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Ages of Conquest: a Kings and Generals Podcast

Oct 17, 2022

Last time we spoke about the end of the infamous First Opium War of 1839-1842. The Qing tried to procrastinate as much as they could in the face of a goliath force wrecking havoc upon them. Their cannons were simply outmatched and as a result the British armada was easily brushing aside their war junks and fortifications. Many horrible battles were fought and countless Qing commanders took their own lives in shame after defeat. The closer the British forces got to Beijing the more desperate the Qing became and eventually Emperor Daoguang was forced to send diplomats to negotiate a peace. The result was the infamous treaty of Nanking a utter humiliation for the Qing dynasty, marking the beginning of the century of humiliation for China. Britain grabbed Hong Kong, the Qing would pay 6 million taels of silver in reparation. But the treaty made zero mention of why the war had occurred at all, Mr. Opium. Was Mr. Opium by no means was he.

#18 This episode is The Trade of Poison and Pigs

Welcome to the Fall and Rise of China Podcast, I am your dutiful host Craig Watson. But, before we start I want to also remind you this podcast is only made possible through the efforts of Kings and Generals over at Youtube. Perhaps you want to learn more about the history of Asia? Kings and Generals have an assortment of episodes on the history of asia and much more  so go give them a look over on Youtube. So please subscribe to Kings and Generals over at Youtube and to continue helping us produce this content please check out If you are still hungry for some more history related content, over on my channel, the Pacific War Channel where I cover the history of China and Japan from the 19th century until the end of the Pacific War.

So the last time we left off, on October 12th of 1842, the last $6 million dollars of payment reached the British armada and they finally departed from Nanking. The tension between the Chinese and British was still raging however. In fact there would be another skirmish so to say. In november of 1842, opium merchants decided to bring their wives for a trip from Whampoa to Canton violated a Chinese taboo against mixing of sexes. The Chinese residents of Canton seized and burned the Union Jack flying over the British factory there. Defenders of the American factory shot 5 rioters before the Qing police managed to calm things down. Then the shipwrecked survivors of the Ann and Nerbuda were grabbed from jail and beheaded by angry Chinese. This pressed Pottinger to threaten retaliation and soon the viceroy of Canton, Yiliang rushed to the scene to arrest the ringleaders of the executions and sent them to Beijing to be punished. 

The British press, such as the Illustrated London News hailed the Treaty of Nanking as “It secures us a few round millions of dollars and no end of very refreshing tea. It gives an impetus to trade, cedes us one island in perpetuity, and in short puts that sort of climax to the war which satisfies our interests more than our vanity and rather gives over glory a preponderance to gain,”. Now just like the Treaty of Nanking itself, the press made zero mention of the reason for the war in the first place, Mr. Opium. Now with Hong Kong island in the hands of the British, it would be used as an offloading point for opium, go figure. Despite the horror of the war, the demand for the opium was still raging and thus the poisonous relationship between the two empires remained alive. Now not everyone in Britain was jubilant about the situation. The Times of London condemned the opium trade and criticized the treaty of Nanking quite a bit. They went a step further by calling the victors of the war “early victorian vikings” a nickname that would soon denote the raping and pillaging that would occur in the second opium war. Alongside this the Anglican Church members of the Tory party railed against opium. On January the 4th of 1843, Lord Aberdeen, the new boss of Pottingers foreign office told a British envoy to China “The British opium smugglers must receive no protection or support in the prosecution of this illegal speculation”. An order from the Council gave Pottinger the power to quote “forbid the opium traffic in Hong Kong”. For Pottinger’s part, he paid lip service to this by issuing lukewarm threats on August 1st of 1843 ““Opium being an article the traffic in which is well known to be declared illegal and contraband by the laws and Imperial Edicts of China, any person who may take such a step will do so at his own risk, and will, if a British subject, meet with no support or protection from HM Consuls or other officers.”. Officially, at the least and to what degree it mattered, there would be no more gunboat diplomacy nor gunboat protection for opium smugglers.

