Battle of Ningpo

The battle of Ningpo was an unsuccessful Chinese attempt to recapture the British-occupied city of Ningpo during the First Opium War. British forces had bloodlessly captured the city after their victory at Chinhai, and a Chinese force under the command of Prince Yijing was sent to recapture the city but was repulsed, suffering heavy casualties. The British eventually withdrew from the city the following spring.

Battle of Ningpo
Part of the First Opium War
Repulse at Ningpo.jpg
A British illustration of the battle of Ningpo
Date10 March 1842
LocationCoordinates: 29°52′18″N 121°33′24″E / 29.87167°N 121.55667°E / 29.87167; 121.55667
Result British victory

 United Kingdom

Qing China
Commanders and leaders
Sir Hugh Gough Yijing
700 3,000
Casualties and losses
5 wounded 500–600 killed


Prior to the outbreak of the First Opium War, the city of Ningpo had roughly 250,000 inhabitants and was frequented by warships of the British Royal Navy.[1] On 15 September 1840, after the outbreak of war between China and Britain, the British warship HMS Kite became grounded near Ningpo. The survivors of the shipwreck were captured by Chinese forces and paraded through the city and countryside in small cages. The mistreatment of the captured sailors by the Chinese influenced the attitudes of the occupying British forces in Ningpo as the event became widely known.[2]

The following year, on 10 October 1841, the British captured Chinhai after a fierce engagement between Chinese and British forces.[1] The British soon dispatched the HMS Nemesis up the Yung River to discover if it was navigable. Upon discovering that the river could accommodate their large steamers, a Royal Navy fleet sailed to Ningpo. On 13 October, British troops entered Ningpo under the tune of "Saint Patrick’s Day in the morning" (sung by the Royal Irish band) and occupied the city unopposed.[3] The capture of Ningpo was a stepping stone in British plans to launch an attack on Nanking as part of their larger strategy to capture Peking. The British planned to occupy Nanking and move up the Grand Canal towards Peking.[2]

Occupation of NingpoEdit

Upon occupying the city, several British soldiers, infuriated by the mistreatment of the prisoners of war from the Kite, began to loot the city, though many in the occupation force condemned looting and prevented their comrades from undertaking any such action. The British burned down the prison where the prisoners from the Kite had previously been kept, along with confiscating the city's municipal funds, which consisted of over £160,000; a ten percent increase in taxation was also levied on the citizens of Ningpo.[4][5] Due to the Ningpo police having fled prior to the British occupation, local Chinese freebooters looted the city and extorted money from other locals, many of whom expressed their anger by throwing trash and feces at unaccompanied British soldiers. The British officers in charge of the occupation force, Sir William Parker and Sir Hugh Gough, publicly expressed their disapproval at incidents of looting and mistreatment of the Ningpo citizenry.[6] On the other hand, Anglo-Irish soldier and colonial administrator Sir Henry Pottinger, who arrived on 13 January 1842, felt "considerable satisfaction" in looting the city.[7] After Pottinger arrived to Ningpo, he "ordered the confiscation of all the Chinese ships and provisions and other property, including the main Pagoda's bell, which was sent to India as another symbolic prize."[4] He also appointed Lutheran Reverend Karl Gutzlaff, a German missionary, as the highest ranking civil magistrate in Ningpo. Gutzlaff strictly enforced the laws of the new administration and hired a small group of spies to monitor the city and the activities of the residents, allowing British officials to impose higher taxes on the upper class citizens in Ningpo.[6] The British also opened up the public granary and began to sell the grain contained within to local citizens at cheap prices.[8]

Following the loss of Ningpo, the Emperor sent his cousin, Prince Yijing, to Soochow to recruit men to recapture the city and "drive the English into the sea."[9] However, most of the recruits were poorly trained and unprepared for combat.[10] Despite this, Yijing ordered his force to go on the offensive. They fought several minor skirmishes with British troops outside of Ningpo, being defeated each time.[9] Fearful of possible infiltration by British spies, security was heightened in the Chinese camp, with the stated aim of preventing those disloyal to the Emperor from coming near near Prince Yijing.[11] Plans were drawn up to recapture the city and destroy the Royal Navy's warships in the Yung River. One plan called for the destruction of the warships via using firecrackers tied to monkeys who would be flung onto the ships. This plan, as well as plans to use fire rafts to light the Royal Navy's warships alight, were both discarded prior to the battle.[12]


