BOXER REBELLIONrise of the boxers and the qing court's war on the great powers
the coming of international military forces in beijing and the boxer protocol
The term Boxers (a shortened form of Boxers United in Righteousness [Yihequan]) first appeared in official records in 1898. The rebellion that took their name originated in spring 1898 in Shandong Province, the birthplace of the two founding figures of Confucianism: Confucius and Mencius. The principal causes of the Boxer Rebellion were economic issues and the disputes between the Chinese and foreign missionaries in the wake of the Opium Wars (1839–1842 and 1856–1860). After the legalization of the propagation of Christianity in China around 1860, foreign missionaries were very active in Shandong. But none were more disruptive than the German Society of the Divine Word led by Johann Baptist von Anzer. This missionary order entered Shandong in the 1880s and was aggressive in its intervention in secular disputes and arrogant toward the Chinese. But it attracted converts by virtue of its power to offer protection and support, and the friction between the Christians and the local communities escalated quickly in many areas of Shandong and other parts of China, especially the north, leading to the Boxer Rebellion.
The proximate cause of the uprising was the murder of two German missionaries of the Society of the Divine Word, Richard Henle and Francis Xavier Nies, in Shandong in November 1897 by local villagers. The German government wanted to expand German influence and in particular to acquire Jiaozhou Bay in Shandong. It had been looking for a pretext to gain Jiaozhou prior to the murders, and when Kaiser William II heard of the murders he saw that a "splendid opportunity" had at last arrived and immediately dispatched Germany's East Asian naval squadron to occupy Jiaozhou Bay. He built the port city of Qingdao and quickly turned a large part of Shandong into a German sphere of influence. The Germans forced the Chinese to accept other demands too: the extensive punishment of all local and provincial officials for their alleged antipathy to foreign activities and the building of a cathedral in the village where the missionaries had been killed. The Germans in Shandong became more aggressive and peremptory after they turned Shandong into their sphere of influence, which triggered a new round in the Great Powers' "scramble for concessions" in China. In the months following the Germans taking Jiaozhou, Russia seized Dalian and Port Arthur on the Liaodong Peninsula, Britain claimed Weihaiwei in Shandong as well as a ninety-nine-year lease of the New Territories opposite Hong Kong, and France made southwest China its sphere of influence.
"You must know, my men, that you are about to meet a crafty, well-armed foe! Meet him and beat him! Give no quarter! Take no prisoners! Kill him when he falls into your hands! Even as, a thousand years ago, the Huns under their King Attila made such a name for themselves as still resounds in terror through legend and fable, so may the name of Germany resound through Chinese history…that never again will a Chinese dare to so much as look askance at a German."
Kaiser William II, in a speech on 27 July 1900 at Bremerhaven on the occasion of the departure of the first contingent of German troops to China to suppress the Boxer Rebellion. In Preston, p. 209.
The escalation of foreign aggression after the murders of the German missionaries intensified the anger and hostility felt by many non-Christian Chinese toward the local Christian people and their foreign supporters and drove Chinese xenophobia to even higher levels. It was in this context that the Boxers in Shandong turned against the Christians in 1898. Although female Boxers (called Red Lanterns) later joined the movement, the Boxers were mainly young male
farmers who practiced a combination of spirit possession and martial arts. Their targets were Chinese Christians and foreign Christians and missionaries, but to prevent the Qing state from militarily suppressing them the Boxers adopted the slogan "Support the Qing, destroy the foreign" (Fuqing mieyang), in which foreign meant the foreign religion (Christianity) and its Chinese converts as much as the foreigners themselves. The Boxer movement gradually spread through northern China in 1899 and then reached Beijing where the Qing court was located and that was home to a substantial number of foreigners. By June 1900 the Boxers were moving into Beijing by the thousands. There, they blocked the foreign relief expeditionary forces, besieged the foreign legations, and eventually provoked a war with the Great Powers.
The Qing state was already substantially weakened by the Sino-Japanese War of 1894 to 1895 and now feared that the organized Boxer groups might turn into an anti-Qing movement. In the meantime the Qing court came under extremely hostile pressure from the Great Powers to suppress the Boxers. The Qing court faced a very difficult situation, and it now tried to suppress the Boxers and had several military confrontations with them. But when the Great Powers, especially Germany and Great Britain, took military action against China, the Empress Dowager Cixi decided that it was wiser to work with the Boxers against the foreigners. On 21 June 1900 the Qing government declared war on the Great Powers, and the Boxers were officially addressed as yimin (righteous people) and were enlisted in militia under the overall command of a royal prince in the capital.
