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The Second China War, 1856-1860

The causes of the Second China War were complex; one factor went back deep into China’s past when the country was the predominant power in the Far East and had developed a civilisation that, culturally and technically, was far ahead of that of Europe. This gave them a superiority complex which they retained when the country turned in on itself and cut itself off from the rest of the world at the end of its golden age which occurred around the end of the 15th century. They were still maintaining this attitude at the time of the events with which this volume is concerned, regarding the Europeans as barbarians and an inferior race.

The other major factor was the European, predominantly British need to find markets for the ever increasing volume of manufactured goods. A further factor was the breakdown in the Chinese system of government, which was beginning at that time. British relations with China were governed by the 1842 Treaty of Nanking that had ended the First China War, more often called the Opium War. Under this treaty Britain was permitted to establish a number of trading stations, of which the most important was at Canton. However relations were never good, though conducted with very polite formality, there were violations of the treaty – on both sides – and Britain’s deployment of its military strength led to hostilities that became an undeclared war.

The papers in this volume portray an immensely complicated situation diplomatically, politically and militarily. Suffice it to say that Britain, with other foreign powers, prevailed and trade with China was subsequently opened up.

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About David Bonner-Smith

David Bonner-Smith was Admiralty Librarian, joining the library staff in March 1911. He was made deputy librarian on the death of W.G. Perrin in 1931, and appointed to the chief post in March 1932. He retired in May 1949 at the age of 60. It was said of him that he knew every one of the 100,000 books in the library, but was also familiar with all their contents. It is certain that he could direct students and enquirers to whatever reference they needed. He was editor of The Mariner’s Mirror from 1932 to 1939.

His publications include
• The Letters of Earl St. Vincent, 2 volumes (Navy Records Society, 1921, 1926).
• Letter and Papers of Admiral the Hon. Samuel Barrington 2 volumes (Navy Records Society, 1937, 1941).
• Captain Boteler’s Recollections 1808 – 1830 (Navy Records Society, 1942).
• The Russian War, 1855, Baltic (Navy Records Society, 1944).
• The Second China War, 1856-1860 (Navy Records Society, 1954).

The Navy Records Society