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Boxer Rebellion

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The Boxer Rebellion
Boxer Rebellion.jpg
British and Japanese soldiers depicted fighting Chinese forces during the Battle of Tientsin.
Date Autumn 1899 – 7 September 1901
Location Northern China
Result Alliance victory
Eight-Nation Alliance

British Empire United Kingdom
France France
 United States
Kingdom of Italy Italy

China Qing Dynasty Flag 1889.svg Right Division of Guard Army (commanded by Yuan Shikai in Shandong)

Righteous Harmony Society

 Qing Empire

Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Sir Edward Seymour
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Claude Maxwell MacDonald
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Alfred Gaselee
Russian Empire Yevgeni Alekseyev
Russian Empire Nikolai Linevich
German Empire Alfred Graf von Waldersee
Empire of Japan Fukushima Yasumasa
United States Adna Chaffee

China Qing Dynasty Flag 1889.svg Yuan Shikai

Qing Dynasty Guangxu Emperor

Qing Dynasty Empress Dowager Cixi
Qing Dynasty Zaiyi
Qing Dynasty Ronglu
Qing Dynasty Nie Shicheng 
Qing Dynasty Ma Yukun
Qing Dynasty Song Qing
Qing Dynasty Dong Fuxiang
Qing Dynasty Ma Anliang
Qing Dynasty Ma Fulu 
Qing Dynasty Ma Fuxiang
Qing Dynasty Ma Fuxing
Qing Dynasty Ma Haiyan
Qing Dynasty Colonel Yao Wang

50,255 total (expeditionary forces)
Russian Empire 100,000 Russian troops for Manchurian Occupation

China Qing Dynasty Flag 1889.svg Yuan Shikai's Right Division of Guard Army (Previously known as the Newly Created Army and the Pacification Army)

Qing Dynasty 70,000 Imperial troops
Qing Dynasty including 10,000 Muslim Kansu Braves
Qing Dynasty several thousand Manchu Bannermen of the Tiger and Divine Corps (loyal to Prince Duan)
100,000 – 300,000 Boxers
Casualties and losses
1,003 foreign soldiers (mostly Japanese and Russian) 2,000 Imperial troops
Unknown number of Boxers

32,000 Chinese Christians killed, plus 200 missionaries, by Boxers (in North China)
100,000 civilians killed by Boxers in total
5,000 civilians killed by foreign soldiers in total
Boxer Rebellion
Traditional Chinese 義和團運動
Simplified Chinese
Literal meaning Righteous Harmony Society Movement

The Boxer Rebellion, Boxer Uprising or Yihetuan Movement, was an anti-foreign, proto- nationalist movement by the Righteous Harmony Society in China between 1898 and 1901, opposing foreign imperialism and Christianity. The uprising took place against a background of severe drought and economic disruption in response to growth of foreign spheres of influence. Grievances ranged from political invasion ranging back to the Opium Wars and economic incursions, to missionary evangelism, which the weak Qing state could not resist. Concerns grew that missionaries could use the sponsorship of their home governments and their extraterritorial status to the advantage of Chinese Christians, appropriating lands and property of unwilling Chinese villagers to give to the church.

After several months of growing violence against foreign and Christian presence in Shandong and the North China plain, in June 1900, Boxer fighters, convinced that they were invulnerable to foreign weapons, converged on Beijing with the slogan "support the Qing, exterminate the foreigners." They forced foreigners and Chinese Christians to seek refuge in the Legation Quarter. In response to reports of armed foreign landings and demands, the initially hesitant Empress Dowager Cixi, urged by the conservatives of the Imperial Court, supported the Boxers and on June 21 authorized war on foreign powers. Diplomats, foreign civilians and soldiers, and Chinese Christians in the Legation Quarter were under siege by the Imperial Army of China and the Boxers for 55 days. Chinese officialdom was split between those who supported the Boxer effort to destroy the foreigners and those officials seeking diplomatic resolution. Clashes were reported between Chinese factions favoring war and those favoring conciliation, the latter led by Prince Qing. The supreme commander of the Chinese forces, Ronglu, later claimed that he acted to protect the besieged foreigners. The Eight-Nation Alliance, after being initially turned back, brought 20,000 armed troops to China, defeated the Imperial Army, and captured Beijing on August 14, lifting the siege of the Legations. Uncontrolled plunder of the capital and the surrounding countryside ensued, along with the summary execution of those suspected of being Boxers.

The Boxer Protocol of 7 September 1901 provided for execution of government officials who had supported the Boxers, provisions for foreign troops to be stationed in Beijing, and an indemnity of 67 million pounds (450 million taels of silver), more than the government's annual tax revenue, to be paid as indemnity over a course of thirty-nine years to the eight nations involved.

Origins of the Boxers

The Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists, known by foreigners as the Boxers, or "Yihe Magic Boxing", was a secret society founded in the northern coastal province of Shandong consisting largely of people who had lost their livelihoods due to imperialism and natural disasters. The group originated from the Lí sect of the Ba gua religion group. Foreigners came to call the well-trained, athletic young men "Boxers" due to the martial arts and calisthenics they practiced. The Boxers' primary feature was spirit possession, which involved "the whirling of swords, violent prostrations, and chanting incantations to Taoist and Buddhist spirits."

The Boxers believed that through training, diet, martial arts, and prayer they could perform extraordinary feats, such as flight. Further, they popularly claimed that millions of spirit soldiers would descend from the heavens and assist them in purifying China of foreign influences. The Boxers consisted of local farmers/peasants and other workers who were made desperate by disastrous floods and widespread opium addiction and laid the blame on Christian missionaries, Chinese Christians, and the Europeans colonizing their country. Missionaries were protected under the policy of extraterritoriality. Chinese Christians were alleged also to have filed false lawsuits. The Boxers called foreigners " Guizi" (鬼子, literally: demons), a deprecatory term, and condemned Chinese Christian converts and Chinese working for foreigners. The Boxers were only lightly armed with rifles and swords, claiming supernatural invulnerability towards blows of cannon, rifle gunshots, and knife attacks. The Boxer beliefs were characteristic of millennarian movements, such as the American Indian Ghost Dance, often rising in societies under extreme stress.

Several secret societies in Shandong predated the Boxers. In 1895, Yuxian, a Manchu who was then prefect of Caozhou and would later become provincial governor, acquired the help of the Big Sword Society in fighting against bandits. Although the Big Swords had heterodox practices, they were not seen as bandits by Chinese authorities. Their efficiency in defeating banditry led to a flood of cases overwhelming the magistrates' courts, to which the Big Swords responded by executing the bandits that were apprehended. The Big Swords relentlessly hunted the bandits, but the bandits converted to Catholic Christianity, gaining them legal immunity from prosecution and also placed them under the protection of the foreigners. The Big Swords responded by attacking bandit Catholic churches and burning them. As a result, Yuxian executed several Big Sword leaders, but did not punish anyone else. More secret societies started emerging after this.

The early years saw a variety of village activities, not a broad movement or a united purpose. Like the Red Boxing school or the Plum Flower Boxers, the Boxers of Shandong were more concerned with traditional social and moral values, such as filial piety, than with foreign influences. One leader, for instance, Zhu Hongdeng (Red Lantern Zhu), started as a wandering healer, specializing in skin ulcers, and gained wide respect by refusing payment for his treatments. Zhu claimed descent from Ming Dynasty emperors, since his surname was the surname of the Ming Imperial Family. He announced that his goal was to "Revive the Qing and destroy the foreigners" ("Fu Qing mie yang").

Causes of conflict and unrest

International tension and domestic unrest fueled the growth and spread of the Boxer movement. First, a drought followed by floods in Shandong province in 1897–1898 forced farmers to flee to cities and seek food. As one observer said, "I am convinced that a few days' heavy rainfall to terminate the long-continued drought... would do more to restore tranquility than any measures which either the Chinese government or foreign governments can take."

A French political cartoon depicting China as a king cake is about to be carved up by Queen Victoria (Britain), Emperor Wilhelm II ( Germany), Emperor Nicholas II (Russia), Marianne ( France), and a samurai ( Japan) while a Chinese mandarin helplessly looks on.

