xxxxxThe Boxer Rebellion was a violent uprising aimed at driving foreigners out of China. Instigated by a secret society named The Righteous and Harmonious Fists (hence the title “Boxer”), and joined later by the government, it was the culmination of many years of mounting anger towards the ever growing influence of “foreign devils” in the commercial and political life of the country. As we have seen, the two Opium Wars of 1839 (Va) and 1856 (Va), by which foreigners gained land and trading concessions, had been followed by humiliating defeats on the battlefield in the Sino-
THE BOXER REBELLION or UPRISING 1900 -
Rebellion: by the Japanese artist Torajiro Kasai – Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington. Boxer: drawing by the English artist Arnold Henry Savage Landor (1865-
xxxxxThe Boxer Rebellion, a violent uprising by the Chinese government and people to rid their country of foreigners, began in 1898 and reached its climax in 1900. It was instigated initially by a secret society trained in the martial arts called I-
xxxxxChinese opposition to the growth of European influence in the religious, political and economic affairs of their country had been mounting over many years. As we have seen, defeat in the two Opium Wars of 1839 (Va) and 1856 (Va) -
xxxxxIn response to these indignities, the Manchu government attempted to modernise on the Western model, but the country was beset with internal strife, and the misery and poverty this caused only added to the resentment felt at the increasing growth of foreign interference. Then towards the end of the century, the country’s humiliating defeat in both the Sino-
xxxxxThe uprising began in the northern province of Shantung, the stronghold of the I-
xxxxxAtxfirst, the Ch’ing royal court, presided over by the Dowager Empress Wu Cixi (illustrated) opposed the rebellion, but such was the popular support given to the revolt that by early 1900 it was secretly supporting its aims, seeing the uprising as a means of reducing foreign influence and strengthening a dynasty that was near to collapse. Many government officials began to recognise the Boxer “rebels” as “Righteous and Harmonious Militia” and applauded their new slogan “Support the Ch’ing, Destroy the Foreigner”. But whilst the violent movement for change was strong in the north of the country, in the East and South a large number of provincial governors refused to support the Boxer Rebellion, and openly took measures to ensure the safety of the foreigners under their jurisdiction. This not only reduced the number of foreigners killed, but also made the overthrow of the uprising that much easier when the international community eventually came to take action. Indeed, had the rebellion been more widespread and united, the Boxers might well have achieved their aim.
xxxxxFollowing government support, some 140,000 Boxers, supported by elements of the Imperial army, descended on the capital, Beijing, in June 1900, and the uprising reached its climax. The race course was destroyed, churches, trading companies and hundreds of shops were attacked and looted, and two senior diplomats from the Japanese and German legations were murdered. Fearing for their lives, all foreigners, together with their Chinese staff and many Chinese Christians, were forced to take refuge in the legislative quarter, a fortified compound close to the Forbidden City. There, defended by a force of about 400 marines -
xxxxxToxmeet the crisis, an international force, some 45,000 in total, was quickly assembled and sent on its way to China. Named the Eight-
xxxxxEmpress Wu Cixi, having fled to Xian, was quick to sue for peace, though fighting continued for some months in outlying areas. Byxthe Peace of Beijing, held in September 1901, China was forced to pay a large indemnity (around $333 million) over a period of 40 years. In addition, further commercial concessions were granted, and foreign nations were given the right to station troops to guard their legations in Beijing and the land route from the capital to the coast.
xxxxxThe failure of the Boxer Rebellion marked the beginning of the end for the Chinese Empire. In her final years Empress Wu Cixi, a ruthless conservative by nature, did make some attempt to introduce legal and education reforms, but by then China was a nation in name only. Vast areas of the country were in the hands of warlords or foreigners, and central government was near to collapse. When she died in 1908, she was succeeded by Pu Yi, a boy of 2 years and ten months (illustrated), who was destined to be the last emperor. Three years later the Republic of China was proclaimed under its national leader Sun Yat-
xxxxxAnd the Eight-
xxxxxIncidentally, in 1908 the United States gave up most of its share of the Boxer indemnity, returning the money in the form of scholarships for Chinese students. Later Britain, France and Japan set up similar scholarship schemes.