© 2016

Battle for Beijing, 1858–1860

Franco-British Conflict in China


Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xiii
  2. Harry Gelber
    Pages 1-21
  3. Harry Gelber
    Pages 23-29
  4. Harry Gelber
    Pages 31-47
  5. Harry Gelber
    Pages 49-70
  6. Harry Gelber
    Pages 71-93
  7. Harry Gelber
    Pages 95-104
  8. Harry Gelber
    Pages 105-129
  9. Harry Gelber
    Pages 131-154
  10. Harry Gelber
    Pages 155-179
  11. Harry Gelber
    Pages 181-188
  12. Harry Gelber
    Pages 189-208
  13. Back Matter
    Pages 209-244

About this book


The ‘battle for Beijing’ is universally – and quite wrongly – believed to have been about opium. This book argues that it was about freedom to trade, Britain’s demands for diplomatic equality, and French demands for religious freedom in China. Both countries agreed that their armies, which repeatedly prevailed over Chinese ones that were numerically superior, would stay out of Beijing itself, but were infuriated by China’s imprisonment, torture and death of British, French and Indian negotiators. At the same time, the British and French also helped the empire to battle rebels and to pocket port and harbour dues. They steered carefully between their political and trading demands, and navigated the danger that undue stress would make China’s fragile government and empire fall apart. If it did, there would be no one to make any kind of agreement with; much of East Asia would be in chaos and Russian power would soon expand.

Battle for Beijing, 1858–1860 offers fresh insights into the reasons behind the actions and strategies of British authorities, both at home and in China, and the British and French military commanders. It goes against the widely accepted views surrounding the Franco-British conflict, proposing a bold new argument and perspective. 


Chinese History Opium Imperial Summer Palace Arrow War Armstrong Guns

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.University of TasmaniaTasmaniaAustralia

About the authors

Harry Gelber has spent a number of years teaching and carrying out research at Monash University, Australia, the University of Melbourne, Australia, University of London, UK, Harvard University, USA, and Boston University, USA. He has published a number of books, most recently The Dragon and the Foreign Devils (2008).

Bibliographic information