Military paraphernalia strewn about the Pehtang Fort in China reveals that a battle occurred shortly before Felice Beato made this image. For over a decade, China and Britain had been engaged in conflict over Britain's right to import opium into China from India. Chinese officials had made numerous unsuccessful attempts to curtail the import of the highly addictive narcotic. When a Chinese ambassador took a drastic measure in 1839--seizing and destroying over 20,000 chests of British opium--Britain immediately attacked.
In 1858 Beato accompanied a British expeditionary force sent to punish the Chinese once again for their resistance and rebelliousness. With the aid of French forces, Britain took possession of the Pehtang Fort on August 2, 1860. By October of that year, the second Opium War, as it came to be known, was over, and Britain was victorious. Beato's image illustrates that the soldiers had been in China long enough to adopt some of their styles and customs--in particular, the water carrier in the center of the image.