A major cause of Chinese discontent was the Christian missionaries, both Protestant and Catholic, who came to China in ever increasing numbers. The exemption of missionaries from various laws angered the local Chinese. On 1 November 1897 a band of twenty to thirty armed men stormed into the residence of a German missionary, George Stenz, and killed two priests who were his guests while looking for Stenz, who was sleeping in the servant's quarters. Christian villagers then came to his defense, driving off the attackers. This event was known as the Juye Incident. When Kaiser Wilhelm II received news of these murders, he dispatched the German East Asia Squadron to occupy Jiaozhou Bay on the southern coast of Shandong.

In October 1898, a group of Boxers attacked the Christian community of Liyuantun village, where a temple to the Jade Emperor had been converted into a Catholic church. Disputes had surrounded that church since 1869, when the temple had been granted to the Christian residents of the village. This incident marked the first time the Boxers used the slogan "Support the Qing, destroy the foreigners" (扶清灭洋) that would later characterize them.

Aggression toward missionaries and Christians gained the attention of foreign (mainly European) governments. In 1899, the French Minister in Beijing helped the missionaries to obtain an edict granting official status to every order in the Roman Catholic hierarchy, enabling local priests to support their people in legal or family disputes and bypass the local officials. After the German government took over Shandong, many Chinese feared that the missionaries and quite possibly all Christians were imperialist attempts of "carving the melon," i.e., to divide and colonise China piece by piece. A Chinese official expressed the animosity towards foreigners succinctly, "Take away your missionaries and your opium and you will be welcome."

The growth of the Boxer movement coincided with the Hundred Days' Reform (11 June–21 September 1898). Progressive Chinese officials, with support from Protestant missionaries, persuaded Emperor Guangxu to institute reforms, which alienated many conservative officials by their sweeping nature. Such opposition from conservative officials led the Empress Dowager to intervene and reverse the reforms. The failure of the reform movement disillusioned many educated Chinese, thus further weakened the Qing government. After the Reforms ended, the conservative Empress Dowager Cixi seized power and placed the reformist Guangxu Emperor under house arrest. The European powers were sympathetic to the imprisoned emperor, and opposed Cixi's plan to replace him.

By 1900, the great powers had already been chipping away at Chinese sovereignty for sixty years. They had forced China to import opium, thus leading to widespread addiction, defeated China in several wars, asserted a right to promote Christianity and imposed unequal treaties under which foreigners and foreign companies in China were accorded special privileges, extraterritorial rights and immunities from Chinese law, causing resentment and xenophobic reactions among the Chinese. France, Japan, Russia, and Germany carved out spheres of influence, so that by 1900 it appeared that China would likely be dismembered, with foreign powers each ruling a part of the country. Thus, by 1900, the Qing dynasty, which had ruled China for more than two centuries, was crumbling and Chinese culture was under assault by powerful and unfamiliar religions and secular cultures.

A Boxer during the revolt.

1900: A year of disasters

Boxer rebels

In January 1900, with a majority of conservatives in the Imperial Court, the Empress Dowager changed her long policy of suppressing Boxers, and issued edicts in their defense, causing protests from foreign powers. In Spring 1900, the Boxer movement spread rapidly north from Shandong into the countryside near Beijing. Boxers burned Christian churches, killed Chinese Christians, and intimidated Chinese officials who stood in their way. American Minister Edwin H. Conger cabled Washington, “the whole country is swarming with hungry, discontented, hopeless idlers.” On 30 May the diplomats, led by British Minister Claude Maxwell MacDonald, requested that foreign soldiers come to Beijing to defend the legations. The Chinese government reluctantly acquiesced, and the next day more than 400 soldiers from eight countries disembarked from warships and traveled by train to Beijing from Tianjin. They set up defensive perimeters around their respective missions.

On 5 June, the railroad line to Tianjin was cut by Boxers in the countryside and Beijing was isolated. On 13 June, a Japanese diplomat was murdered by the soldiers of General Dong Fuxiang and that same day the first Boxer, dressed in his finery, was seen in the Legation Quarter. The German Minister, Clemens von Ketteler, and German soldiers captured a Boxer boy and inexplicably executed him. In response, thousands of Boxers burst into the walled city of Beijing that afternoon and burned many of the Christian churches and cathedrals in the city. American and British missionaries had taken refuge in the Methodist Mission and an attack there was repulsed by American Marines. The soldiers at the British Embassy and German Legations shot and killed several Boxers, alienating the Chinese population of the city and nudging the Qing government toward support of the Boxers. The Muslim Kansu braves and Boxers, along with other Chinese then attacked and killed Chinese Christians around the legations in revenge for foreign attacks on Chinese.

Conflicting attitudes within the Imperial Court

Qing Imperial soldiers during the boxer rebellion.

On 16 or 17 June 1900, the Emperor and the Empress Dowager held a mass audience for high officials to hear their opinions of whether the strategy towards the Boxers should be to pacify them or to suppress them. In response to a high official who doubted the efficacy of the Boxers' magic, Cixi replied that, "Perhaps their magic is not to be relied upon; but can we not rely on the hearts and minds of the people? Today China is extremely weak. We have only the people's hearts and minds to depend upon. If we cast them aside and lose the people's hearts, what can we use to sustain the country?" Both sides of the debate at court realized that popular support for the Boxers in the countryside was almost universal and that suppression would be both difficult and unpopular.

Italian mounted infantry near Tientsin in 1900.

The Chinese government was split into two factions: the conservative traditionalists who wished to use the Boxers to remove foreigners from China and the moderates, who recognized China's weak position or wished to use diplomacy. Reflecting this inconsistency, some Chinese soldiers were quite liberally firing at foreigners under siege from its very onset. The Dowager Empress did not personally order Chinese Imperial troops to conduct a siege, and on the contrary had ordered them to protect the foreigners in the legations. Prince Duan led the Boxers to loot his enemies within the Imperial court and the foreigners, although Imperial authorities expelled Boxer troops after they were let into the city and went on a looting rampage against both the foreign and the Chinese Imperial forces. Older aged Boxers were sent outside Beijing to halt the approaching foreign armies, while younger men were absorbed into the Muslim Kansu army.

With conflicting allegiances and priorities motivating the various forces inside Beijing, the situation in the city became increasingly confused. The foreign legations continued to be surrounded by both Imperial and Kansu forces. While Dong Fuxiang's Kansu army, now swollen by the addition of the Boxers, wished to press the siege, Ronglu's Imperial forces seem to have largely attempted to follow the Dowager Empress's decree and protect the legations. However, to satisfy the conservatives in the Chinese imperial court Ronglu's men also fired on the legations and let off firecrackers to give the impression that they, too, were attacking the foreigners. Inside the legations and out of communication with the outside world, the foreigners simply fired on any targets that presented themselves, including messengers from the Chinese court, civilians and besiegers of all persuasions.

When Cixi received an ultimatum demanding that China surrender total control over all its military and financial affairs to foreigners, she defiantly stated before the entire Grand Council, "Now they [the Powers] have started the aggression, and the extinction of our nation is imminent. If we just fold our arms and yield to them, I would have no face to see our ancestors after death. If we must perish, why not fight to the death?" It was at this point that Cixi began to blockade the legations with the Peking Field Force armies, which began the siege. Cixi stated that "I have always been of the opinion, that the allied armies had been permitted to escape too easily in 1860. Only a united effort was then necessary to have given China the victory. Today, at last, the opportunity for revenge has come.", and said that millions of Chinese would join the cause of fighting the foreigners since the Manchus had provided "great benefits" on China.

The event that tilted the Imperial Government irrevocably toward support of the Boxers and war with the foreign powers was the attack of foreign navies on the Dagu Forts near Tianjin, on June 17.

Siege of the Legations

Eight nations alliance soldiers and european recruits
Locations of foreign diplomatic legations and front lines in Beijing during the siege.

The legations of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Austria-Hungary, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United States, Russia and Japan were located in the Beijing Legation Quarter south of the Forbidden City. On receipt of the news of the attack on the Dagu Forts on the 19 of June, the Empress Dowager immediately sent an order to the legations that the diplomats and other foreigners depart Beijing under escort of the Chinese army within 24 hours.