In the meantime, the Great Powers had sent international military expeditionary forces to China to fight against the Boxers and the Qing and to protect their people. Germany took the lead role in sending troops to China. In June 1900 the German minister to Beijing, Baron Clemens von Ketteler, had been shot dead by a Chinese soldier while on his way to a meeting at the Zongli Yamen (foreign ministry), and the kaiser used this development to argue that a German general should command the international troops. The kaiser's nomination was Field Marshal Count Alfred von Waldersee, who eventually was chosen as supreme commander of the international military expedition. The poorly equipped Chinese military and Boxers were no match for the modern troops of the Great Powers. The powerful governors in southeastern China declared neutrality, and in the summer of 1900 the international military forces marched to Beijing with minimal resistance. The soldiers and missionaries of the "civilized nations" wreaked terrible revenge against the Chinese. They burned historical buildings, robbed China of its national treasures and many private properties, killed many Chinese, and raped Chinese women. Although everyone joined in the looting, the Europeans were the worst perpetrators. Cixi and the court fled from Beijing in humiliation. In September 1901 the Great Powers forced the Qing state to accept the Boxer Protocol, which involved eleven foreign signatories, most of them European countries. The terms were mainly punitive: ten high officials were executed and one hundred others punished; the civil service examinations were suspended in forty-five cities; foreign troops were to be stationed in Beijing permanently and to be positioned at strategically important points between Beijing and the coast; Chinese official missions were to be sent to Germany and Japan to convey regret for the deaths of von Ketteler and a Japanese diplomat; and a monument was to be erected in Beijing on the spot where the German minister had been killed. The indemnity imposed on the Chinese was 450 million taels (about US$625 million)—one tael for each Chinese—to be paid in thirty-nine annual installments with an interest rate of 4 percent. The total was more than four times the annual revenue of the Qing state, and the annual payments represented about one-fifth of the national budget.
The Boxer Rebellion was a pivotal episode in China's fractured relationship with the West and left a lasting impact on Chinese politics and China's foreign relations. The rebellion reinforced negative European perceptions of China and its people, and the defeat and humiliation suffered at the hands of international expeditionary forces soon led to the final fall of the Qing dynasty in 1912.
Cohen, Paul A. History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth. New York, 1997.
Elliot, Jane E. Some Did It for Civilization, Some Did It for Their Country: A Revised View of the Boxer War. Hong Kong, 2002.
Esherick, Joseph W. The Origins of the Boxer Uprising. Berkeley, Calif., 1987.
Preston, Diana. The Boxer Rebellion: The Dramatic Story of China's War on Foreigners That Shook the World in the Summer of 1900. New York, 2000.
Xiang, Lanxin. The Origins of the Boxer War: A Multinational Study. London, 2003.
As the nineteenth century drew to a close, China found itself reduced to semicolonial status: The Qing state remained intact, but most of China was divided into spheres of influence under the control of foreign powers, a process that had begun with the first Opium War (1839–1842) and concluded with the first Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895). Although the Qing continued to stumble along for another decade, what accelerated the process of dynastic collapse was the Boxer Uprising. Known collectively as the Boxers United in Righteousness (Yihequan) and sharing the belief that spirit possession and invulnerability rituals would protect them from bullets, a motley crew of peasants, laborers, and drifters launched the movement in 1898. From their origins in northwestern Shandong, the Boxers spread across the North China Plain, extending as far as Manchuria and Inner Mongolia.
A combination of deteriorating conditions in the countryside and increasing Chinese resentment of the missionary presence in Shandong fueled the Boxer movement. The North China Plain had been hard hit by a series of natural disasters; banditry, smuggling, and corruption also were rife in the area. The devastation caused by flood and drought coupled with the government's failure to effectively address the crisis made the impoverished peasants easy recruits for the Boxer movement. Furthermore, missionary activity in the area and the special privileges accorded to Chinese converts exacerbated relations between the Chinese on the one hand, and the Christian missionaries and their converts on the other. The physical assault of missionaries and Christian Chinese as well as the destruction of railroad and telegraph lines—symbols of the Western presence in China—defined the Boxer Uprising as an antiforeign, anti-Christian, and anti-missionary movement.
