After the Opium War, the foreign powers were eager to further their interests in China. In the Treaty of Wanghia (also spelt Wangxia or Mong-ha,《望廈條約》) that China signed with the United States, there was a clause that allowed, 12 years after the signing of the treaty, that its parties could revise the treaty’s terms as they saw fit. This included the principle embedded in the treaty of “sharing privileges on an equal basis”. Thus, the United States and the European powers requested a re-negotiation of the treaty with the Qing government on multiple occasions between 1854 (the fourth year of Emperor Xianfeng’s﹝咸豐﹞reign) and 1856, but to no avail. In the end, Britain and France decided to resort to force. The October 1856 “Arrow Incident” (亞羅號事件) became Britain’s casus belli for war. The Arrow was a cargo vessel whose crew was arrested by the Guangdong navy on suspicion of smuggling. As the vessel was registered in Hong Kong (although its registration had expired) and flew the British flag at the time of its detainment, Britain used this as a pretext to protest China’s actions, but the latter refused to apologise. Prompted by the murder of a French missionary named Auguste Chapdelaine in Xilin County (西林縣), Guangxi Province (廣西) in February that year, the French joined the British against China. The Anglo-French Expedition to China (also known as the Second Opium War) thus began.
In October 1856, the British force bombarded Huangpu (黃埔) and set fire to civilian residences. The people of Guangzhou (廣州) retaliated by burning the offices of foreign trading houses. In December 1857, the British Plenipotentiary, Lord Elgin, and the French Plenipotentiary, Baron Gros, led their forces to China. Guangzhou was quickly succumbed under their combined assault. In January of the following year, they captured Ye Mingchen (葉名琛), the Viceroy of Liang-Guang (兩廣總督). As he refused to yield, he was exiled to India and later starved himself to death in Calcutta (now Kolkata). In early 1858, the alliance marched north from Guangzhou and captured Dagu (大沽), threatening Tianjin (天津) and Beijing (北京). Panic-stricken, Emperor Xianfeng dispatched the representatives Guiliang (桂良) and Huashana (花沙納) to Tianjin to sue for peace.
In the 19th century, Guangzhou was an important gateway between China and the West. It also played a key role in the incidents that set off the first and second Opium Wars.
In October 1856, the Guangdong navy boarded a cargo vessel named the Arrow in Huangpu, Guangzhou, on an anti-smuggling mission and arrested its crew. The vessel was flying the British flag.
The Chinese naval officers pulled down the Hong Kong-registered vessel’s British flag. The British government protested on the grounds that it was an insult to Britain. Ye Mingchen, the then Viceroy of Liang-Guang, agreed to release the crew but refused to apologise.
On 23 October 1856, the British commenced military action. On 29 October, they managed to break into Guangzhou. Pictured is the scene of Guangzhou being bombarded by British warships.
Angered by the British invasion, the people of Guangzhou set fire to the offices of the foreign trading houses. In January 1857, the British army set fire to several thousand civilian residences before retreating, with plans to mount a larger assault.
In February 1856, Auguste Chapdelaine (figure locked in a wooden cage), a French missionary who preached in Guangxi, was arrested and executed by the Chinese authorities. The French used his death as an excuse to ally with the British to invade China.
In December 1857, the Anglo-French forces attacked and captured Guangzhou.
On 5 January 1858, Ye Mingchen was captured by the Anglo-French forces. He later starved himself and died in Calcutta, India.
In 1858, Guangzhou was in ruins after being plundered by the Anglo-French forces.
In May 1858, the Anglo-French forces captured the Dagu Forts that protected Tianjin. It thus opened a path to the city and exposed Beijing to attack. Gravely alarmed, the Qing government dispatched representatives for peace talks.
Source of most photos used in this feature piece: Visual China Group (pictures 3, 4, 7, 10), Fotoe (pictures 1, 5, 9), misc. photo sources.