Now as you can imagine there were those who saw the dollar bill signs such as Jardine & Matheson who could not help themselves. They were not alone, the British Exchequer also wanted to see tax revenues from the opium trade to balance the budget. At the time of the first opium war, the opium trade accounted for 10% of the Exchequers budget. James Matheson sent a letter to a colleague indicating he was untroubled by the status of parliament and Pottingers tiny threats because he knew it would come to nothing, “The Plenipotentiary [Pottinger] had published a most fiery Edict against smuggling, but I believe it is like the Chinese Edicts, meaning nothing, and only intended for the Saints [High Church Anglicans] in England. Sir Henry never means to act upon it, and no doubt privately considers it a good joke. At any rate, he allows the drug to be landed and stored at Hong Kong.”. And so the opium smugglers simply ignored their homelands attempts to stop them. The opium trade did not just continue it would increase.

The end of the first Opium War was not the end at all to the opium problem. In fact British parliament was coming to the conclusion the only resolution to the issue was the legalization of opium in China. As countless had done before, many in parliament were shifting culpability to the users and their leaders rather than the dealers. Many blamed Emperor Daoguang, stating he did nothing to halt the distribution and use, which is simply a lie and a dumb one. The Opium smugglers and English textile manufacturers were purchasing the mouths of members of parliament to promote their interests. 

Now back to the “early victorian vikings”, the heroes of the war such as Sir Henry Pottinger well he was rewarded the grant post of Governor of Madras, and an annual pension of 1500 pounds. Charles Elliot was sent to the backwaters of Bermuda, Trinidad and in a rather symbolic fashion ended up in Napoleon's place of exile, St. Helena. Jardine & Matheson both left China and entered parliament as Whig supporters. Jardine died in 1843 to an undiagnosed and painful illness leaving Matheson to represent the seat of Ross and Cromartry in parliament from 1847-1868. Jardines death produced a bit of a myth that he was cursed from the opium trade, but Matheson lived to the ripe age of 91 so take that with a grain of salt. Jardine & Mathesons Qing counter party, Houqua died from diarrhea, so I guess ⅔ could be said to have some sort of curse on them. As for the heroic figure of Lin Zexu, his effigy became a cynosure at a museum with a plaque under his statue stating he destroyed 2.5 million dollars worth of British property without mentioning that the property was opium. The Emperor forgave Lin Zexu in 1845 and allowed him to return to service, but as for Yilibu the Emperor shunned his ass into exile.

The Treaty of Nanking can be better seen as a truce, or perhaps in the same regard as the treaty of versailles. The interval between the two opium wars was that of an armed truce rather than a peace. After the first opium war, Opium began to get into the port of Shanghai, then onto the Yangtze river which provided a highway for it to infiltrate the Chinese hinterlands. The Chinese population were becoming more and more addicted to the substance as the British traders became more addicted to the profits. The grand vision of the English textiles penetrating China’s market turned out to be a complete waste. The Chinese preferred their own homespun cloth and failed to buy the British products while the British could not stop their increasing demand for Chinese silk and of course Tea. Now while the British addiction to Tea did not result in weeks of den dwelling and intoxication, they were still very much addicted and this contributed to another trade imbalance. Yes the silver was flowing again out of Britain and back to China, by 1857 the British would be paying China 15 million for silk and tea. Despite the enormous demand for Opium, the Chinese were spending 7 million on it, 1.5 million on cotton textiles from India and another 2 million from Britain still leaving Britain to owe back 4.5 million. And the Chinese policy of only accepting silver never changed. 

After the first Opium war, the illicit trade became known as the Poison trade. Around the same time another terrible commerce began nicknamed the Pig trade. The “pigs” in this case were referring to coolies who were either hired or literally kidnapped and forced into indentured servitude overseas. Britain had outlawed such practices back in 1807, but this did not stop the trade and it differed little from African slavery. Interesting thing to note here, the term “shanghaied” was born from this situation. When coolies were drugged up and thrown onto ships often from Shanghai, this is how that term was born. For the Chinese part, often the Qing officials would open up their jails and hand over prisoners. As indicated in a letter complaint to the foreign secretary, lord Malmesbury from a British official in Canton  “iniquities scarcely exceeding those practiced on the African coast and on the African middle passage have not been wanting…the jails of China [have been] emptied to supply ‘labour’ to British colonies…hundreds [of coolies] gathered together in barracoons, stripped naked and stamped or painted with the letter C (California), P (Peru) or S (Sandwich Islands) on their breasts, according to destination.” Now the British wanted to keep the poison trade rolling, but the pig trade was really infuriating the Chinese. This led many of the opium merchants to push for action to be made to stop the pig trade. Powerful lobbies pushed the British parliament to enact the Chinese passenger act of 1855. While this act did not outlaw the trade of coolies, what it did do was codify and improve the conditions in which coolies could be transported to their place of labor.

