Opium War, Second (1856–1860)
PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Great Britain and France vs.
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): The China coast
DECLARATION: England and France attacked China after
the Arrow, a Chinese-owned ship flying the British flag,
was seized by the Chinese.
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: After the First Opium
War, the British and the French (and other Western
powers, including the United States) sought further trade
concessions and, once again, used China’s enforcement of
its ban on the opium trade as an excuse to go to war and
OUTCOME: China was forced to open more of its ports to
British and other foreign trade and to grant Great Britain
further land around Hong Kong in a “lease” to last 99 years
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS:
Anglo-French forces, 17,700; Chinese forces, 30,000
CASUALTIES: Anglo-French, nearly 900 killed or wounded;
Chinese, more than 7,000 killed, wounded, or captured
TREATIES: Treaty of Tientsin (Tianjin or Tianjian [Tientsin]),
June 28, 1858 (reaffirmed and expanded in 1860)
plus copycat treaties with France, Russia, and the United
The First OPIUM WAR resulted in the opening of several
Chinese ports as well as the cession of Hong Kong to Great
Britain. By 1856, the British (and the French) were restless
for further trade concessions. In that year, Chinese officials
seized the Arrow, a Chinese-owned ship flying the British
flag and engaged in smuggling opium. The British, seeking
to extend their trading rights in China, used the seizure as
an excuse to renew hostilities. They were joined in the hostilities
by the French, who used as their excuse the murder
of a French missionary in the interior of China. In late
1857 a combined English and French force attacked, occupying
Canton (Guangzhou [Kwangchow]). Next, the force
took forts near Tianjin, and treaties were concluded
between China and Britain as well as similar treaties
between China and France, Russia, and the United States.
The new treaties with the Western powers caused
widespread outrage in China and failed to receive ratification.
Foreign diplomats were refused entrance to Beijing
(Peking), and a British force was slaughtered outside of
Tianjin in 1859. A renewed Anglo-French assault captured
Tianjin and defeated a Chinese army outside of Beijing.
The Chinese emperor, Xianfeng (Hsien-feng; 1831–
61), fled, and his commissioners concluded new treaties
embodying the provisions of the Tianjin agreement and
adding four more ports to the list of those now open to
Of special importance, the Kowloon Peninsula on the
Chinese mainland was added to the Hong Kong colony,
and in 1898 a large area beyond Kowloon, together with
the surrounding islands (the “New Territories”), was
leased to Great Britain for 99 years.
See also BOXER REBELLION.
Further reading: Jack Beeching, The Chinese Opium
Wars (New York: Harcourt, 1977); D. Bonner-Smith, The
Second China War, 1856–1860 (New York: Hyperion,
1994); W. Travis Hanes and Frank Sanello, The Opium
Wars: The Addiction of One Empire and the Corruption of
Another (Naperville, Ill.: Sourcebooks Inc., 2002); Douglas
Hurd, The Arrow War: an Anglo-Chinese Confusion, 1856–
1860 (New York: Macmillan, 1967).