The next morning, the German envoy, Klemens Freiherr von Ketteler, was killed on the streets of Beijing by a Manchu captain. The other diplomats feared they also would be murdered if they left the legation quarter and they defied the Chinese order to depart Beijing. The legations were hurriedly fortified. Isolated legations, such as the Spanish and Belgian, and foreign businesses were abandoned. Most of the foreign civilians, which included a large number of missionaries and businessmen, took refuge in the British legation, the largest of the diplomatic compounds. Chinese Christians were primarily housed in the adjacent palace (Fu) of Prince Su who was forced to abandon his property by the foreign soldiers.

On the 21 of June, Empress Dowager Cixi declared war against all foreign powers. Regional governors who commanded substantial modernized armies, such as Li Hongzhang at Canton, Yuan Shikai in Shandong, Zhang Zhidong at Wuhan, and Liu Kunyi at Nanjing, refused to join in the Imperial Court's declaration of war and withheld knowledge of it from the public in the south. Yuan Shikai used his own forces to suppress Boxers in Shandong, and Zhang entered into negotiations with the foreigners in Shanghai to keep his army out of the conflict. The neutrality of these provincial and regional governors left the majority of China out of the conflict.

1900, soldiers burned down the Temple, Shanhaikuan. The destruction of a Chinese temple on the bank of the Pei-Ho, by Amédée Forestier

The Chinese army and Boxer irregulars besieged the Legation Quarter from 20 June to 14 August 1900. A total of 473 foreign civilians, 409 soldiers from eight countries, and about 3,000 Chinese Christians took refuge there. Under the command of the British minister to China, Claude Maxwell MacDonald, the legation staff and security personnel defended the compound with small arms, three machine guns, and one old muzzle-loaded cannon, which was nicknamed the International Gun because the barrel was British, the carriage Italian, the shells Russian, and the crew American. Chinese Christians in the legations led the foreigners to the cannon and it proved important in the defense. Also under siege in Beijing was the Northern Cathedral (Beitang) of the Catholic Church. The Beitang was defended by 43 French and Italian soldiers, 33 Catholic foreign priests and nuns, and about 3,200 Chinese Catholics. The defenders suffered heavy casualties especially from lack of food and mines which the Chinese exploded in tunnels dug beneath the compound. The number of Chinese soldiers and Boxers besieging the Legation Quarter and the Beitang is unknown, but certainly there were many thousands.

On the 22 and 23 of June, Chinese soldiers and Boxers set fire to areas north and west of the British Legation, using it as a "frightening tactic" to attack the defenders. The nearby Hanlin Academy, a complex of courtyards and buildings that housed "the quintessence of Chinese scholarship ... the oldest and richest library in the world," caught fire. Each side blamed the other for the destruction of the invaluable books it contained.

After the failure to burn out the foreigners, the Chinese army adopted an anaconda-like strategy. The Chinese build barricades surrounding the Legation Quarter and advanced, brick by brick, on the foreign lines, forcing the foreign soldiers to retreat a few feet at a time. This tactic was especially used in the Fu, defended by Japanese and Italian soldiers and inhabited by most of the Chinese Christians. Fusillades of bullets, artillery, and firecrackers were directed against the Legations almost every night -– but did little damage. Sniper fire took its toll among the foreign soldiers. Despite, however, their advantage in numbers, the Chinese did not attempt a direct assault on the Legation Quarter although in the words of one of the besieged, "it would have been easy by a strong, swift movement on the part of the numerous Chinese troops to have annihilated the whole body of foreigners... in an hour." American missionary Frank Gamewell and his crew of "fighting persons" played an invaluable role in fortifying the Legation Quarter. Gamewell impressed Chinese Christians to do most of the physical labor of building defenses.

The Germans and the Americans occupied perhaps the most crucial of all defensive positions: the Tartar Wall. Holding the top of the 45 ft (14 m) tall and 40 ft (12 m) wide wall was vital. The German barricades faced east on top of the wall and 400 yd (370 m) west were the west-facing American positions. The Chinese advanced toward both positions by building barricades even closer. "The men all feel they are in a trap," said the American commander, Capt. John T. Myers, "and simply await the hour of execution." On 30 June, the Chinese forced the Germans off the Wall, leaving the American Marines alone in its defense. At the same time, a Chinese barricade was advanced to within a few feet of the American positions and it became clear that the Americans had to abandon the wall or force the Chinese to retreat. At 2 am on 3 July, 56 British, Russian, and American soldiers under the command of Myers launched an assault against the Chinese barricade on the wall. The attack caught the Chinese sleeping, killed about 20 of them, and expelled the rest of them from the barricades. The Chinese did not attempt to advance their positions on the Tartar Wall for the remainder of the siege.

Sir Claude MacDonald said 13 July was the "most harassing day" of the siege. The Japanese and Italians in the Fu were driven back to their last defense line. The Chinese detonated a mine beneath the French Legation pushing the French and Austrians out of most of the French Legation. On 16 July, the most capable British officer was killed and the journalist George Ernest Morrison was wounded. But American Minister Edwin Hurd Conger established contact with the Chinese government and on 17 July, an armistice was declared by the Chinese. More than 40% of the legation guards were dead or wounded. The motivation of the Chinese was probably the realization that an allied force of 20,000 men had landed in China and retribution for the siege was at hand. The armistice, although occasionally broken, endured until 13 August when, with an allied army approaching Beijing to relieve the siege, the Chinese launched their heaviest fusillade on the Legation Quarter. As the foreign army approached, Chinese forces melted away. The British Army reached the legation quarter on the afternoon of 14 August and relieved the Legation Quarter. The Beitang was relieved on 16 August, first by Japanese soldiers and then, officially, by the French.

Generals at cross purposes

The Manchu General Ronglu concluded that it was futile to fight all of the powers simultaneously, and declined to press home the siege. The Manchu prince Zaiyi, an anti-foreign friend of Dong Fuxiang, wanted artillery for Dong's troops to destroy the legations. Ronglu blocked the transfer of artillery to Zaiyi and Dong, preventing them from attacking. Ronglu and Prince Qing sent food to the legations, and used their Manchu Bannermen to attack the Muslim Kansu Braves of Dong Fuxiang and the Boxers who were besieging the foreigners. They issued edicts ordering the foreigners to be protected, but the Kansu warriors ignored it, and fought against Bannermen who tried to force them away from the legations. Ronglu also deliberately hid an Imperial Decree from General Nie Shicheng. The Decree ordered him to stop fighting the Boxers because of the foreign invasion, and also because the population was suffering. Due to Ronglu's actions, General Nie continued to fight the Boxers and killed many of them even as the foreign troops were making their way into China. Ronglu also ordered Nie to protect foreigners and save the railway from the Boxers. Because parts of the Railway were saved under Ronglu's orders, the foreign invasion army was able to transport itself into China quickly. General Nie committed thousands of troops against the Boxers instead of against the foreigners. Nie was already outnumbered by the Allies by 4,000 men. General Nie was blamed for attacking the Boxers, as Ronglu let Nie take all the blame. At the Battle of Tianjin (Tientsin), General Nie decided to sacrifice his life by walking into the range of Allied guns.

Massacre of missionaries and Chinese Christians

The Holy Chinese Martyrs

Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox missionaries and their Chinese converts were massacred throughout northern China, some by Boxers and others by government troops and authorities. After the declaration of war on Western powers in June 1900, Yuxian, who had been named governor of Shanxi in March of that year, implemented a brutal anti-foreign and anti-Christian policy. On 9 July, reports circulated that he had executed forty-four foreigners (including women and children) from missionary families whom he had invited to the provincial capital Taiyuan under the promise to protect them. Although the purported eye witness accounts have recently been questioned as improbable, this event became a notorious symbol of Chinese madness, known as the Taiyuan Massacre.

By the summer's end, more foreigners and as many as 2,000 Chinese Christians had been put to death in the province. Journalist and historical writer Nat Brandt has called the massacre of Christians in Shanxi "the greatest single tragedy in the history of Christian evangelicalism." A total of 136 Protestant missionaries and 53 children were killed, and 47 Catholic priests and nuns. Thirty thousand Chinese Catholics, 2,000 Chinese Protestants, and 200 to 400 of the 700 Russian Orthodox Christians in Beijing were estimated to have been killed. Collectively, the Protestant dead were called the China Martyrs of 1900. The Boxers went on to murder Christians across 26 prefectures. One specific rampage was set off after the German diplomat Clemens von Ketteler beat a Chinese boy to death. Anger against Chinese Christians set off again, and the Boxers burned down several churches, roasting some victims alive.