In 1850 the Daoguang Emperor died and within his will he begged for forgiveness for agreeing to sign the shameful treaty of Nanking. His fourth son became his successor, Xianfeng who was 19 at the time he took the dragon throne. Unlike his more industrious father, Xianfeng did not care much for government. Xianfeng was married to a Manchu princess, but he chose to spend the majority of his time with his concubines, one named Cixi who will become one of the most important figures in modern Chinese history. Cixi participated in the selection for wives for Xianfeng alongside 60 other candidates. She was one of the few candidates chosen to stay and Xianfeng became obsessed with her to the point he spent most of his time in bed with her while taking puffs from his opium pipe, oh yes the emperor even took up the illicit drug. Cixi ended up bearing his only son and this earned her the rank of co-empress with the title of Empress of the Western Palace, Xianfengs actual wife held the title of Empress of the eastern palace.

As the mother heir, Cixi held enormous influence at the imperial court. Now going way far into the future, Emperor Xianfeng would die in 1861 after a very short life of overindulgence and he would leave his 6 year old son, Zaichun as his successor. A day before his death on his death bed he made an imperial edict that 8 men would act as a regency council to aid his son, later to be enthroned as the Tongzhi emperor. He gave the 8 men power of regency, but indicated their edict must be endorsed by the Noble Consort Yi and the Empress Consort Zhen, these being Empress Dowager Cixi and Empress dowager Ci’an. However Cixi performed a palace coup against the regency council and installed herself and Xianfengs first wife as co-regents, who would rule China until her son came of age. After the death of the co-empress, Cixi ruled China alone until 1908, yeah 1908, this woman was a monolith of modern Chinese history and not looked upon too favorably mind you. Cixi’s was an opium addict which is shocking given the incredible power grab moves she made and the amount of dominance she held over the Qing dynasty. Many historians believe she stuck to an opium maintenance dose that prevented both impairment and withdrawal. Anyways she will be a large part of the story in the future, but I just wanted to give you a taste of her now.

Meanwhile in China countless disasters were occurring both man made and from mother nature. The high government office of the Qing dynasty which was filled by those who had to pass the rigorous imperial examinations, well that system had guaranteed the competence of the ruling class, but something had changed. Now anyone who had around 800 pounds could get around the examinations and this led a flood of mediocrities, albeit rich ones to come to power. These people proved to be unequal to the responsibilities they had simply purchased and the once industrious and highly educated Qing bureaucracy decayed rapidly. Adding to this was a horrible natural disaster. In 1856 the Huang He River overflowed and destroyed thousands of acres of rice paddies. The capital began to starve and with such a drastic problem came drastic solutions.

As had happened to China countless times before, the decay of the Imperial court combined with famine amongst the people would lead to one if not the worst rebellion in human history. Now I would to stipulate this here, there is going to be two large events that will both require a number of episodes each, but both events overlap. The Taiping Rebellion of 1850-1864 and the second opium war of 1856-1860. I will be covering both separately and in depth, beginning with the second opium war than the Taiping Rebellion afterwards. However it's impossible to talk about one without the other, so I will sprinkle information here and there and apologize for the tease. Now the Taiping Rebellion is a colossal event in modern Chinese history. It began in the southeastern province of Guangxi. At its zenith the Taiping rebels controlled 17 provinces in south and central China. It was the most destructive civil war in human history causing massive hardship via military action, religio-political repress and retaliations and wide scale famine as a result of mother nature. All told the estimations for deaths because of this civil war are unreal, somewhere between 20 to 30 million people. 

