The Boxer Rebellion


The Boxers were a Chinese group who hated the influence Europe had over China. In 1899, this group revolted against the British, burning European trading posts and expelling (often through death) all Europeans. Hearing of this, an alliance was formed between the United Kingdom, Russia, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Austria-Hungary and the United States known as the Eight-Nation Alliance, which declared war on China for their actions. They sent over 50 warships and over 50,000 soldiers to dispatch the Boxers, which were allied with the Chinese government.

“Western propaganda often portrayed the Boxers as savages, murderers and cannibals.”


Sino-French War


Turcos and fusiliers-marins at Bắc Ninh, 12 March 1884

The Sino-French War was originally not a direct conflict between France and China. The premise of the war was that France wanted control of Vietnam, which was a Chinese tribute state at the time. The Chinese rushed to the defense of their colony, but could not provide much of a defense against the French army. Unlike the English in the Opium Wars, the French were not without their losses, and they lost one of their main generals, Henri Rivière. This prompted the French into anger and they pushed forward, claiming Vietnam in the Treaty of Huế.

However the Chinese were not all in full agreement with the treaty, and soon after the conclusion of the battle in Vietnam, they attacked the French without any notice. The French retaliated and attacked China, destroying the Chinese. With the impending threat of a Japanese-French alliance, China accepted the Treaty of Tientsin, which granted more land to the French as well as trade freedoms.

First Sino-Japanese War


The First Sino-Japanese War was a conflict between Japan and China over control of Korea, and it originally involved only Japan and China, but during the conclusion of the war – the Treaty of Shimonoseki – Russia, France and Germany formed what is known as the Triple Intervention. In the treaty, Japan was attempting to claim the Liaodong peninsula as a part of the peace, but the Triple Intervention intervened and prevented them from doing so, for fear that a Russian port in the area would be affected.

“Revisionist depiction of Chinese delegation, led by Admiral Ding Ruchang and their foreign advisors, boarding the Japanese vessel to negotiate the surrender with Admiral Itō Sukeyuki after the Battle of Weihaiwei. In reality, Ding had committed suicide after his defeat and never surrendered.”

Second Opium War


If the First Opium War had destroyed the Chinese forces, the Second Opium War utterly stomped them into the ground and crushed them into millions of pieces. Then spit on them. The Second Opium War had little premise; England wanted to expand the terms of the Treaty of Nanjing to include further conditions – among which was legalizing the trade of Opium. China rejected all their demands. Subsequently, searching for a cause to declare war and force China to accept their demands, England saw an opportunity in a recent ship that had been captured by the Chinese government. They claimed it had been an English ship and, despite China freeing the ship and apologizing for capturing it, summoned all their allies to war. China found itself facing off against England, France, Russia and America – they were doomed.

“A View of the European Factories at Canton,” ca. 1785 by William and Thomas Daniell

America and Russia ended up not providing any support for the war, aside from their alliance while France and Britain rampaged through China, which was incredibly weak by this point. At the end of the short-lived war, the Treaties of Tientsin were signed which declared that all the victors would have the authority to establish embassies in China, trade in China would be much more open to foreigners and China would pay both England and France. The Treaty of Anguin was also signed, which overwrote the Treaty of Nerchinsk and gave Russia back much of the land they had lost.

However the war did not end here. Qing Dynasty China did not like the terms of the agreement and as England tried to sail through zones which had been declared free by the treaty, they were blockaded by Chinese troops. They blasted open the blockade and the second portion of the Second Opium War began. After defeating the Chinese yet again, the Convention of Peking ended the Opium Wars with further conditions; Britain gained more territory, China was forced to legalize both Christianity and the Opium Trade they had fought so hard against and finally, Britain was authorized to sell Chinese slaves to America.

The 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot storming the Amoy forts

Taiping Rebellion


The Taiping Rebellion was a revolt by the Han Chinese; the group that had made up the Ming Dynasty, which the Qing Dynasty had overthrown. They were unhappy with China’s recent loss to England and saw their government as weak and capable of being overthrown. Europe initially decided to remain neutral in the battle, but during an attempted capture of Shanghai, the American soldiers situated there mounted a defense, officially taking the side of Qing Dynasty China. Soon both English and French armies were aiding the Qing Dynasty and the rebellion was easily suppressed.

