The situation in the Far East at this time was very unstable, primarily due to the Opium Wars, which reinforced the presence and the interests of European countries in China.
This was also the occasion for the French and the English to occupy Peking and destroy (in October 1860) the Summer Palace, an architectural marvel considered to be the "Chinese Versailles", which act raised the ire of Victor Hugo in his Letter to Captain Butler.
One of the earliest war photographers, Felice Beato, had visited the site several days earlier and taken several exceptional images.
Another witness, Alexandre Duburquois, a young doctor in the French navy, wrote of the events and the role played by Lord Elgin, who was already implicated in another great fire of political character: the burning of the Canadian Parliament in Montreal in 1849.
It should be noted that Lord Elgin senior also painted himself in a brilliant light by pillaging the Parthenon in Athens, where he was a diplomat. A sad family!
Next, the war with Japan intervened, from which China emerged in 1895 much weakened, having had to solicit the help of Western powers. Germany, England, France and Russia profited by further reinforcing their commercial interests and control over customs revenue, created following the Treaty of Nanking of 1842.