Now like I said I will have an entire mini series on the Taiping Rebellion, so I will not be going into any fine detail, but for now I want to at least explain a bit about why it is going on in the background. The leader of the movement was a man named Hong Xiuquan, the 4th son of a hard working rural family in Guangdong. His family was Hakka, they are a minority group in southern China with a unique culture that differed from Han Chinese. Hong’s family did everything they could to get enough money so their son could get a good education and attempt to pass the first imperial examination in order to become part of the scholar-gentry class. Hong failed his first two attempts and was left humiliated so he left home and went to Canton where he hoped to continue his studies in order to pass a third time around. In Canton Hong came across Protestant missionaries and studied some of the bible under them. When Hong attempted the imperial exam for a third time he failed yet again and because of this he had a nervous breakdown. Hong began to suffer delirium and a series of dreams or what he called visions that would change his life and that of China. He found himself talking with an older bearded man with golden hair and a younger man whom he referred to as “elder brother”. The younger man gave him a magical sword and taught him how to slay demons. Now as I may have mentioned in a previous episode my first degree is in neurobehavioral sciences, but you don’t need a degree in the field of psychology to know Hong probably was schizophrenic. At first he did not associate these weird visions with anything else nor act out, instead he worked for 6 years as a village schoolteacher, still studying to give the imperial examination a 4th go. In 1843 Hong failed the imperial examination a 4th time and it broke him. His ambition to become a member of the scholar Gentry class was shattered and he suffered a full nervous breakdown. He apparently was catatonic for a month and would come out of this stupor sporadically screaming things like “kill the demons”. These demons he spoke of he later identified as the traditional Chinese gods and the Emperor of the Qing dynasty. As he gradually recovered from his breakdown, Hong began to reread Christian texts until he came to the sudden realization that the men in his visions were God and Jesus. With some quasi logically thinking, he began to explain to himself that he failed the imperial examination because he had a greater purpose and because he referred to Jesus as Elder brother in his dreams, he must be the brother of Jesus. Yes folks, Hong Xiuquan the self proclaimed brother of Jesus Christ.

Hong returned to Canton in 1847 to study the bible more thoroughly under an american southern baptist missionary named Isaacher Roberts. Shortly after he relocated to eastern Guangxi in a rugged area known as Thistle mountain where he began preaching and developing a new doctrine. Many converts flocked to Hong, notably many Hakka’s and other minority groups, hell even triads joined in. The triads of course had inner motivations such as wanting to overthrow the Manchu and reclaim the ming dynasty. Hong afterall was saying they all had to destroy the demons and restore China on the path of righteousness. Now again I don’t want to get into the finer details, but in 1851 Hong began a rebellion using thousands of his converts known as the God Worshippers. Hong’s doctrine was that of opium abstinence and he attracted countless opium addicts to his flock and helped cure them of their addiction. In many ways the Taiping movement was something like a 12 step program for recovering addicts, but it also encompassed so much more. It including communalism, socialism, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor Robinhood mentality and it was quite Marxist. Hong had his forces take all the plunder and funds and pooled it in a common treasury shared equally by members of the collective. Hong advocated to abolish private ownership of land and impose the death penalty on those trying to hold onto their wealth. He also made a long list of taboos including alcohol, gambling, tobacco, prostitution, concubinage, the pig trade and other forms of slavery. And before any of you start screaming at your headphones, by far and large many including Hong did not follow these rules, like I said it was very Marxist, haha shots fired. Hong called his movement the Taiping Tianguo “heavenly kingdom of the great peace” and named himself the heavenly king.

The Taiping talk of expropriating land scared the hell out of Beijing and even Queen Victoria who received news of the rebellion. The obvious actions took place, the emperor sent forces to quell the insurrection in guangxi province. The emperor sent Zhen Zuchen at the ripe age of 67 to exterminate the rebels. Zhen was a devout Buddhist, but he respected the god worshippers and targeted the Triads. By 1850 China had suffered 4 years of famine, right at the time the emperor began to escalate his attacks on the Taiping. Because of  Zhen’s choice of only targeting triads, the emperor choose to bring out of retirement and disgrace none other than Lin Zexu. Lin Zexu was given the task of eliminated the Taiping, but at the ripe age of also 67 he died while en route to Guangxi. Lin Zexu never got his last hurrah chance to redeem himself. So by 1851 the Qing forces performed horribly and were repulsed from Thistle Mountain by the Taiping rebels who were armed with pikes and halberds for the most part. Cool side note, women fought alongside men for the Taiping and there was a real attempt at equality amongst the sexes, keyword attempt.

