home | history

China's Boxer Rebellion

Extreme weather conditions in 1897-98 forced farmers to cities in search of food. There was unrest in China also in response to the increase in Christian missionary activity that accompanied their winning the ability to build churches and preach anywhere in China. And there was frustration resulting from China's losses in the 1894-95 war with Japan. Especially hostile to foreigners was a group of Chinese males — at least half of them were youths who were into spirituality and martial arts that included boxing. They feared the spiritual magic created by Christians. They begun attacking and killing Christian missionaries and Chinese converts to Christianity. They saw Chinese Christians as likely spies and called on them to renounce their faith.

In 1899 in Shangdong Province and on the North China Plain the Boxer nationalist movement took to the street displaying slogans such as "protect the country," "justice on behalf of heaven," and "destroy the foreigner." They are said to have had the support of the Qing dynasty's Dowager Empress, Cixi. Among them was the belief that the ruling monarchy had declared war on the foreigners.

From January through May in 1900, Boxers stormed through the countryside, burning churches, killing missionaries and converts. Westerners and frightened Chinese Christians fled to European legations in China's capital, Beijing. The rebels cut the rail line to Beijing. On June 12, they moved to Beijing's inner city and burned down church buildings. The German minister, Clemens von Ketteler, ordered German embassy guards to hunt down the trouble-makers. On the 14th he arrested and summarily executed a young boy he suspected of being a Boxer. In response, thousands of Chinese soldiers and Boxers went on a rampage, killing foreigners. They attacked Chinese Christians for collaborating with foreigners who were murdering Chinese, and they assassinated the Japanese chancellor, tearing him apart.

On June 16, Empress Cixi held a council meeting and decided to fully support the Boxers. Three days later her government sent messengers to offer members of foreign legations safe passage out of Beijing, and the Westerners shot the messengers dead. Revenge by the Chinese came following day when the German minister, von Ketteler, while accompanied by an armed escort on a street, was killed in a firefight. On June 21, Empress Cixi declared war against the foreign powers. Cixi's troops and so-called Boxers started a siege of the foreign legations, which were sheltering civilians, their soldier defenders, and approximately 3,000 Chinese Christians.

On July 13 and 14, Chinese and foreigners were fighting for control of the port city of Tianjin (Tientsin), Around 550 Chinese fighters and 250 foreign troops were killed. The foreign troops, described as Germans and Russians, rampaged through the city, looting, raping and killing civilians, while Japanese and Americans are said to have tried to restrain them.

In Manchuria, people attacked Russian-controlled railway construction sites and Russian civilians and businesses. The Manchu dynasty's governor to Manchuria declared war against Russia's presence in Manchuria. In the Manchurian city of Mukden a Roman Catholic bishop took refuge in a cathedral, and with others he was burned alive. A force of around 100,000 Russian troops invaded Manchuria in October.

On July 17, an eight-nation force landed on the coast, a cooperative effort with no power willing to trust any of the other powers to quell the rising on its own. And they began their march to Beijing. By mid-August, the 5,000 Russians, 10,000 Japanese, 300 British, 2,000 Americans and 800 French were freeing people in the Beijing legations. Filled with wrath, the next day the foreign troops moved through the city, attacking those they believed were Boxers, and they injured and pillaged the property of innocent Chinese. Cixi and her 29-year-old nephew, the Emperor Guangxu, dressed as peasants, fled town, headed for Xi'an in Shaanxi Province.

The international forces were occupying Beijing, Tianjin, and other cities in northern China. The Germans pursued punitive expeditions into China's countryside. French troops ravaged the countryside around Beijing and collected payments from the Chinese on behalf of missionaries. Japan's military performed policing operations and beheaded people suspected of being Boxers, and with brutality the Russians policed their sector in Beijing.

Many of the Cixi's advisers insisted that their war against the foreign powers continue, arguing that China's interior was impenetrable.

CONTINUE READING: Life in the United States, 1901

comment | to the top | home

Copyright © 2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.