Panorama of Hong Kong, showing the Fleet for North China Expedition   ~   photo: Felice Beato, March 1 1860
prelude to a season of discontent
  How the Empire Lost Hong Kong  

I take you back to midsummer, in the year of the Pig 1839.

I am Commissioner Lin Zexu, charged with oversight of foreign traders. I am charged by the Son of Heaven with ending the unconscionable sale of opium by the English.

I have written to the English queen.
Here I have offered goods in exchange for opium, to no avail.

Now I have seized twenty thousand bales: and at Humen on the Pearl River, one hundred and fifty li upstream from the location of your image, in the first month of summer, for three weeks we have laboured to mix the poison with salt, and lime, and we have thrown it into the river.

We have apologised to the gods of the delta.
In your era you will find me honoured the world over.
Queen   >>

We are not amused.

What letter?

We make no restriction on the sale of opium in Our domains.
We may have considered higher duty on said merchandise, but you have destroyed Our property.

By the time you read this ~ in February, perhaps, in the Year of Our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fortyone
~ to put an end to your prevarications ~
Our navy will have raised Our Union flag
on the island of Hong Kong
We will have sailed upstream ~ within range of Humen;
We will have sailed north ~ to the Yangtze ~ to Nanking;
~ and We may well march on to Peking.

We now insist: Indemnities.
A legation in Peking.
Full and free trading at six ports on your coast.

<<   Emperor

Now you contemplate the Son of Heaven:
the Daoguang Emperor.

You do not pay tribute. You do not kowtow. You do not know your place. Whether you speak in English, or French, or in Russian, you speak of treaties: in this year of the Tiger ~ 1842 by your English calendar ~ of Nanking:

❝ Consuls, appointment of : British Treaty of Nanking, Article 3 ❞

❝ Hongkong, Cession of : Nanking, Article 4 ❞

❝ Indemnity :
  For seizure of Opium, Nanking, Article 5 ❞
❝ do, war expenses: Nanking, Article 6 ❞

❝ Payment of $21,000,000 : Nanking, Article 7 ❞

Nanking:   Index of our humiliation.

<<   Governor

The Son of Heaven gave away too much.

I am Ye Mingchen, Governor of Guangdong.
In my domain are Macau and Hong Kong and the Guangzhou port ~ ❝Canton❞ ~ which your Treaty entitles you to enter...

In this Monkey year ~ 1848 by your reckoning ~ by mine, you will wait a little longer

...and in this next year of the Dragon ~ your 1856 ~
the Xianfeng Son of Heaven has appointed me Commissioner for Foreign Traders ~

And now: I have impounded your little Arrow and its unlicenced crew, all rebellious subjects of this province.
There will be no compensation.

May the Eight Immortals guide you to the Uncertain Opening !
In the Hidden Interval may you lose your way and perish !
Queen   >>

Treaties disappear by magick?
We should be alarmed?

Look at what We have built in twenty years, from these granite cliffs.
We build with your poor, your discontented, Hakka, Han —Christians— Moslems, all.

And now that We have resolved a certain difficulty with
Our Sepoys, you have Our full attention.

Look at this fleet: scroll it, east and west, do you
believe you will withstand it?

We will round you up and send you to play with Our Sepoys.
We will overrun your forts.
We will sack your pleasure dome.

It will not be magical.

<<   Prince

View of the Imperial Summer Palace, Yuen-Ming-Yuen, after the Burning, Taken from the Lake, Peking

photo: Felice Beato, October 18, 1860

All this you have done.
And more.   At the Taku forts this Beato has made pictures of our dead. He sells them for a living.

He has made this one likeness of a live Chinese.
I am Prince Kung.

The Son of Heaven ~ with his favourite concubine ~ has fled. It falls to me to sign the barbarians' conventions and their treaties: notably, Tientsin.
I have no choice.

❝ Indemnity, Payment of Taels 8,000,000
British Convention of 1860,  Article 3 ❞

❝ Cowloon, cession of : Convention,  Article 6 ❞

❝ Protection against insult or violence :
  British Treaty of Tientsin,  Article 18 ❞

  ❝ 'Barbarian', character not to be used :
    Tientsin,  Article 51 ❞
Queen   >>

and for your consideration: selections from Our ~
TARIFF ON IMPORTS                           

per hundred catties         T     m     c     c
    Buttons, Brass 0     0     5     5

    Elephants' teeth, whole 4     0     0     0
    do , broken 3     0     0     0

    Nutmegs 2     5     0     0

    Olives, Unpicked, Salted, or Pickled 0     1     8     0

    Opium 30     0     0     0

    Pepper, Black 0     3     6     0
    do , White 0     5     0     0

    umbrellas, each 0     0     3     5

<<   favourite concubine

You know me.