Hong eventually adapted the ten commandments for Chinese sensibilities. He named the emperor a false god in his first commandment and added complete obedience to himself and his officers as the 4th. The commandments led Hongs rebel group to become a bonafide theocracy. By the fall of 1851 the Taiping ranks had grown to a whopping million, mostly built up from starving peasants fleeing famine torn areas of Guangxi. The Qing sent forces against them in Thistle mountain only to lose each time. Ironically a major reason the Taiping kept winning battles may have been  because of their opium ban. Some sources estimate the Qing military engaging the rebels in this region may have been suffering 90% opium addiction rates, which is insane if thats true. Regardless by september 25th of 1851, Hong felt confident enough to move out and this led his army to conquer vast amounts of territory. By January 12th of 1853 Hong’s forces took the city of Wuchang after blowing up its gates and massacring all the Manchu people they could find deeming them demons. At this point Hong set his eyes on a very grand prize, the old capital of China, Nanjing. Nanjing was being defended by only 7000 Machus alongside 6000 Qing regulars. Hong tossed 80,000 men and women soldiers into a siege of Nanjing on february 28th and after two weeks they blew a hole it Nanjings walls. Now I don’t want to spoil anymore and honestly everything I brutally summarized will be covered much much more indepth, but what you need to know is Hong established his own capital, the heavenly kingdom in Nanjing. He builds up his forces even more, performs wide scale reforms and creates a very large administration. The Taiping become a very real threat to Beijing and honestly could have overthrown the Qing dynasty at multiple points. The Qing for their part in the later 1850’s were not only dealing with the bloodiest civil war the world had ever seen, but we’re fighting western forces cause the second opium war was raging. And that is what I am building towards folks, trying to lay this rather insane 3d chess table of stuff going on simultaneously.

Now I said it before, but much like the Treaty of Versailles, the Treaty of Nanjing caused more problems than it solved and simply led to another war. China was humiliated by the conditions of the treaty, it surrendered her symbolic and practical forms of sovereignty to Britain. That bitterness was simmering since 1842 and like a powder keg would eventually explode in 1856. In february of 1856, a french priest named Abbe Auguste Chapdelaine, god the old french names are dreadful haha, well Abbe was converting a village called Xilin in the province of Guangxi, ironically in the center of the Taiping rebel control. 

So Mr Abbe was arrested and imprisoned, they tossed him in a cage and set it up in the village square. Chapdelaine was in violation of Chinese law because he was performing missionary work in China’s interior. Another thing that did not help his cause was the fact he shared the same beliefs as the Taiping…well I mean not exactly mind you he was a catholic and the Taiping were on a more protestant footing, but tomato tomato. In fact Mr Abbe and the other Catholic missionaries were appalled by the bastardized proto protestant movement of the Taiping and they actually supported the Qing rule. Abbe was at the wrong place and wrong time so to say. On February 29th of 1856, Abbe was beheaded, dismembered and eviscerated by his executioners whom the rather hysterical French press claimed later took pieces of Abbe and cooked it and ate it, specifically his heart. Historians agree that the cannibalism story here was most likely urban legend. 

The French representative at Canton, Comte de Courcy was powerless and furious. He began sending letters to Cantons viceroy, Ye Mingchen, but took no military action to avenge the death of the priest. It seems Ye Mingchen believed the French had no stomach for a fight, so he sent Comte an insulting reply to his letters explaining that that atrocity was a simple case of mistaken identity “Chapdelaine dressed and spoke like a Chinese, nobody thought him to be french”. Well the French would not be alone in their grievances with the Qing. On October 8th, the 127 ton lorcha, the Arrow, a hybrid ship, it had a British hull but Chinese junk sails, was registered in Hong Kong as a British vessel. But in reality it was owned by a Chinese merchant and manned by a crew of 14 Chinese. Well the Arrow docked in Canton with a cargo of rice from Macao en route for Hong Kong. The Arrow’s figurehead captain was a 21 year old Belfast native named Thomas Kennedy. His role on board was literally just to make the ship seem British owned and operated as British vessels held privileges because of the Treaty of Nanjing. 

