The Chinese Government, indeed, were charged with having no higher purpose in view than to keep a monopoly of the well-paying traffic in their own hands, and to prevent the East India Company and other traders from coming in for any share of the game. All this kind of argument, it will be seen, had absolutely nothing to do with the real question at issue. The one great principle to be settled was, whether any Government has a right to force on any other Government a traffic which it publicly condemns and declares unlawful. Whether any particular Chinese Government was influenced solely by the loftiest considerations of morality, whether some of the Chinese authorities were or were not themselves dabbling in the denounced traffic, whether no Chinese Government had ever gone beyond the limits of fair remonstrance and proper precaution in endeavouring to keep out the foreign traders, are questions wholly irrelevant to the material points of the controversy. No one now, who happens to be in his senses, would contend that any European Government has a right to force the American Government, supposing even that it had the power, to receive European spirits and European wines free of duty; or that the claim to such a right would be in the slightest degree more plausible even if it could be surmised that certain officials at New York had made a personal profit out of smuggling transactions. The State of Maine in the American Republic enacts, as its laws entitle it to do, that no spirituous liquids of any kind shall be sold within the precincts of the State; would anybody suggest that any foreign Power has a right to compel the authorities of Portland in Maine to receive consignments of whisky and allow the drink to be sold in the streets, and if the authorities refuse, then to send a fleet into the great harbour and bombard the town ?
Or would the argument be made any the better if some of the traders in the forbidden drink were to insist that whisky is a very wholesome beverage, or at all events not nearly so unwholesome as the draughts of iced water in which the people of Maine delight to indulge? Such arguments appear absurd when thus stated; but such were exactly the arguments which gained the support of a large proportion of the British public for the policy of the Ministry who pressed on a war with China. We may perhaps venture to believe that if such a question were once again to arise, a Prime Minister in our own days would have some difficulty in carrying the public along with him in support of such a policy. There was one of our wars with Spain which was very popular in its day, and about which Edmund Burke said long afterwards that he had conversed with all the principal authors of that war and that not one of them, in his time, had a single word to say in its justification. Much later still there came the Crimean War, about which there cannot be any doubt that the public were for the time very enthusiastic, and about which John Bright said afterwards that he had spoken to many of the English statesmen who were responsible for that war, and that not one of them had a word to say in its defence. In the same way it cannot be doubted that the Chinese War, about which we are writing, was supported by the general approval of the British public at the time, and that there is not now a statesman in England whose conscience and judgment will allow him to frame a sentence in support of the principle on which that war was carried on by England.
The war went on and, of course, the English troops had it all their own way. The Chinese often fought bravely, and in many cases fought with absolute desperation; but the whole affair was like a battle between a pack of schoolboys and a regiment of the Guards. The Chinese at last had to make peace on any terms we chose to offer. The first condition made on behalf of England was that the island of Hong-kong should be yielded up to the British Empire as a possession for ever. The Chinese Government gave up Hong-kong - there was nothing else to be done. Then it was insisted on the part of England that five ports, since known as the Treaty Ports, should be thrown open to British trade, and that British Consuls should be established there. The ports were Canton, Amoy, Foo-chow-foo, Ningpo, and Shanghai. Of course the Chinese Government had to yield to this demand also. Then the indemnity was settled as we have already stated, and the war was over for the time. Another war with China followed only too quickly. The cause of this war was the capture of the lorcha Arrow on October 8, 1856, on the Canton River. Lorcha, it should be said, is a sort of Portuguese word taken from the Portuguese settlement at the mouth of the river, and means a boat built after the European model.
The very name of the lorcha Arrow has long since been well-nigh forgotten; but at the time, and for years after, it was in the mouths of all men. What was the quarrel about ? A party of Chinese in charge of an officer boarded the Arrow on the day mentioned, captured twelve of its men on a charge of piracy, and took them ashore for trial by the Chinese authorities. Now, the Arrow was at that time undoubtedly flying the British flag, and our Consul demanded the instant release of the prisoners, and our plenipotentiary at Hong-kong insisted not only that the release should take place within forty-eight hours, but that a formal apology should be offered for their arrest, and a pledge given by the Chinese authorities that no such act should ever be committed again. If all this were not done the British plenipotentiary - Sir John Bowring - announced that naval operations should at once be undertaken. The Chinese authorities would not at first give way; the great city of Canton was bombarded by the British fleet, and a regular war begun. Now what was the case for the Chinese authorities ? Simply this - that the Arrow was not and never had been an English vessel, that it was a pirate vessel built and manned by Chinese, and that it had no right whatever to fly the English flag. All this turned out to be true. The great lawyer Lord Lyndhurst declared, when the subject was debated in the House of Lords, that the proceedings of the British authorities could not be justified upon any principle, either of law or of reason; and the House of Commons censured the whole of the British work in Canton by a majority of two hundred and sixty-three votes against two hundred and forty-seven. Among those who condemned the action of the British authorities were Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Disraeli, Lord John Russell and Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, and Lord Robert Cecil, now Marquis of Salisbury.