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The Boxer Rebellion () was an uprising against Western commercial and political influence in China during the final years of the 19th century. By August 1900, over 230 foreigners, thousands of Chinese Christians and unknown numbers of rebels, their sympathisers and other Chinese had been killed in the revolt and its suppression.
The uprising is named for the revolutionary society known as the Fists of Righteous Harmony (in the then current Wade-Giles system of Romanisation of Mandarin Chinese transliteration, I-Ho Ch'üan) or in contemporary English parlance, Boxers, a group which initially opposed but later reconciled itself to China's ruling Manchu Qing dynasty.
The uprising was concentrated in north-eastern China where the European powers had begun to demand territorial, railroad and mining concessions. Imperial Germany responded to the killing of two missionaries in Shandong province (November 1897) by seizing the port of Qingdao. The next month, a Russian squadron took possession of Lushun, in southern Liaoyang. Britain and France followed, taking possession of Weihai and Zhanjiang respectively.
Boxer activity began in northern Shandong in March 1898, with the slogan "Overthrow the Qing, destroy the foreigner". The movement's emergence was a response to both foreign penetration and the failure of the Imperial court's "self-strengthening" strategy of officially-directed development, whose shortcomings had been shown graphically in China's defeat by Japan in 1895.
The early months of the movement's growth coincided with the "Hundred Days' Reform" (June 11–September 21, 1898), during which the Guangxu Emperor sought to improve the central administration, before the process was reversed at the behest of his powerful aunt, the Empress Dowager Cixi.
After a mauling at the hands of loyal Imperial troops in October 1899, the Boxers dropped their anti-court slogans, turning their attention to foreign missionaries (such as Hudson Taylor) and their converts, whom they saw as agents of foreign colonialist influence. The Empress Cixi, who actually believed in the Boxers' claim of being magically impervious to knives and guns (刀枪不入), decided to use the Boxers to remove the foreign powers in China. The court, now under Cixi's firm control, issued edicts in defence of the insurgents, drawing heated complaints from Western diplomats (January 1900).
The conflict came to a head in June 1900, when the rebels, now joined by elements of the Imperial army, boldly attacked foreign compounds within the cities of Tianjin and Beijing. The killing of the German Minister Klemens Freiherr von Ketteler on June 20 brought open war, the court proclaiming hostilities against the powers, who in turn prepared military intervention to relieve the legations, which were under the command of the British ex-soldier and Minister plenipotentiary Claude Maxwell MacDonald.
Eight nation alliance
The insurgents finally fell to an international force, the Eight-Nation Alliance , eventually numbering 45,000 Japanese, United States, Austro-Hungarian, British, French, German, Italian, Russian and anti-Boxer Chinese troops, which captured Tianjin on July 14 and Beijing on August 14. In the United States military, the supression of the Boxer Rebellion was known as the China Relief Expedition.
German troops were criticized for their enthusiasm in carrying out Kaiser Wilhelm II's July 27 order to "make the name German remembered in China for a thousand years so that no Chinaman will ever again dare to even squint at a German". This speech, in which Wilhelm invoked the memory of the 5th-century Huns, gave rise to the English derogatory name "Hun" for their German enemy during World War I.
On September 7, 1901, the Qing court was compelled to sign the "Boxer Protocol", also known as Peace Agreement between the Eight-Nation Alliance and China, undertaking to execute ten officials linked to the outbreak and to pay war reparations of $333 million. So great was the sum that much of the money was later earmarked by the Britain and the U.S. for overseas education of Chinese students, forming the basis of Tsinghua University. The British signatory of the Protocol was Sir Ernest Satow.
The court's humiliating failure to defend China against the foreign powers contributed to the growth of republican feeling, which was to culminate a decade later in the dynasty's overthrow and the establishment of the Republic of China.
Russia had meanwhile been busy (October 1900) with occupying much of the north-eastern province of Manchuria, a move which threatened Anglo-American hopes of maintaining what remained of China's territorial integrity and openness to commerce (the "Open Door Policy"), and led ultimately to disastrous conflict with an increasingly confident Japan.
The effect on China was a weakening of the dynasty, although it was temporarily sustained by the Europeans who were under the impression that the Boxer Rebellion was anti-Qing. Its defenses were weakened, and the Empress realized that in order to survive, China would have to reform, despite her previous opposition. Among the Imperial powers, Japan gained prestige due to its military aid in supressing the Boxer Rebellion. Germany, as mentioned above, earned itself the nickname "Hun".
The events were made into the film 55 Days at Peking. The film, which was shot in Spain, needed thousands of Chinese extras, and the company sent scouts throughout Spain to hire as many as they could find. The result was that many Chinese restaurants in Spain closed for the duration of the filming because the restaurant staff - often including the restaurant's owners - were hired away by the film company. The company hired so many that for several months there was scarcely a Chinese restaurant to be found open in the entire country.
And a book The Palace of Heavenly Pleasure by Adam Williams. One delighted reviewer says Mr. Williams displays a thorough knowledge of Chinese history as he paints a panoramic portrait of a country in turmoil. He added " ... if nothing else, the book should be nominated for a Bulwer-Lytton award, since it really does begin on a "dark and stormy night."
- The Boxer Rebellion
- Eyewitness account: When the Allies Entered Peking, 1900, an excerpt of Pierre Loti's Les Derniers Jours de Pékin (1902).
- 55 Days at Peking - A splendid failure of a movie epic about the event.
- A doll of Dame Flora Robson as Tzu Hsi from the above movie
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