Cixi, Dowager Empress: power behind the throne.

Forty years on, and they still want more ~ for defence they say.

Give her this much: up to the Shenzen River—

not an inch more...

Make it a lease.

Empress   >>

Fifty years on ~
We have a new title ~

Empress of India

~ give three cheers now!
Hong Kong is Ours!Hip!     Hip!

Kowloon is Ours!Hip!       Hip!

New Territories ~ Ours!Hip!       Hip!


March 1899   ~   年新界勘界 New Territories Survey   ~   fixing the first boundary mark in the shore at Starling Inlet
at left:   the representative of the Governor of Guandong province   ~   front, Mr Wong Tsun-shin, Chinese Commissioner   ~   Mr Stewart Lockhart, Colonial Assistant Secretary
unknown photographer

 ❝ Hands out of pockets! ❞ 

❝ A small derrick, assisted by a coolie gang, lands some rough-cut timber ❞ Hedda Morrison   1946-47

press and drag to see more

The narrative is based on online articles on the Opium Wars with an emphasis on transactions with the British and on TREATIES Between THE EMPIRE OF CHINA And FOREIGN POWERS, Fourth Edition, Shanghai 1902.

Panorama of Hong Kong, showing the Fleet for North China Expedition ~ Felice Beato, March 1 1860: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, available via The Getty's Open Content Program .
See also ~
Of Battle and Beauty   Felice Beato's Photographs of China for the essays 'Beyond Beato's Lens' by Lyman Van Slyke, and 'Imperial Ideology' by David Harris, each highlighting the clash of cultures;
The Getty's downloadable Felice Beato ~ A Photographer On The Eastern Road for Fred Ritchin on 'Felice Beato and the Photography of War', which reflects on the perils of contemplating carnage at one or two removes.

Portrait of Lin Zexu ~ artist unknown: collection Opium War Museum Humen, Guangdong Province, via Google Arts & Culture.
Lin Zexu and opium .

Young Queen Victoria ~ unknown photographer, circa 1844: the earliest known photograph of the monarch: Royal Collection Trust .

The Imperial Portrait of Emperor Daoguang ~ anonymous court painter: Opium War Museum Collection Humen, Guangdong Province, via Google Arts & Culture.

Treaties Between The Empire of China and Foreign Powers ~ front matter ; treaties with Great Britain .

Ye Mingchen ~ unknown photographer, 1860: Imperial War Museum ; photograph identified in this Wikipedia article .

Ye Minchen was a devotee of Lü Dongbin, one of the Eight Immortals: for the magic, see Kristofer Schipper and Wang Hsiu-huei, 'Progressive and Regressive Time Cycles in Taoist Ritual' in Time, science, and society in China and the West .

Queen Victoria in a bonnet ~ Leonida Caldesi, 1857 (formerly attributed to J. Mayall): Royal Collection Trust .

Granite cliffs: Hong Kong Geology - a 400-million Year Journey chapter 8 .

Prince Kung, Brother of the Emperor of China, Who Signed the Treaty ~ Felice Beato, November 2, 1860: The Getty's Open Content Program. It's not recorded if Prince Kung ever saw Beato's portrait.

The Empress Dowager Cixi ~ photograph by Xunlin, circa 1904: Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery .

Lease of the New Territories .

Queen Victoria in regalia ~ W. & D. Downey, 1886: National Portrait Gallery, London .

The Boundary between China and Britain   March 1898 ~ map of Hong Kong in The Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory in 1898 (University of Hong Kong Library   HKUL ebooks   p.7).

March 1899   New Territories Survey ~ photographer unknown: Hong Kong Public Records Office, Government Records Service, 'The Ceding of Hong Kong' .

A small derrick: Hedda Morrison, 1946-47, Harvard Digital Collections ; from the book Hong Kong as it was - Hedda Morrison's photographs 1946-47 where this image appears on page 43.


Britannia's schoolboys still have a watchword

'nil illegitimum carborundum'

❝ stay cool : don't let the bastards grind you down ❞