Well on that day, Kennedy was not aboard the arrow, he had gone over to another lorcha captained by another figurehead captain named John Leach. Also aboard was Charles Earl, the captain of the Chusan. At 8am the friends were having breakfast when they noticed 2 large Qing warships flying the emperors flag, carrying 60 Qing marines, the ship was heading towards the Arrow. Qing officials boarded the Arrow and arrested her Chinese crew, bound them all and tossed them onto a Qing warship. Leach, Earl and Kennedy jumped into a sampan and rowed towards the warship. To make the situation a bit more fun, a Portuguese lorcha nearby stated later in testimony the Arrow had not had its Union Jack flying. Kennedy would claim the Qing marines pulled down the Union Jack. Regardless when Kennedy got to the warship he  began protesting their seizure, but the Qing forces simply sent curses his way. Kennedy tried to smooth things over asking if just 2 of his crew could be allowed to stay on the Arrow as caretakers and the Qing officials agreed and handed 2 men over, but took the other 12 away.

Now the Arrow might seem an unlikely prize for the Qing to seize since it was just carrying rice, but the Arrow had a dark past so to say. The Arrow had been built by the Chinese as a cargo ship, but it had been captured by pirates then recaptured by Cantons viceroy, Ye Mingchen who sold it at an auction to a comprador employed by a British firm. The comprador registered the Arrow as a British ship, but something the new owner did not look into was changing the existing crew of the ship which included 3 pirates. The Qing would use the presence of these pirates as a justification for seizing 12 of the crew. Later it would turn out the registration had also expired, so by that technicality it was not a British ship at the time also, don’t you hate getting pulled over? Kennedy went crying about the seizure to the acting British consul, Harry Parkes who was the consular official of 4 out of the 5 ports opened by the treaty of Nanjing. The problem of Arrow’s status did not deter Parkes who immediately went on the offensive. Parkes ranted about “the gross insult and violation of national rights the Chinese had committed”. Parkes began arguing about the treaty requiring the Chinese to first ask permission before arresting a Chinese citizen serving on a British registered ship. Parkes demanded that all 12 of the crew be handed over immediately. The Qing commander explained that one of the sailors was the father of a notorious pirate and suspected other of the crew to be pirates, hence he would hold them. When Parkes persisted in his demands, one of the Qing officials slapped him, uh oh. 

The humiliated Parkes, returned to the British consulate and wrote a letter to Ye Mingchen who ontop of being the viceroy of Canton was the viceroy of Guangxi, Guangdong and Imperial commissioner in charge of foreign affairs. “I hasten therefore to lay the case before your excellency Ye, confident that your superior judgment will lead you at once to admit that an insult so publicly committed must be equally publicly atoned. I therefore request your excellency that the men who have been carried away from the Arrow be returned by the captain to that vessel in my presence and if accused of any crime they may then be conveyed to the British consulate, were in conjunction with proper officers deputed by your excellency for the purpose, I shall be prepared to investigate the case”. Now Ye Mingchen was not the kind of Qing bureaucrat to whom adhered to lets say, the fine points of international law. Ye Mingchen had crushed the Taiping rebels within his two provinces of control with great brutality. He had executed every captured Taiping rebel along with their wives and children, sheesh. It is said in Canton alone the butchery was around 200 Taiping per day. Parkes also sent word to his superior, Sir John Bowring, the governor of Hong Kong. Parkes told him the crewmen were flying the Union Jack and deserved the same rights and protections as British subjects. Well Mr. Bowring was super excited at the opportunity that the Arrow’s seizure had provided, he sent word back to Parks “cannot we use the opportunity and carry the city question? If so, I will come up with the whole fleet”. That fleet would consist of 16 men of war and 3 steamships all docked at Hong Kong harbor. Bowring wanted to at least be given permission to move out of the factories and set up shop within Canton proper as pertaining to the treaty of Nanjing. However that part of the treaty was written out properly in English while the Chinese translation literally stated instead that the foreigners and Chinese should remain segregated. The justification for this, we shall call it translation error, was the fact the Qing officials argued there was a ton of xenophobia in Canton. If the British came to live amongst the Cantonese, some might attack or even kill the British, thus segregation was for their protection. Lord Palmerston had given orders not to push the issue of British housing in Canton because he did not think the risks were even worth the reward, but his representatives it seems ignored these orders. 