Chinese Boxers frequently killed and mutilated foreigners, including women and children, but did not rape any of them.

Evacuation of Imperial Court from Beijing to Xi'an

In the early hours of 15 August, just as the Foreign Legations were being relieved, the Empress Dowager, dressed in the padded blue cotton of a farm woman, the Emperor Guangxu, and a small retinue climbed into three wooden ox carts and escaped from the city covered with rough blankets. Legend has it that the Empress Dowager then either ordered that the Emperor's favorite, Consort Zhen the Pearl Concubine, be thrown down a well in the Forbidden City or tricked her into drowning herself. The journey was made all the more arduous by the lack of preparation, but the Empress Dowager insisted this was not a retreat, rather a "tour of inspection." After weeks of travel, the party arrived in Xi'an in Shaanxi province, beyond protective mountain passes where the foreigners could not reach, deep in Chinese Muslim territory and protected by the Kansu Braves. The foreigners were unable to pursue, and had no such orders to do so, so they decided no action should be taken.

The allied interventions and the Boxer War

Forces of the Eight-Nation Alliance
(1900 Boxer Rebellion)

Troops of the Eight nations alliance 1900.jpg
Troops of the Eight nations alliance in 1900.
Left to right: Britain, United States, Australian, British India,
Germany, France, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Japan
Countries Warships
Japan 18 540 20,300
Russia 10 750 12,400
United Kingdom 8 2,020 10,000
France 5 390 3,130
United States 2 295 3,125
Germany 5 600 300
Austria–Hungary 4 296
Italy 2 80
Total 54 4,971 49,255
Painting of Western and Japanese troops

Foreign navies started building up their presence along the northern China coast from the end of April 1900. Several international forces were sent to the capital, with various success, and the rebellion was ultimately quashed by the Eight-Nation Alliance of Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

First international force

On 31 May, before the sieges had started and upon the request of foreign embassies in Beijing, an international force of 435 navy troops from eight countries were dispatched by train from Dagu (Taku) to the capital (75 French, 75 Russian, 75 British, 60 U.S., 50 German, 40 Italian, 30 Japanese, 30 Austrian). After covering the 80 miles distance to the capital, these troops joined the legations and were able to contribute to their defense.

Seymour Expedition

Japanese marines who served in the Seymour Expedition.

As the situation worsened, a second international force of 2,000 sailors and marines under the command of the British Vice-Admiral Edward Seymour, the largest contingent being British, was dispatched from Dagu to Beijing on 10 June. The troops were transported by train from Dagu to Tianjin with the agreement of the Chinese government, but the railway between Tianjin and Beijing had been severed. Seymour resolved to move forward and repair the railway, or progress on foot if necessary, keeping in mind that the distance between Tianjin and Beijing was only 120 km. However, Seymour left Tianjin, and started toward Beijing, which angered the Chinese Imperial court. As a result, the Pro Boxer Manchu Prince Duan became leader of the Zongli Yamen (foreign office), replacing Prince Ching; orders were then given to Imperial army to attack the foreign forces. Confused by conflicting orders from Beijing, Chinese General Nie let Seymour's army pass by in their trains.

After leaving Tianjin, the convoy was surrounded, the railway behind and in front of them was destroyed, and they were attacked from all parts by Chinese irregulars and even Chinese governmental troops. News arrived on 18 June regarding attacks on foreign legations. Seymour decided to continue advancing, this time along the Beihe river, toward Tongzhou, 25 km from Beijing. By the 19th, they had to abandon their efforts due to progressively stiffening resistance and started to retreat southward along the river with over 200 wounded. Commandeering four civilian Chinese junks along the river, they loaded all their wounded and remaining supplies onto them and pulled them along with ropes from the riverbanks. By this point they were very low on food, ammunition and medical supplies. Luckily, they then happened upon The Great Xigu Arsenal, a hidden Qing munitions cache of which the Allied Powers had had no knowledge until then. They immediately captured and occupied it, discovering not only Krupp field guns, but rifles with millions of rounds in ammunition, along with millions of pounds of rice and ample medical supplies.

Admiral Seymour returning to Tianjin with his wounded men, on 26 June.

There they dug in and awaited rescue. A Chinese servant was able to infiltrate through the Boxer and Qing lines, informing the Eight Powers of their predicament. Surrounded and attacked nearly around the clock by Qing troops and Boxers, they were at the point of being overrun. On 25 June, a regiment composed of 1800 men, (900 Russian troops from Port-Arthur, 500 British seamen, with an ad hoc mix of other assorted Alliance troops) finally arrived. Spiking the mounted field guns and setting fire to any munitions that they could not take (an estimated £3 million worth), they departed in the early morning of 26 June, with 62 killed and 228 wounded.

Gaselee Expedition

The Boxers bombarded Tianjin in June 1900, and Dong Fuxiang's Muslim troops attacked the British Admiral Seymour and his expeditionary force.

With a difficult military situation in Tianjin and a total breakdown of communications between Tianjin and Beijing, the allied nations took steps to reinforce their military presence significantly. On 17 June they took the Dagu Forts commanding the approaches to Tianjin, and from there brought increasing numbers of troops on shore.

The international force with British Lieutenant-General Alfred Gaselee acting as the commanding officer of the Eight-Nation Alliance, eventually numbered 55,000, with the main contingent being composed of Japanese soldiers: Japanese (20,840), Russian (13,150), British (12,020), French (3,520), U.S.(3,420), German (900), Italian (2080), Austro-Hungarian (75) and anti-Boxer Chinese troops. The international force finally captured Tianjin on 14 July under the command of the Japanese Colonel Kuriya, after one day of fighting.

The capture of the southern gate of Tianjin. British troops were positioned on the left, Japanese troops at the centre, French troops on the right.

Notable exploits during the campaign were the seizure of the Dagu Forts commanding the approaches to Tianjin, and the boarding and capture of four Chinese destroyers by Roger Keyes. Among the foreigners besieged in Tianjin was a young American mining engineer named Herbert Hoover.

The march from Tianjin to Beijing of about 120 km consisted of about 20,000 allied troops. On 4 August, there were approximately 70,000 Imperial troops with anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 Boxers along the way. The allies only encountered minor resistance, fighting battles at Beicang and Yangcun. At Yangcun, the 14th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. and British troops led the assault. The weather was a major obstacle, extremely humid with temperatures sometimes reaching 110 °F (43 °C).

Corporal Titus scaling the walls of Peking.

The international force reached and occupied Beijing on 14 August. All the nationalities in the international force raced to be the first to liberate the besieged Legation Quarter with the British winning the race. The U.S. was able to play a minor role in suppressing the Boxer Rebellion due to the presence of U.S. ships and troops deployed in the Philippines, which had been stationed there since the U.S. conquest of the Philippines during the Spanish American War and the subsequent Philippine Insurrection. In the U.S. military, the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion was known as the China Relief Expedition. American soldiers scaling the walls of Beijing is an iconic image of the Boxer Rebellion.

Russian invasion of Manchuria

The Russian Empire and the Qing Empire had maintained a long peace, starting with the Treaty of Nerchinsk in 1689, but Czarist forces took advantage of Chinese defeats to impose the Aigun Treaty of 1858 and the Treaty of Peking of 1860 which ceded territory in Manchuria much of which is held by Russia to the present day. The Russians aimed for control over Amur River for navigation, and the all weather ports of Dairen and Port Arthur in the Liaodong peninsula. The rise of Japan as an Asian power provoked Russia's anxiety, especially in light of expanding Japanese influence in Korea. Following Japan's victory in the First Sino-Japanese War of 1895, the Triple Intervention of Russia, Germany and France forced Japan to return the territory won in Liaodong, leading to a de facto Sino-Russian alliance.

