Hong Kong: Part 2 [In progress]

The Second Opium War

  • In the midst of this uncertainty and insecurity, Hong Kong became embroiled in another war between Britain and China. The underlying cause of the war was that the Treaty of Nanking had not given the British all that they wanted, whereas from the Qing point of view it had conceded too much.
  • For the Qing, the treaty was simply a way to keep the foreigners at bay. The treaty had not produced the boom in trade that the British had expected and had left too many issues unresolved.
  • Britain used the revenue from the opium trade to buy tea and silk from China and to support the occupation of India, Chinese merchants used the profits from tea and silk to buy opium from British traders, Indian producers used revenues from opium to buy British goods, and British merchants used the profits from selling British goods to buy cotton from the United States. The sale of Indian opium to China, writes historian J. Y. Wong, ”was a great link in the chain of commerce with which Britain had surrounded the world.”
  • Thus, in 1854 the British requested more concessions, including the legalization of the opium trade, the freedom to sail and trade on the Yangzi River, and the right to diplomatic representation in Beijing.
  • Hong Kong was intricately linked to this second war between Britain and China. Governor Bowring, who was also British plenipotentiary and superintendent of trade in China, requested an official meeting with Governor-General Ye Mingchen in Canton, but the two could not agree on a suitable meeting place. Bowring had come to Hong Kong in 1854 convinced that another conflict with China was on the horizon. With his interest in Chinese culture, Bowring was determined to patch up Anglo-Chinese relations even though his predecessors had failed. But Bowring’s four years in Canton as British consul left him convinced that Britain needed a more vigorous policy toward China and that only through force could China be brought to its senses.
  • Bowring had earlier been president of the Peace Society, which advocated the abolition of war and the peaceful resolution of international disputes through conciliation and he wanted more humane policies for the Chinese in Hong Kong. Nonetheless, he helped cause another war between China and Britain.
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