CHAPTER XVII. THE FIRST FOREIGN WAR
Keshen arrived at Canton on November 29, 1840, but his dispatch to the emperor explaining the position he found there shows that his view of the situation did not differ materially from that of Lin. "Night and day I have considered and examined the state of our relations with the English. At first moved by the benevolence of his Majesty and the severity of the laws, they surrendered the opium. Commissioner Lin commanded them to give bonds that they would never more deal in opium - a most excellent plan for securing future good conduct. This the English refused to give, and then they trifled with the laws, and so obstinate were their dispositions that they could not be made to submit. Hence it becomes necessary to soothe and admonish them with sound instruction, so as to cause them to change their mien and purify their hearts, after which it will not be too late to renew their commerce. It behooves me to instruct and persuade them so that their good consciences may be restored, and they reduced to submission." The language of this document showed that the highest Chinese officers still believed that the English would accept trade facilities as a favor, that they would be treated de haut en bas, and that China possessed the power to make good her lofty pretensions. China had learned nothing from her military mishaps at Canton, Amoy, and Chusan, and from the appearance of an English fleet in the Gulf of Pechihli. Keshen had gained a breathing space by procrastination in the north, and he resorted to the same tactics at Canton. Days expanded into weeks, and at last orders were issued for an advance up the Canton River, as it had become evident that the Chinese were not only bent on an obstructive policy, but were making energetic efforts to assemble a large army. On January 7, 1841, orders were consequently issued for an immediate attack on the Bogue forts, which had been placed in a state of defense, and which were manned by large numbers of Chinese. Fortunately for us, the Chinese possessed a very rudimentary knowledge of the art of war, and showed no capacity to take advantage of the strength of their position and forts, or even of their excellent guns. The troops were landed on the coast in the early morning to operate on the flank and rear of the forts at Chuenpee. The advance squadron, under Captain, afterward Sir Thomas, Herbert, was to engage the same forts in front, while the remainder of the fleet proceeded to attack the stockades on the adjoining island of Taikok. The land force of 1,500 men and three guns had not proceeded far along the coast before it came across a strongly intrenched camp in addition to the Chuenpee forts, with several thousand troops and many guns in position. After a sharp cannonade the forts were carried at a rush, and a formidable army was driven ignominiously out of its intrenchments with hardly any loss to the assailants. The forts at Taikok were destroyed by the fire of the ships, and their guns spiked and garrisons routed by storming parties. In all, the Chinese lost 500 killed, besides an incalculable number of wounded, and many junks. The Chinese showed some courage as well as incompetence, and the English officers described their defense as "obstinate and honorable."
The capture of the Bogue forts produced immediate and important consequences. Keshen at once begged a cessation of hostilities, and offered terms which conceded everything we had demanded. These were the payment of a large indemnity, the cession of Hongkong, and the right to hold official communication with the central government. In accordance with these preliminary articles, Hongkong was proclaimed, on January 29, 1841, a British possession, and the troops evacuated Chusan to garrison the new station. It was not considered at the time that the acquisition was of much importance, and no one would have predicted for it the brilliant and prosperous position it has since attained. But the promises given by Keshen were merely to gain time and to extricate him from a very embarrassing situation. The morrow of what seemed a signal reverse was marked by the issue of an imperial notice, breathing a more defiant tone than ever. Taoukwang declared, in this edict, that he was resolved "to destroy and wash the foreigners away without remorse," and he denounced the English by name as "staying themselves upon their pride of power and fierce strength." He, therefore, called upon his officers to proceed with courage and energy, so that "the rebellious foreigners might give up their ringleaders, to be sent encaged to Pekin, to receive the utmost retribution of the laws." So long as the sovereign held such opinions as these it was evident that no arrangement could endure. The Chinese did not admit the principle of equality in their dealings with the English, and this was the main point in contention, far more than the alleged evils of the opium traffic. So long as Taoukwang and his ministers held the opinions which they did not hesitate to express, a friendly intercourse was impossible. There was no practical alternative between withdrawing from the country altogether and leaving the Chinese in undisturbed seclusion, or forcing their government to recognize a common humanity and an equality in national privileges.