaigns of Hugh, First
Viscount Gough, Field-Marshal _. Volume 1. Westminster: Archibald
* _Frontier and Overseas Expeditions From India_, vol. 6, p. 382
* Wakeman, Frederic E. (1997). _Strangers at the Gate: Social
Disorder in South China, 1839–1861_. University of California Press.
ISBN 978-0-520-21239-8 .
* Hummel, Arthur William (1943). _Eminent Chinese of the Ch\'ing
Period (1644–1912) _. Washington, D.C.: United States Government
* Spence, Jonathan D. (1999). _The Search for Modern China_ (second
ed.). New York:
W.W. Norton & Company . ISBN 0-393-97351-4 .
* Waley, Arthur , _The
Opium War Through Chinese Eyes_ (London:
Allen reprinted Stanford, California: Stanford University Press,
1968). Translations and narrative based on Lin's writings.
* _Correspondence Relating to China_ (1840). London: Printed by T.
* _The Chinese Repository_ (1840). Volume 8.
* Waley, Arthur (2013) . _The
Opium War Through Chinese Eyes_.
Taylor Wang, Yeh-Chien (2002), "Economic developments, 1644–1800",
in Peterson Willard J. (ed.), _Part One: The Ch'ing Empire to 1800_,
The Cambridge History of China, 9, Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, pp. 563–647, ISBN 978-0-521-24334-6 .
* Crossley, Pamela Kyle; Siu, Helen F.; Sutton, Donald S. (2006),
_Empire at the Margins: Culture, Ethnicity, and Frontier in Early
Modern China_, University of California Press, ISBN 0-520-23015-9 .
* Elliot, Mark C. (2001), The Manchu Way: The
Eight Banners and
Ethnic Identity in Late Imperial China, Stanford: Stanford University
Press, ISBN 0-8047-4684-2 .
* Bingham, John Elliot (1843). _Narrative of the Expedition to China
from the Commencement of the War to Its Termination in 1842_ (2nd
ed.). Volume 2. London: Henry Colburn.
* Hoe, Susanna; Roebuck, Derek (1999). _The Taking of Hong Kong:
Charles and Clara Elliot in
China Waters_. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon
Press. ISBN 0-7007-1145-7 .
Charles C. Mann (2011), _1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus
Created_, Random House Digital, pp. 123–163, ISBN 9780307596727
* Bernard, William Dallas; Hall, William Hutcheon (1847). _The
Nemesis in China_ (3rd ed.). London: Henry Colburn.
* Dillon, Michael (2010). _China: A Modern History_. I. B. Tauris.
ISBN 978-1-85043-582-2 .
* Compilation Group for the "History of Modern China" Series.
Opium War_. Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific;
reprint from 1976 edition. ISBN 0-89875-150-0 .
* Downs, Jacques M. (1997). _The Golden Ghetto: The American
Commercial Community at Canton and the Shaping of American China
Policy, 1784–1844_. Bethlehem, PA: Lehigh University Press;
reprinted, Hong Kong University Press, 2014. ISBN 0-934223-35-1 .
* Parker, Edward Harper (1888). _Chinese Account of the
* John K. Derden, "The British Foreign Office and Policy Formation:
The 1840's," _Proceedings ;background:none
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