The Taiping Rebellion was the first instance of Europe and China working together towards a common goal. Prior to Europe’s intervention, the rebellion had been very successful but against the combined forces of China, England and France, the rebellion fell quickly. It is possible that should European Influence not have taken place, Qing Dynasty China would have been overthrown. This is an example of European influence helping the Qing Dynasty, though in the case of the British, it could be said that as they had just subjugated the Qing Dynasty, they were only seeking to keep it in power so as to extend their own control. Regardless of motive, this union between the West and the East was the first of its kind, a rare break in the constant rivalry between the two regions of the world.

Moreover, the leader of the rebellion would assert that he had religious visions, in which he came to the understanding that he was the Son of Jesus, which would indicate a relatively strong Christian presence in China at the time.

Actual photo of Naval battle between Taiping-Qing armies on Yangtze River. The caption in French says: “Canonnade des Taiping contre les jonques de guerre des Tsing qui assiégeaient la capital du Royaume céleste.” (“Taiping cannon fire against the Qing war junks that are assaulting the capital of the celestial kingdom”)

First Opium War


The First Opium War occurred between the English forces under Queen Victoria and the Qing Dynasty forces under the Daoguang Emperor. The main causes of the First Opium War are the addictions suffered by both the English and the Chinese people. Prior to the war, the Chinese people became addicted to opium and the English people had a great desire for tea. These addictions fuelled English-Chinese trade; they traded opium for tea. However opium was destroying the Chinese population, causing them to constantly crave more and weakening them. In light of the detriment opium was causing his people, the Daoguang Emperor banned it.

“Any foreigner or foreigners bringing opium to the Central Land, with design to sell the same, the principals shall most assuredly be decapitated, and the accessories strangled; and all property (found on board the same ship) shall be confiscated. The space of a year and a half is granted, within the which, if any one bringing opium by mistake, shall voluntarily step forward and deliver it up, he shall be absolved from all consequences of his crime.”

However in doing so, the English no longer had anything to trade with the Chinese for their tea, and they still wanted tea. The Chinese saw this as no great loss, but the United Kingdom saw it as a restriction of free trade, and outraged, they ordered their ships to cease trade with the Chinese. However, the tea-loving English continued to do so and, in an attempt to prevent their men from trading with the Chinese, the English fleet mistakenly fired on the Chinese Navy. In retaliation for this, the Daoguang Emperor requested that foreigners cease aiding the British. The British were not happy and initiated the First Opium War by sacking Guangdong.

The First Opium War is the first major conflict between European and Qing Dynasty forces. This was the first time that the two regions of the world had ever directly butted heads, and it was an absolute disaster for China. Having already been weakened by constant rebellion, China was in no shape to face off against the most powerful navy in the world and they were destroyed. After a decisive victory, England and China signed the Treaty of Nanking, which stated that the British had free trade in China and granted them the territory of Hong Kong.

“NEMESIS Destroying the Chinese War Junks in Anson’s Bay, Jan 7th 1841” This famous print of the Second Battle of Chuanbi by E. Duncan dated May 30, 1843, records the first battle appearance of the revolutionary iron steamer Nemesis.

Russian-Manchu Border Conflicts


The new Qing Dynasty quickly found conflict with its closest neighbours to the West, the Russians. Alexis I, the ruler of Russia, and Yerofey Khabarov, a Russian adventurer, were exploring the region around the Amur River, traditionally Manchu territory, attempting to claim it for Russia and began taking towns belonging to the native Mongol residents. The Qing Dynasty responded by allying Korean troops with Manchu forces and drove the Russians out of the region. In 1685, the Russians were fully driven out after the siege of Albazin – Russia’s main stronghold in the region. After driving out the Russians, the Kangxi Emperor sent letters proposing peace, which was settled on in 1689 through the Treaty of Nerchinsk; which abolished Russian claim to the land in return for more open trade in Chinese markets for Russia.

“Arx seu fortalitia in loco nomine Yagsa a Eussis extructa funditus eruetur ac destruetur.”

(The citadel or region built in the name of Yagsa a Eussie shall be made flat and completely destroyed)

This agreement was solidified with the destruction of Albazin, and marked the first treaty between the new Qing Dynasty and a great European Power, signalling its power to the rest of Europe. This would later lead to strong European intervention in other Qing affairs in an effort to control the budding empire and its massive wealth.