However, the Boxers were not anti-Qing as is sometimes thought; after all, their slogan was s"Revive the Qing; destroy the foreigner.s" And despite later representations portraying the Boxers as rebels, the Qing court did support the Boxers. Although the rumor that the Empress Dowager Cixi (1835–1908) had ordered the expulsion of all foreigners and Chinese Christians proved to be false, she did declare war on all eight foreign powers on June 21, 1900. Early interpretations maintain that the Boxers were initially against the Qing, being an outgrowth of secret societies with a tradition of rebellion against the state. However, later studies indicate that the Boxers were pro-Qing from the outset, based as they were on local militia loyal to and under the supervision of the Qing. In his study of the origins of the Boxer Uprising, historian Joseph Esherick agrees with the latter interpretation, but dismisses the Boxers' sectarian and loyalist origins, emphasizing instead their genesis in popular culture.
The Boxer Uprising peaked in the summer of 1900 with the siege of the foreign legation quarters in Beijing and the Qing court's declaration of war against the foreign powers. It took an eight-nation alliance to end the siege. The Boxer Protocol in 1901 demanded that China pay a huge indemnity in the amount of 450 million taels (equivalent to about $333 million at the time); by some estimates, that amount would total a billion taels in 1940 when the indemnity was to be paid in full. In 1908, the United States allocated its portion of the indemnity to fund scholarships for Chinese students. Through its s"open door notes," the primary objective of which was to protect American commercial interests in China, the United States also sought to slow down if not thwart the scramble for concessions. The Qing state emerged from the Boxer Uprising a weaker, if not fatally crippled, country unable to hold onto the reins of power without foreign assistance. To restore peace and order, American troops occupied Beijing; historian Michael Hunt attributes the smoothness of the American occupation to Chinese collaborators.
For the mainland Chinese, the Boxer event has held different meanings at different times. During the New Culture Movement (1915–1925), the Chinese viewed the Boxers as ignorant peasants blinded by xenophobia and bound by superstition; later, the rising tide of nativism and nationalism reconfigured the Boxers' antiforeign sentiment as patriotic fervor. During the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), the Chinese Communist Party mythologized the Boxers as revolutionary vanguards.
Cohen, Paul A. s"The Contested Past: The Boxers as History and Myth.s" The Journal of Asian Studies 51 (1) (Feb. 1992): 82-113.
Esherick, Joseph. The Origins of the Boxer Uprising. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.
Hunt, Michael H. s"The Forgotten Occupation: Peking, 1900–1901.s" Pacific Historical Review 48 (4) (Nov. 1979): 501-529.
BOXER REBELLION, an antiforeign uprising in China by members of a secret society beginning in June 1900. The society, originally called the Boxers United in Righteousness, drew their name from their martial rites. Over the course of the uprising, a force of some 140,000 Boxers killed thousands of Chinese Christians and a total of 231 foreigners, including Germany's ambassador. On 17 June 1900, the Boxers began a siege of the legations in Peking. The United States joined Great Britain, Russia, Germany, France, and Japan in a military expedition for the relief of the legations, sending 5,000 troops for this purpose. The international relief expedition marched from Taku to Tientsin and thence to Peking, raising the siege on 14 August. Believing that an intact China would further U.S. trade interests in Asia, Secretary of State John Hay chose the opportunity to reiterate the "Open Door" policy of the United States and issued a circular note identifying the U.S. goal to "preserve Chinese territorial and administrative entity." In addition, the United States did not join a punitive expedition under German Commander in Chief Count von Waldersee, and, during the Peking Congress (5 February–7 September 1901), the United States opposed the demand for a punitive indemnity, which might have led to the dismemberment of China. The Boxer protocol finally fixed the indemnity at $333 million, provided for the punishment of guilty Chinese officials, and permitted the major nations to maintain legation guards at Peking and between the capital and the sea. The U.S. share of the indemnity, originally set at $24.5 million but reduced to $12 million, was paid by 1924.
Richard A. Smith