Local Chinese in Manchuria were incensed at these Russian advances and began to harass Russians and Russian institutions, such as the Chinese Eastern Railway. In June 1900, the Chinese bombarded the town of Blagoveshchensk on the Russian side of the Amur, and in retaliation, the Russians massacred several thousand Chinese and Manchus in that town. The Czar's government used the pretext of Boxer activity to move some 200,000 troops into the area to crush Boxers. The Chinese used arson to destroy a bridge carrying a railway and a barracks in 27 July. Boxers destroyed railways and cut lines for telegraphs and burned the Yantai mines. In battles on the Amur river, Western newspapers reported that the Chinese forces treated Russian civilians leniently and allowed them to escape to Russia, even notifying that they should leave the war zone. By contrast, Russian Cossacks brutally killed civilians who tried to flee in the Chinese villages. In revenge for the attacks on Chinese villages, Boxer troops burned Russian towns and almost annihilated a Russian force at Tieling. Russian forces quickly dispatched both Boxers and Chinese Imperial troops.

By 21 September, Russian troops took Jilin in Shandong, and by the end of the month completely occupied Manchuria, where their presence was a major factor leading to the Russo-Japanese War.

The Chinese Honghuzi bandits of Manchuria, who had fought alongside the Boxers in the war, did not stop when the Boxer rebellion was over, and continued guerilla warfare against the Russian occupation up to the Russo-Japanese war when the Russians were defeated by Japan.


Occupation, looting, and atrocities

"The Fall of the Peking Castle" from September 1900. British and Japanese soldiers assaulting Chinese troops.
The occupation of Beijing. British sector in yellow, French in blue, US in green and ivory, German in red, and Japanese in light green.

Beijing, Tianjin, and other cities in northern China were occupied for more than one year by the international expeditionary force under the command of German General Alfred Graf von Waldersee. The German force arrived too late to take part in the fighting, but undertook several punitive expeditions to the countryside against the Boxers. Although atrocities by foreign troops were common, German troops in particular were criticized for their enthusiasm in carrying out Kaiser Wilhelm II’s words. On 27 July 1900, when Wilhelm II spoke during departure ceremonies for the German contingent to the relief force in China, an impromptu, but intemperate reference to the Hun invaders of continental Europe would later be resurrected by British propaganda to mock Germany during World War I and World War II.

"Should you encounter the enemy, he will be defeated! No quarter will be given! Prisoners will not be taken! Whoever falls into your hands is forfeited. Just as a thousand years ago the Huns under their King Attila made a name for themselves, one that even today makes them seem mighty in history and legend, may the name German be affirmed by you in such a way in China that no Chinese will ever again dare to look cross-eyed at a German."

The Germans were not the only offenders. On behalf of Chinese Catholics, French troops ravaged the countryside around Beijing to collect indemnities—and on one occasion arresting American missionary William Scott Ament who beat them to the punch in gathering wealth from some villages. Nor were the soldiers of other nationalities any better behaved. "The Russian soldiers are ravishing the women and committing horrible atrocities" in the sector of Beijing they occupied. The Japanese were noted for their skill in beheading Boxers or people suspected of being Boxers. General Chaffee commented, "It is safe to say that where one real Boxer has been killed... fifty harmless coolies or laborers on the farms, including not a few women and children, have been slain."

Japanese troops during the boxer rebellion
American troops during the Boxer Rebellion.

The intermediate aftermath of the siege in Beijing was what one newspaper called a "carnival of loot," and others called "an orgy of looting" by soldiers, civilians, and missionaries. These characterizations called to mind the sacking of the Summer Palace in 1860. All of the nationalities in the expeditionary force engaged in looting, but each nationality accused the others of being the worst looters. An American diplomat, Herbert G. Squiers, filled several railroad cars with loot. The British Legation held loot auctions every afternoon and proclaimed, "looting on the part of British troops was carried out in the most orderly manner." The Catholic Beitang or North Cathedral was a "salesroom for stolen property." The American commander General Adna Chaffee banned looting by American soldiers, but the ban was ineffectual.

The missionaries were the most condemned. Mark Twain reflected American outrage against looting and imperialism in his essay, "To the Person Sitting in Darkness". American Board Missionary Ament was his target. To provide restitution to missionaries and Chinese Christian families whose property had been destroyed, Ament guided American troops through villages to punish Boxers and confiscate their property. When Mark Twain read of this expedition, he wrote a scathing attack on the "Reverend bandits of the American Board." Ament was one of the most respected and courageous missionaries in China and the controversy between him and Mark Twain was front page news during much of 1901. Ament's counterpart on the distaff side was doughty British missionary Georgina Smith who presided over a neighbourhood in Beijing as judge and jury.

One witness recalled that "[t]he conduct of the Russian soldiers is atrocious, the French are not much better, and the Japanese are looting and burning without mercy". It was reported that Japanese troops were astonished by other Alliance troops raping civilians; Japanese officers had brought along Japanese prostitutes to stop their troops from raping Chinese civilians. Thousands of Chinese women committed suicide; The Daily Telegraph journalist E. J. Dillon stated it was to avoid rape by Alliance forces, and he witnessed the mutilated corpses of Chinese women who were raped and killed by the Alliance troops. The French commander dismissed the rapes, attributing them to "gallantry of the French soldier". A foreign journalist, George Lynch, said "there are things that I must not write, and that may not be printed in England, which would seem to show that this Western civilization of ours is merely a veneer over savagery."

In addition to taking not fighting the Eight Nation Alliance and suppressing the Boxers in Shandong, General Yuan Shikai and his army (the Right Division) also helped the Eight Nation Alliance massacre tens of thousands of people in their anti Boxer campaign in Zhili after the Alliance captured Beijing. Yuan operated out of Baoding during the campaign, which ended in 1902.

The negative impact upon the Manchu people was especially severe since their properties were destroyed and a large amount of them were killed, their situation was described as "Living conditions for the Manchu population in general [went] from desperate poverty to true misery." by the historian Pamela Crossley.


After the capture of Peking by the foreign armies, some of the Dowager Empress's advisers advocated that the war be carried on, arguing that China could have defeated the foreigners as it was disloyal and traitorous people within China who allowed Beijing and Tianjin to be captured by the Allies, and that the interior of China was impenetrable. They also recommended that Dong Fuxiang continue fighting. The Dowager was practical, however, and decided that the terms were generous enough for her to acquiesce when she was assured of her continued reign after the war and that China would not be forced to cede any territory.

On 7 September 1901, the Qing court agreed to sign the " Boxer Protocol" also known as Peace Agreement between the Eight-Nation Alliance and China. The protocol ordered the execution of 10 high-ranking officials linked to the outbreak and other officials who were found guilty for the slaughter of foreigners in China. Alfons Mumm (Freiherr von Schwarzenstein), Ernest Satow and Komura Jutaro signed on behalf of Germany, Britain and Japan respectively.

Share of reparations
Country Share %
Russia 30.00
Germany 20.00
France 15.75
Britain 11.25
Japan 7.70
US 7.00

China was fined war reparations of 450,000,000 taels of fine silver (1 tael = 1.2 troy ounces) for the loss that it caused. The reparation was to be paid within 39 years, and would be 982,238,150 taels with interest (4 percent per year) included. To help meet the payment it was agreed to increase the existing tariff from an actual 3.18 percent to 5 percent, and to tax hitherto duty-free merchandise. The sum of reparation was estimated by the Chinese population (roughly 450 million in 1900), to let each Chinese pay one tael. Chinese custom income and salt tax were enlisted as guarantee of the reparation. China paid 668,661,220 taels of silver from 1901 to 1939, equivalent in 2010 to ~US$61 billion on a purchasing power parity basis (see Tael).

Execution of Boxers after the rebellion.

A large portion of the reparations paid to the United States was diverted to pay for the education of Chinese students in U.S. universities under the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship Program. To prepare the students chosen for this program an institute was established to teach the English language and to serve as a preparatory school. When the first of these students returned to China they undertook the teaching of subsequent students; from this institute was born Tsinghua University. Some of the reparation due to Britain was later earmarked for a similar program.

The China Inland Mission lost more members than any other missionary agency: 58 adults and 21 children were killed. However, in 1901, when the allied nations were demanding compensation from the Chinese government, Hudson Taylor refused to accept payment for loss of property or life in order to demonstrate the meekness and gentleness of Christ to the Chinese.

The French Catholic vicar apostolic, Msgr. Alfons Bermyn wanted foreign troops garrisoned in inner Mongolia, but the Governor refused. Bermyn petitioned the Manchu Enming to send troops to Hetao where Prince Duan's Mongol troops and General Dong Fuxiang's Muslim troops allegedly threatened Catholics. It turned out that Bermyn had created the incident as a hoax.