After two days, Ye Mingchen responded to Parkes letter stating he could free 9 out of the 12 crew, but insisted on keeping the remaining three because they were former pirates. As for the Arrow, Ye claimed the captured crew swore an oath that the ship was Chinese made and owned. Ye sent the 9 crew with the letter as a show of good faith. Now at this point it seems obvious Parkes was looking to make a diplomatic point more so than get back the crew cause he refused to accept custody of them. Instead Parkes sent another letter to Bowring in Hong Kong suggesting the British should retaliate by seizing a Chinese junk, particularly one that was involved in grabbing the arrow. On october 14th, the British gunboat Coramandel boarded a Chinese junk without a fight and towed it to Whampoa. Turns out the British did not really think things through, as the ship ended up being a private craft, not owned by the Qing government. Ye Mingchen simply ignored the matter. Bowring then took the chance to inspect the registration of the Arrow, something Parkes had failed to do. Bowring soon discovered Arrows registry as a British ship had expired on september 27th, so by that technicality, the Qing had not violated British territoriality by seizing her.

Despite Bowring learning the truth of the matter, this did not change his determination to goad Ye Mingchen into action. Bowring told Parkes to write a letter to the viceroy again on october 21st. This time the letter was an ultimatum. Ye Mingchen was given 24 hours to free all 12 crewmen and to provide an official apology and promise to respect all British shipping in China. If Ye did not comply “her majesty’s naval officers will have recourse to force you to compel complete satisfaction”. Ye Mingchen was in a pickle, while he knew full well the British backed up their threats he also needed to save face. So Ye returned all of the crew, but refused to apologize and offered that in the future he would only consult with foreign interlopers over criminals like the Arrow’s pirates. Ye wrote to Parkes “Hereafter if any lawless characters conceal themselves on board foreign lorchas, you, the said Consul, shall of course be informed of the same by declaration in order that you may act with the Chinese authorities in the management of such affairs,”. Ye also however offered a compromise to avoid similar incidents in the future by adding “Hereafter, Chinese officers will on no account without reason seize and take into custody the people belonging to foreign lorchas, but when Chinese subjects build for themselves vessels, foreigners should not sell registers to them… for it will occasion confusion between native and foreign ships, and render it difficult to distinguish between them.”. Well Ye’s response was just what Parkes and Bowring needed to commence hostilities and that is just what they did.

On october 23rd, Parkes ordered Rear Admiral Michael Seymour to seize and destroy the 4 barrier forts 5 miles south of Canton on the pearl river. The Coromandal was the first to fire upon one of the forts, the first shot of the second opium war. Two of the forts fired back on the British fleet before ultimately surrendering. 5 Chinese defenders died and they would be the first casualties of the war. Rear Admiral Seymour placed blame on the Chinese for the casualties reporting to Parkes “loss of four or five killed on the part of the Chinese [was] solely arising from their ill-judged resistance to our force.”. Seymours easy victory bolstered Parkes war mongering and drove him to bring the war straight to Ye Mingchen. Parkes wrote to Seymour “should Ye still be contumacious, I think that the residence of his excellency, which is not far from the waterside, should also in that case feel the effects of bombardment”. Yes this guy was pretty much an asshole. 

I would like to take this time to remind you all that this podcast is only made possible through the efforts of Kings and Generals over at Youtube. Please go subscribe to Kings and Generals over at Youtube and to continue helping us produce this content please check out If you are still hungry after that, give my personal channel a look over at The Pacific War Channel at Youtube, it would mean a lot to me. 

Well things got out of hand pretty quickly. The arrow incident while small in scale was just a match to ignite a growing powder keg. As Gandalf said “the board is set, the pieces are moving”. The second opium war had begun.