The Chinese, under the command of Prince Yijing, gathered over 3,000 men for the assault on the city. The original plan had been to assault Ningpo with almost 50,000 troops; however, most of these men failed to muster in time.[13] The British occupation force was also depleted in number, with fewer than seven hundred soldiers stationed in the city.[6] However, the Chinese plan of attack was exposed when a group of local boys who had befriended the British warned them of the coming attack.[14] On March 10 at roughly 4:00am, a British sentry spotted a Chinese soldier advancing towards the western city gate. The sentry repeatedly shouted "Wei lo" (go away in Cantonese) at the advancing soldier, who eventually responded "Wei loa moa" (will not go) before being shot dead. Some Chinese soldiers had misunderstood their orders and were only equipped with knives during the battle.[12]

The Chinese attacked the southern and eastern city walls, overwhelming the British soldiers stationed at the southern city gate.[9] At the western city gate, a group of Chinese soldiers under the command of Tuan Yu-Fang approached the walls, and upon seeing that the gate was opened and seemingly undefended, were ordered to capture it by Yu-Fang. However, the British had mined the gate and deliberately left it open "in order to give the impression that they did not mean to defend it", and one hundred attacking Chinese soldiers were killed in the ensuing blast, forcing them to call off the attack.[15] Meanwhile, at the southern city gate, the attacking Chinese had pushed back the British soldiers stationed there into the city streets, but were eventually repelled by 150 British soldiers under the command of Sir Hugh Gough, with the British deploying a field artillery piece directly in a city street.[16] British and Chinese officials alike noted that many of the Chinese soldiers were under the influence of opium during the battle, which notably decreased their combat effectiveness. The Chinese retreated, having suffered between 500 and 600 casualties while the British suffered 5.[17] Historians have noted that heavy rains and mud had delayed the Chinese from swiftly bringing in reinforcements before and during the battle.[9]


Following the battle, the British continued to occupy Ningpo until the following spring when they looted the city one final time before departing.[7] The defeated Chinese armies retreated from Ningpo to the town of Tz’uch’i, eighteen miles north of Ningpo. The wounds suffered by Chinese soldiers in the battle, including shrapnel and bullet wounds, proved exceptionally difficult to treat.[18] During the final phases of the British occupation, kidnappings and murders in Ningpo experienced a massive increase as law and order continued to break down, with portions of the city being set aflame. The British administration executed numerous local citizens found guilty of such crimes.[19] The 1842 Treaty of Nanking, which ended the war, stipulated that Ningpo would become one of five "treaty ports", which would be permanently opened to foreign trade. Following the end of the war, the city became part of the British sphere of influence in China.[20]


  1. ^ a b Beeching 1975, p. 139.
  2. ^ a b Beeching 1975, p. 138-139.
  3. ^ Fry 1975, p. 316.
  4. ^ a b Hanes III & Sanello 2002, p. 138.
  5. ^ Beeching 1975, p. 140.
  6. ^ a b c Hanes III & Sanello 2002, p. 139.
  7. ^ a b Inglis 1976, p. 162.
  8. ^ Fry 1975, pp. 318–319.
  9. ^ a b c d Fry 1975, p. 319.
  10. ^ Waley 1958, p. 158.
  11. ^ Waley 1958, p. 160.
  12. ^ a b Waley 1958, p. 170.
  13. ^ Waley 1958, p. 169.
  14. ^ Beeching 1975, p. 145.
  15. ^ Waley 1958, p. 170-171.
  16. ^ Waley 1958, p. 172.
  17. ^ Hanes III & Sanello 2002, p. 140.
  18. ^ Waley 1958, p. 175.
  19. ^ Fry 1975, p. 320.
  20. ^ Chesneaux, Bastid & Bergere 1976, p. 64-65.


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  • Bulletins of State Intelligence. Westminster: F. Watts. 1842.
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  • Hanes III, W. Travis; Sanello, Frank (2002). The Opium Wars: The Addiction of One Empire and the Corruption of Another. Naperville: Sourcebooks Inc. ISBN 9781402229695.
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