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By Harry Gelber

The ‘battle for Beijing’ is universally – and relatively wrongly – believed to were approximately opium. This e-book argues that it was once approximately freedom to alternate, Britain’s calls for for diplomatic equality, and French calls for for non secular freedom in China. either international locations agreed that their armies, which time and again prevailed over chinese language ones that have been numerically more advantageous, could remain out of Beijing itself, yet have been infuriated by way of China’s imprisonment, torture and demise of British, French and Indian negotiators. even as, the British and French additionally helped the empire to conflict rebels and to pocket port and harbour dues. They recommended rigorously among their political and buying and selling calls for, and navigated the chance that undue pressure may make China’s fragile govt and empire collapse. If it did, there will be not anyone to make any type of contract with; a lot of East Asia will be in chaos and Russian strength might quickly expand.

Battle for Beijing, 1858–1860 deals clean insights into the explanations at the back of the activities and techniques of British specialists, either at domestic and in China, and the British and French army commanders. It is going opposed to the generally accredited perspectives surrounding the Franco-British clash, featuring a daring new argument and point of view.

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10 The result was that, while 1000 in copper cash had been roughly equivalent to one tael of silver11 during Qianlong’s reign, by the time Daoguang sat on the throne around 1830, one tael cost around 2700 copper cash. 12 Attempts at suppression were all too likely to increase rather than diminish those social disturbances. Two senior American economists have recently examined the statistical evidence and concluded that ‘China’s opium prohibition had a minimal impact on opium consumption’ and ‘China’s legalization of opium in 1858 was not associated with a perceptible increase in opium consumption’.

Even many years later, after the 1860 clashes, the situation was no better. 6 In any event, having accepted the China appointment, Elgin’s first port of call was Paris. British China policy was usually conducted in consultation with the French and the Americans. After all, both of them had – diplomatically and commercially speaking – sailed in Britain’s wake during and after the First Opium War of 1840–1842 and secured their own separate China treaties in similar terms. As for the Americans, from the British point of view, little could be expected from them.

Anyway, as everyone knew, nothing the British government could do would have much effect. Even Foreign Secretary Clarendon, in his first instructions to Elgin in April 1857, had remarked in an aside that legalising the opium trade in China would make very little practical difference. In fact, even leaving opium aside, the whole idea of vast and lucrative trading opportunities that would arise if only the Chinese would open up more of their empire to trade, was an illusion. As long ago as 1852, a British official at Canton named Mitchell had written a report pointing out the awkward realities.

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