On January 15, 1857, as the Second Opium War raged, bread distributed by the Esing bakery to Hong Kong’s Western community was doctored with a prodigious amount of arsenic. Few were seriously harmed, but the American trader Augustine Heard Jr. noted that the poisoning marked a great change in the Sino-American relationship. Although Americans were not involved in the Second Opium War, Heard’s comments suggest that, influenced by rumors and panic, the Sino-American relationship deteriorated as Americans increasingly saw themselves as members of a besieged white community. The Heards’ Hong Kong house is a reflection of this feeling of besiegement. This article places the 1857 Hong Kong poison panic within a broader atmosphere of colonial anxiety that increasingly led Americans in China to identify with the British at the expense of amicable Sino-American relations. It argues that the poison panic was one of a series of confrontations and minor panics between Hong Kong’s Chinese and Western communities that recalibrated how Americans in China perceived the Chinese and that such panics entrenched racial barriers between white and non-white colonial communities.

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