The Qing did not capitulate to all the foreign demands. The Bannerman Governor Yuxian was executed, but the Imperial court refused to execute the Chinese General Dong Fuxiang, although both had encouraged the killing of foreigners during the rebellion. Instead, Dong Fuxiang lived a life of luxury and power in "exile" in his home province of Gansu. In addition to sparing Dong Fuxiang, the Qing also refused to exile the Boxer supporter Prince Duan to Xinjiang, as the Allies demanded. Instead, he moved to Alashan, west of Ningxia, and lived in Wangyeh Fu, where the local Mongol Prince lived. He then moved to Ningxia during the Xinhai Revolution when the Muslims took control of Ningxia, and finally, moved to Xinjiang with Sheng Yun.

Long-term consequences

The great powers stopped short of finally colonizing China. From the Boxer rebellions, they learned that the best way to govern China was through the Chinese dynasty, instead of direct dealing with the Chinese people (as a saying “The people are afraid of officials, the officials are afraid of foreigners, and the foreigners are afraid of the people" (老百姓怕官,官怕洋鬼子,洋鬼子怕老百姓)).

French Médaille commémorative de l'expédition de Chine (1901). Musée de la Légion d'Honneur.

In October 1900 Russia was busy occupying the provinces of Manchuria, a move which threatened Anglo-American hopes of maintaining what remained of China's territorial integrity and an openness to commerce under the Open Door Policy. This behaviour led ultimately to the Russo-Japanese War, where Russia was defeated at the hands of an increasingly confident Japan.

Japan's clash with Russia over Liaodong and other provinces in eastern Manchuria, due to the Russian refusal to honour the terms of the Boxer protocol with called for their withdrawl, led to the Russo-Japanese War when two years of negotiations broke down in February 1904. The Russian Lease of the Liaodong (1898) was confirmed.

Besides the compensation, Empress Dowager Cixi reluctantly started some reformations despite her previous view. The imperial examination system for government service was eliminated; as a result, the classical system of education was replaced with a European liberal system that led to a university degree. After the death of Empress Dowager Cixi and the Guangxu Emperor (on the same day, mysteriously) in 1908, the regent (Guangxu Emperor's brother) launched reformation. The Qing Dynasty became the last dynasty in Chinese history.

The effect on China was a weakening of the dynasty as well as a weakened national defense. The structure was temporarily sustained by the Europeans. Behind the international conflict, it further internally deepened the ideological differences between northern-Chinese anti-foreign royalists and southern-Chinese anti-Qing revolutionists. This scenario in the last Chinese dynasty gradually escalated to a chaotic warlord era in which the most powerful northern warlords were hostile towards the revolutionaries in the south until the northern warlords were defeated in the Northern Expedition. Before the ultimate defeat of the Boxer Rebellion, all anti-Qing movements in the previous century such as the Taiping Rebellion were successfully suppressed by the Qing.

Historian Walter LaFeber has argued that President William McKinley's decision to send 5,000 American troops to quell the rebellion marks "the origins of modern presidential war powers":

McKinley took a historic step in creating a new, 20th-century presidential power. He dispatched the five thousand troops without consulting Congress, let alone obtaining a declaration of war, to fight the Boxers who were supported by the Chinese government ... Presidents had previously used such force against non-governmental groups that threatened U.S. interests and citizens. It was now used, however, against recognized governments, and without obeying the Constitution's provisions about who was to declare war.

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. concurred, writing that:

The intervention in China marked the start of a crucial shift in the presidential employment of armed force overseas. In the 19th century, military force committed without congressional authorization had been typically used against nongovernmental organizations. Now it was beginning to be used against sovereign states, and, in the case of Theodore Roosevelt, with less consultation than ever.

Chinese forces


The Boxers had no way to get foreign weapons for themselves, but in spite of the fact that their philosophy rejected all things Western, they used modern weapons, such as Krupp artillery and rifles, when they were made available to them. When they attacked both the Qing Imperial Army under General Nie, and the foreign Allied Powers, Boxers used sabotage tactics like razing railroads and telegraph lines in order to deny the Alliance forces any means of transport and communication.

The Imperial Army

Chinese forces in 1899–1901.
Left: two infantrymen of the New Imperial Army. Front: drum major of the regular army. Seated on the trunk: field artilleryman. Right: Boxers.

Equipment and tactics

Following the defeat of Beiyang army during the humiliating First Sino-Japanese War, the Chinese government invested heavily in modernizing the imperial army, which was equipped with modern Mauser repeater rifles and Krupp Artillery. Mining, engineering, flooding, and simultaneous multiple attacks were employed by Chinese troops. The Chinese also employed pincer movements, ambushes, and sniper tactics with some success against the foreigners. Two brand new German destroyers were deployed along the Dagu Forts recently completed by German engineers. Yet, neither the European-style modern weapons nor the new forts could compensate for the lack of training of the soldiers and the backwardness of the Chinese military tactics of the officers. It was the inability to integrate the new Western style weapons and lack of training effectively that prevented the capture of the besieged European consulate in Beijing, and the repulsion of the foreign invading armies.

Imperial Chinese forces deployed a weapon called "electric mines" on 15 June, at the river Beihe (Peiho) before the Battle of Dagu Forts (1900), to prevent the Eight-Nation Alliance from sending ships to attack.


Zaiyi was not just an ordinary prince, he was a member of the imperial Aisin Gioro clan, a blood relative of the imperial family (foreigners called him a "Blood Royal"), therefore, his son was his line for the throne. He became the effective leader of the Boxers, and he was extremely anti foreign like his friend Dong Fuxiang, and wanted to expel them from China. The Manchu General Ronglu, on the other hand, was not a blood relative of the Imperial Aisin Gioro Clan, only being related by marriage to the Imperial Family, and he tried to sabotage Zaiyi and Dong Fuxiang. Prince Qing, a Prince, was considered pro foreign and led his bannermen accordingly to attack Prince Duan's forces.

Muslim Kansu Braves

Gan Army (Rear division)
Chinese Muslim troops from Gansu of the Qing imperial army serving under General Dong Fuxiang; they were also known as the "Kansu Braves" or "Gansu Braves".
Han Chinese General Dong Fuxiang, who commanded Muslim soldiers

A unit of 10,000 Hui Muslims from Gansu province under the command of the Han Chinese General Dong Fuxiang had been stationed with the rest of the imperial army at Beijing since 1898. They were known as the "Kansu (Gansu) Braves". Dong was extremely anti-foreign, and gave full support to Cixi and the Boxers. General Dong committed his Muslim troops to join the Boxers to attack the Eight-Nation Alliance. They were put into the rear division, and attacked the legations relentlessly. Foreigners referred to them as the "10,000 Islamic rabble". Casualties suffered by the Alliance at the hands of the Muslim troops were high enough that the United States Marine Corps, which was tasked with guarding U.S. embassies, as it is today, was involved. A Japanese chancellor, Sugiyama Akira was killed by the Muslim warriors, who also assaulted and beat up several other foreigners.

Dong refused to use foreign uniforms and musical instruments for his band, instead, his Muslim troops wore Chinese military uniform and played Chinese instruments. However, he armed his troops with modern foreign weapons like Krupp Artillery and Mauser rifles. The Muslim troops had threatened the foreign Legations after the Hundred Days Reform ended in September 1898. The Islamic troops were organized into eight battalions of infantry, two squadrons of cavalry, two brigades of artillery, and one company of engineers. In contrast to the Manchu and other Chinese soldiers who used arrows and bows, the Kansu cavalry had the newest carbine rifles. The Muslims were mostly cavalry, wearing black turbans, waving scarlet and black banners, with Mauser rifles.

