In 1856, the Arrow Incidence became the fuse of the Second Opium War. The governor of Guangdong Ye Mingchen was long given the blame for precipitating the War for his mistake in handling this diplomatic affair. His contemporary Xu Fucheng described him as “six nots” for his behavior after the Arrow Incidence: “he would not fight, not make peace and not defend; he would not die, not capitulate and not run away.” It sounded like a joke of history, but beyond this joke is a tragedy fate of a man and a country.
Ye Mingchen was a high-ranking Chinese official during the Qing Dynasty. He came from a scholarly family in Hubei province and was awarded the highest degree in the imperial exams in 1835 in his thirties. He had held position as a compiler in the imperial elite school, prefect of Xing’an in Shaanxi province, circuit intendant of Yanping in Shanxi provinces, salt inspector in Jiangxi, surveillance commissioner in Yunnan and financial commissioner first in Hunan, later in Gansu and finally Guangdong province. To conclude his so many positions, he rose rapidly through the ranks in the Qing civil service and reached an admirable status at a fairly young age.
Ye was appointed governor of Guangdong province in 1848, and was involved into the conflict with Britain at once. Later as a reward for his ostensible success in keeping the British out of Guangzhou, he was promoted to Viceroy of Liangguang as well as imperial commissioner in 1852, which made him the chief official in charge of relations with the West. In At that time, there was no modern diplomatic protocol in Qing. Ye was considered as the only official governor in charge of foreign affairs. In 1854, Britain and the US joint to acquire to amend the treaty for more right in China. These amendments include to open up more cities for business, to decrease the traffic and to set embassies in Peking. To Chinese people at that time, the cut in traffic was more tolerable than set embassies in the capital. It is completely unimaginable to have those rude foreigners and uncivilized wandering in the Imperials capital!
There were two different opinions among the government officials. One of them advocated declaring war against these Western countries, such as the famous Lin Zexu, and the other advocated peace. Though it was obvious that the Imperial China could no way won any war against these foreigners from the defeat of the First Opium War, while science and technology of China was still in the Middle Ages. Many of these governors still regard the Western countries as the surrounding nomadic people that China has faced for the past thousands of years. Ye belonged to the first group, but he realized that wars could only bring defeat and more treaties for China, his strategy was to not face with the British ambassadors. When the ambassadors come to see him, he used excuses to send them away or to the capital to see the emperor. The governors in the capital would tell these ambassadors Ye was the person in charge of diplomat. Imperial China was so lack of formal diplomatic that no department could deal with the demand from these Western countries.
The conflict with the British Empire came to a head in 1856 when the Arrow Incident happened. Ye seized the Chinese-owned lorcha Arrow, which was illegally flying the British flag at the time. The British claimed the officers destroyed a British national flag while searching a smuggling ship.
Along with the death of Auguste Chapdelaine, these two incidents provided both British and French with an excuse to start the Second Opium War. Ye was not able to resist the British with military force. Indeed, he could not resist the British Army. “He would not fight, or make peace, or defense” because he didn’t have any army. All the elite troops of Qing was in Zhejiang Province repressing the Taiping Revelation. Even the troops could be gathered in Guangzhou, they would be defeated easily with guns and cannons. He could not rely on the Guangzhou people, nor would he want to surrender to loose the dignity of the emperor of the Qing Emperor. As a result, he even saved the trouble to defense Guangzhou. The British and French troop entered the city without any difficulty.
He could not run away because his duty of being the governor of Guangzhou. The British forces captured Ye and brought him as a prisoner of war to Calcutta in British India. Temporary people said he should commit suicide before being captured, which he did finally, but he had his intend. “He would not die” He acquired to see the king of Britain several times during his captaincy to express the righteous and will of peace of Chinese people, but nobody gave him a chance to do so.
After Ye was captured. Xianfeng Emperor did nothing to his rescue but promulgated an edict denouncing Ye’s dereliction of duty, and removed all his positions. Before his hostility, he took food with him and announced he would never eat any foreign food. One year later died in Calcutta in British India where he died over fasting. He called himself Su Wu on the sea.
Su Wu was an eminent diplomat in Han Dynasty. Su was held hostility while he was in his mission into foreign territory for 19 years. He endured many hardships before he finally returned to Han though his mother passed away and his wife remarried, and he was little rewarded. Chinese people remember his story for two thousand years and regarded as the epitome of faithful service. However, Ye’s coffin was brought back to Guangzhou in 1859, nobody knew where he was buried.