A bronze commemorative plaque showing the position of the French fleet downstream (left on the map) from the Chinese fleet on Aug 23, 1884, when the Battle of Foochow took place.
As a major part of the Sino-French War, the Battle of Foochow has been exceedingly well-documented, in large because it was fought on Chinese mainland. From the Qing's POV, this was another painful lesson from dealing with Western gunboat diplomacy. The pessimism was so prevailing that even with the victories in Oct, 1884 in Danshui and in March/April, 1885, in 鎮南關 (i.e., the Battle of Bang Bo), the Qing Court sued for peace and ceded Tonkin to the French. That of course attracted even more attention from other nations then looking to carve up China. On the other hand, it had also inspired a generation of reformers and revolutionaries. The former ran into resistance from the old guards and failed miserably. And the latter finally succeeded in overthrowing the Qing and established the Rep of China in 1911.
A quick summary of the battle of Foochow: Shortly before the invasion of Keelung and Danshui, Adm Amédée Courbet destroyed a Chinese squadron in 閩江River Min, off the 羅星塔Pagoda Anchorage in 馬尾Mawei Harbor, southeast of Foochow City, and also bombarded the Foochow arsenal.
This attack was scheduled for 2PM at low tide, a condition that favored the French as the Chinese fleet routinely turned their bow upstream at low tide with the unarmed stern facing the French downstream. This weakness was known to Courbet. The Chinese commanders were also under the order not to strike first, because the high officials were expecting a peaceful resolution through the American mediation and they even informed the French of the no-first-attack policy. The mediation unfortunately had failed. And the battle started at 1:55PM instead, on Courbet's order, when a Chinese mineboat with unclear intentions approached the French fleet. The battle lasted until 5PM. The French, with guns and torpedoes from a fleet of 13 ships [7 warships, 3 gunboats, 2 torpedo boats, and one transport], destroyed the bulk of the Fujian Fleet. Lost were 9 ships including warships 揚武, 濟安, 飛雲, 福星, 福勝, 建勝, and 振威. And Gen Gao Teng-yun參將高騰雲 and 796 sailors under his command went down fighting. They were buried here:
The picture above shows the Chinese counterattack with one round hitting through the commanding group on the bridge of Courbet's flagship Volta. Lie dying was British pilot Thomas and the one wounded was Lieutenant de vaisseau Ravel, Courbet's aide de camp. Several sailors were also killed or wounded. The Chinese did not give up so easily. They staged a night attack with two torpedo boats but both failed when they were detected. And the French suffered a loss of 10 men, from Chinese sniper fire during the descent from River Min.
In the River, there were also ships from other nations. A little known story was recorded in "The royal navy: a history from the earliest times to the present", Volume 7. By Sir William Laird Clowes, Sir Clements Robert Markham, Alfred Thayer Mahan, Herbert Wrigley Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, Leonard George Carr Laughton (1903). On page 374:
"...The hostile action of the French Admiral, Courbet in China, in 1883-84, was indirectly responsible for the death of a promising young British naval officer. On September 6th, 1884, the gunboat Zephyr [note: launched on Feb 11, 1873 and sold in 1889], Lieutenant Charles Kerr Hope, was proceeding up the River Min, with her colours flying, when, nevertheless, she was mistaken for a French vessel, and fired upon by a Chinese fort. Lieutenant Godfrey Hubbard, who had been promoted less than three months before, was mortally wounded ere the error was discovered, and died on the 13th. The commandant of the fort was promptly disgraced ; and the Chinese government behaved so well over this unhappy affair that its good faith could not be impugned. A seaman was wounded on the same occasion, but fortunately recovered..."
The "Chinese government behaved so well" (tongue in cheek perhaps?) We wonder why.