The Boxers were ordered by the Imperial court to take commands from Dong Fuxiang and the Muslim Gansu troops. General Dong and Manchu Prince Duan were linked through Prince Duan's father, Prince Dun, who reached an agreement with Dong in 1869. Dong Fuxiang's 5,000 troops, including Muslim General Ma Fuxiang, posted in southern Beijing at Hunting Park, attacked and defeated the Eight Nation Alliance led by the British Admiral Seymour at the Battle of Langfang on 18 June. The Chinese won a major victory, and forced Seymour to retreat back to Tianjin by 26 June, and Seymour's Alliance army suffered heavy casualties. As the allied European army retreated from Langfang, they were constantly fired upon by cavalry, and artillery bombarded their positions. It was reported that the Chinese artillery was superior to the European artillery, since the Europeans did not bother to bring along much for the campaign, thinking they could easily sweep through Chinese resistance. The Europeans could not locate the Chinese artillery, which was raining shells upon their positions. General Ronglu, who was supervising Dong Fuxiang's attack on the Legations, forced Dong to pull back from completing the siege and destroying the legations, thereby saving the foreigners and making diplomatic concessions. Six thousand of the Muslim troops under Dong Fuxiang and 20,000 Boxers repulsed a relief column, driving them to Huang Cun. The Muslims made camp outside the temples of Heaven and Agriculture.

Muslim Leader Ma Fuxiang
Muslim Commander Ma Fuxing

The Muslim Kansu Braves escorted the imperial family to Xi'an when they decided to flee. One of the officers, Ma Fuxiang, was rewarded by the Emperor, being appointed governor of Altay for his service. His brother, Ma Fulu and four of his cousins died in combat during the attack on the legations. Ma Fuxing also served under Ma Fulu to guard the Qing Imperial court during the fighting. Originally buried at a Hui cemetery in Beijing, in 1995 Ma Fulu's remains were moved by his descendants to Yangzhushan in Linxia County. The imperial government refused to punish General Dong when the foreigners demanded his execution. Upon General Dong's death in 1908, all honours which had been stripped from him were restored and he was given a full military burial.

The future Muslim General Ma Biao, who led Muslim cavalry to fight against the Japanese in the Second Sino-Japanese War, fought in the Boxer Rebellion as a private in the Battle of Peking against the foreigners.

General Dong Fuxiang took part in a number of battles, including Cai Cun (Ts'ai Ts'un) 24 July, Hexiwu (Ho Hsi Wu) 25 July, Anping (An P'ing)26 July, and Matou (Ma T'ou) 27 July.

The German Kaiser Wilhelm II was so alarmed by the Chinese Muslim troops that he requested the Caliph Abdul Hamid II of the Ottoman Empire to find a way to stop the Muslim troops from fighting. He agreed to the Kaiser's demands and sent Enver Pasha (not the future Young Turk leader) to China in 1901, but the rebellion was over by that time. Enver Pasha's official mission was to help the eight nation alliance "pacify" the Muslims of China, from whom they feared would join the Boxers in offering fierce resistance. Some westerners pointed out that the Ottomans had very little knowledge and connection to the Chinese Muslims, who did not recognize the Ottoman Sultan as Caliph.

The Muslim General Ma Anliang personally joined the Kansu Braves as they escorted the Imperial Court to safety. Ma Anliang had a long military career in the Chinese Imperial Army, having previously led Chinese Imperial Army Muslim troops to fight the Turkic Muslim Andijani Uzbek fighters of Yaqub Beg, who was backed by the Ottoman Turks and the British.

Another General, Ma Yukun, who commanded a separate unit, was believed to be the son of the Muslim General Ma Rulong by the Europeans. Ma Yugun fought with some success against Japan in the First Sino-Japanese War and in the Boxer Rebellion at the Battle of Yangcun and Battle of Tientsin. Ma Yugun was under General Song Qing's command as deputy commander.

Han troops

Tenacious Army
Chinese troops in 1900
Han General Nie Shicheng who fought both the Boxers and the Allies

The Han Chinese Imperial army forces were led by Generals Nie Shicheng, Ma Yukun, and Song Qing. Some of the Chinese Imperial army forces fought the Boxers and the Alliance forces at the same time. General Nie's army was one of these. The Boxers and General Nie's army both beat the Alliance army under Seymour.

Manchu Bannermen

Three modernized divisions consisting of Manchu Banner armies protected the Beijing Metropolitan region. Two of them were under the command of the pro foreign Ronglu and Prince Qing, while the Hushenying was commanded by the anti foreign Prince Duan. Prince Qing declined to join the attack on the legations and even ordered his own Manchu Bannermen to attack the Boxers and the Muslim Kansu braves, while Prince Duan's Hushenying Manchu banners joined the Kansu Braves and Boxers in attacking the foreigners and against Prince Qing's banners. It was a Hushenying Manchu captain who assassinated the German diplomat Ketteler. They were totally smashed at the end of the war and left only the Muslim Kansu Braves to guard the Imperial court. Among the Manchu dead was the father of the writer Lao She. Prince Duan commanded his own Manchu Bannermen division, Hushenying, "Marksmen for the Tiger Hunt," also known as the "Tiger Spirit Division" (虎神营). It had 10,000 troops in it. It was one of the three modernized Manchu Banner Divisions. The Russians invaded Manchuria during the fighting. The defending Manchu bannermen were annihilated as they fought to the death, their garrisons falling one at a time against a five pronged Russian invasion. The Russians looted their villages and property and then burnt them to ashes.


Controversies and changing views of the Boxers

A company of Boxers in Tianjin.
A Foreign Soldier sits on the Dragon Throne.

From the beginning, views differed as to whether the Boxers were better seen as anti-imperialist or as "uncivilized" and futile opponents of inevitable change. The historian Joseph Esherick comments that "confusion about the Boxer Uprising is not simply a matter of popular misconceptions," for "there is no major incident in China's modern history on which the range of professional interpretation is so great."

The failures of the Boxer Rebellion initially humiliated educated Chinese nationalists, who disdained them for their superstition and aggression. Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of the Republic of China and of the Nationalist Party at first believed that the Boxer Movement was stirred up by the Qing government’s rumors, which “caused confusion among the populace,” and led to his “scathing criticism” of the Boxers’ “anti-foreignism and obscurantism.” Sun praised the Boxers for their "spirit of resistance" but called them "bandits," as many educated Chinese of his generation did. Students of the time shared an ambivalent attitude to the Boxers, stating that while the uprising originated from the "ignorant and stubborn people of the interior areas", their beliefs were "brave and righteous", and could "be transformed into a moving force for independence". After the fall of the Qing dynasty, nationalist Chinese too became sympathetic to the Boxers. In 1918 Sun praised the Boxers for fighting against foreign imperialism. He said the Boxers were courageous and fearless, fighting to the death against the Alliance armies,specifically the Battle of Yangcun. Chen Duxiu forgave the "barbarism of the Boxer... given the crime foreigners committed in China", and contended that it was those "subservient to the foreigners" that truly "deserved our resentment".

Views of the Boxers Chinese were complex and contentious even among certain foreigners. Mark Twain said that "the Boxer is a patriot. He loves his country better than he does the countries of other people. I wish him success." The Russian writer Leo Tolstoy also praised the Boxers. He was harshly critical of the atrocities he heard reports of being committed by the Russians and other western troops. He accused them of engaging in slaughter when he heard reports about the lootings, rapes, and murders, in what he saw as Christian brutality. He accused Nicholas II of Russia and Wilhelm II of Germany of being chiefly responsible.

In the People's Republic of China, orthodox textbooks used to analyze the Boxer movement as an anti-imperialist, patriotic peasant movement whose failure was due to the lack of leadership from the modern working class. In recent decades, however, large-scale projects of village interviews and explorations of archival sources have led historians to take a more nuanced view. Some non-Chinese scholars, such as Joseph Esherick, have seen the movement as anti-imperialist; while others view this interpretation as anachronistic in that the Chinese nation had not been formed and the Boxers were more concerned with regional issues. Paul Cohen's recent history includes a survey of "the Boxers as myth," showing how their memory was used in changing ways in 20th-century China from the New Culture Movement to the Cultural Revolution.

In recent years the Boxers have been debated in the People's Republic, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. The philosopher Tang Junyi viewed the Boxer Uprising as a religious war between the Chinese and Christianity. In 1998, the critical scholar Wang Yi argued that the Boxers had features in common with the Cultural Revolution. Both events had the external goal of “liquidating all harmful pests” and the domestic goal of “eliminating bad elements of all descriptions” and this relation was rooted in “cultural obscurantism.” Wang traced the changes in attitudes towards the Boxers from the condemnation of the May Fourth Movement to the approval expressed by Mao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution. In 2006 Yuan Weishi, a professor of philosophy at Zhongshan University in Guangzhou, criticized the official government-issued middle schools history textbooks. Yuan wrote that the Boxers by their "criminal actions brought unspeakable suffering to the nation and its people! These are all facts that everybody knows, and it is a national shame that the Chinese people cannot forget." For many years, history text books had been lacking in neutrality in presenting the Boxer Rebellion as a "magnificent feat of patriotism", and not presenting the view that the majority of the Boxer rebels were both violent and xenophobic. These views were criticized and some labeled Yuan Weishi "Hanjian" (漢奸, betrayer of the Han).

Terminology of the Boxers: "rebellion" or "uprising"?

The first reports coming from China in 1898 referred to the village activists as “Yihequan,” (Wade-Giles: I Ho Ch'uan). The first known use of the term "Boxer" was September 1899 in a letter from missionary Grace Newton in Shangdong. It appears from context that "Boxer" was a known term by that time, possibly coined by the Shandong missionaries Arthur H. Smith and Henry Porter. Smith says in his book of 1902 that the name

I Ho Ch'uan... literally denotes the 'Fists' (Ch'uan) of Righteousness (or Public) (I) Harmony (Ho), in apparent allusion to the strength of united force which was to be put forth. As the Chinese phrase 'fists and feet' signifies boxing and wrestling, there appeared to be no more suitable term for the adherents of the sect than 'Boxers,' a designation first used by one or two missionary correspondents of foreign journals in China, and later universally accepted on account of the difficulty of coining a better one.

On 6 June 1900 the Times of London used the term “rebellion” in quotation marks, presumably to indicate their view that the rising was in fact instigated by the Empress Dowager. The historian Lanxin Xiang refers to the “so called ‘Boxer Rebellion,’” and explains that “while peasant rebellion was nothing new in Chinese history, a war against the world’s most powerful states was.” The name “Boxer Rebellion,” concludes Joseph Esherick, another recent historian, is truly a “misnomer,” for the Boxers “never rebelled against the Manchu rulers of China and their Qing dynasty” and the “most common Boxer slogan, throughout the history of the movement, was “support the Qing, destroy the Foreign.” He adds that only after the movement was suppressed by the Allied Intervention did both the foreign powers and influential Chinese officials realize that the Qing would have to remain as government of China in order to maintain order and collect taxes to pay the indemnity. Therefore in order to save face for the Empress Dowager and the Manchu court, the argument was made that the Boxers were rebels and that support from the court came only from a few Manchu princes. Esherick concludes that the origin of the term “rebellion” was “purely political and opportunistic,” but it has shown a remarkable staying power, particularly in popular accounts.

Other recent Western works refer to the "Boxer Movement," "Boxer War," or Yihetuan Movement.

Chinese studies use 义和团运动 (Yihetuan yundong), that is, "Yihetuan Movement."

In fiction

  • Probably the first reference to the Boxer Rebellion was made in the Polish play The Wedding by Stanisław Wyspiański, first published on 16 March 1901, even before the rebellion was finally crushed. The character of Czepiec asks the Journalist (Dziennikarz) one of the best-known questions in the history of Polish literature: "Cóz tam, panie, w polityce? Chińczyki trzymają się mocno!? ("How are things in politics, Mister? Are the Chinese holding out firmly!?").
  • G. A. Henty, With the Allies to Pekin, a Tale of the Relief of the Legations (New York: Scribners, 1903; London: Blackie, 1904). Juvenile fiction by a widely read author, depicting the Boxers as "a mob of ruffians".
  • A falsified diary, Diary of his Excellency Ching-Shan: Being a Chinese Account of the Boxer Troubles, including text written by Edmund Backhouse, who said he recovered the document from a burnt building. It is suspected that Backhouse falsified the document, as well as other stories, because he was prone to tell tales dubious in nature, including claims of nightly visits to the Empress Dowager Cixi.
  • The rebellion is mentioned in the Hergé Tintin story " The Blue Lotus" by Tintin's Chinese friend Chang Chong-Chen when they first meet after Tintin saves the boy from drowning. It is a pivotal and poignant moment relating to the views Chinese and European people had of each other at the time. The boy asks Tintin why he saved him from drowning as, according to Chang's uncle who fought in the Rebellion, all white people were wicked.
  • The novel Moment In Peking (1939), by Lin Yutang, opens during the Boxer Rebellion, and provides a child's-eye view of the turmoil through the eyes of the protagonist.
  • The Douglas Reeman novel The First to Land (New York, 1984), part of the Bluewood saga, depicts an officer of Royal Marines during the siege of Peking.
  • The Diamond Age or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (New York, 1996), by Neal Stephenson, includes a quasi-historical re-telling of the Boxer Rebellion as an integral component of the novel
  • The novel The Palace of Heavenly Pleasure (2003), by Adam Williams, describes the experiences of a small group of foreign missionaries, traders and railway engineers in a fictional town in northern China shortly before and during the Boxer Rebellion.
  • The Last Empress (Boston, 2007), by Anchee Min, describes the long reign of the Empress Dowager Cixi in which the siege of the legations is one of the climactic events in the novel.
  • In the videogame Bioshock Infinite, the fictional 'floating city' of Columbia was said to be involved in the Boxer rebellion by gunning down Chinese civilians.
  • The Boxer Rebellion is the setting for important flashbacks to the lives of main characters Angel and Spike in the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.
  • Mo, Yan. Sandalwood Death = (Tanxiang Xing): A Novel. Translated by Howard Goldblatt. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013. ISBN 9780806143392. Set during Boxer Uprising.

Film, stage, and television

  • The 1937 movie Alarm in Peking was a German adventure film with the Boxer rebellion as background. Starring Gustav Fröhlich, it was shot in Berlin and internationally released in Portugal, Norway, the Netherlands, and in Japan, in 1937 and 1938.
  • The 1963 film 55 Days at Peking was a dramatization of the Boxer rebellion starring Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner and David Niven. Shot in Spain, it needed thousands of Chinese extras, and the company sent scouts throughout Spain to hire as many as they could find.
  • In 1975 Hong Kong's Shaw Brothers studio produced the film Boxer Rebellion (八國聯軍, Pa kuo lien chun) under director Chang Cheh with one of the highest budgets to tell a sweeping story of disillusionment and revenge. It depicted followers of the Boxer clan being duped into believing they were impervious to attacks by firearms. The film starred Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan Chun, Wang Lung-Wei and Richard Harrison.
  • In 1981, Hong Kong's Shaw Brothers released Legendary Weapons of China under director Lau Kar Leung, this one more of a comedy starring Hsiao Ho (Hsiao Hou) as a disillusioned boxer of the Magic Clan who is sent to assassinate the former leader of a powerful boxer clan who refuses to dupe his students into believing they are impervious to firearms.
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Fool for Love" (2001) Spike recounts his killing of a Slayer at the Boxer Rebellion, and the following Angel episode "Darla" shows the same events from Darla's point of view.
  • The 2003 movie, Shanghai Knights, starring Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson, shows that the Boxers still exist, working for Lord Rathbone, who wants to assassinate many members of the British Royal Family.
  • The movie Fearless / Huo Yuan Jia (Original title) (2006), by " Ronny Yu", featuring Jet Li as " Huo Yuan Jia" is a biopic of master Huo's life from 1869–1910 and describes the creation of the " Chin Woo Athletic Association". In the movie Huo defeats enemies from different imperialistic nations of the time in a competition that was meant to ridicule China. Based on historical events, the movie alludes to the creation of The Association of Heavenly Fists and one can infer that the boxer rebellion occurred after these events because Huo's actions inspired the Chinese people to rise in defiance. After his death, Huo became a national hero and is remembered to this day as a symbol of national pride and unity.
  • In the Dad's Army episode Museum Piece Jones and Walker find a rocket-artillery launcher used against the Boxers (to which Jones replies "the poor creatures!"). Back at the Church Hall Jones and Walker show the weapon to the rest of the Platoon but Mainwaring says they'll take it back to the museum as it's too antiquated, claiming something like "warfare has progressed a bit since the rocket".
  • In Torchwood: Miracle Day episode, " The Blood Line", Jack Harkness tells Gwen Cooper and Oswald Danes that he was in China for the Boxer Rebellion.

In art

The rebellion was covered in the foreign illustrated press by artists and photographers. Paintings and prints were also published including Japanese wood-blocks.

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