Author: Jeffrey L.
The Boxer Rebellion, Boxer Uprising or Yihetuan Movement was an anti-imperialist uprising which took place in China towards the end of the Qing dynasty between 1899 and 1901. It was initiated by the Militia United in Righteousness (Yihetuan), known in English as the "Boxers," and was motivated by proto-nationalist sentiments and opposition to foreign imperialism and associated Christian missionary activity. The Great Powers intervened and defeated Chinese forces.
The uprising took place against a background of severe drought and the disruption caused by the growth of foreign spheres of influence. After several months of growing violence against the foreign and Christian presence in Shandong and the North China plain, in June 1900, Boxer fighters, convinced they were invulnerable to foreign weapons, converged on Beijing with the slogan "Support Qing government and exterminate the foreigners." Foreigners and Chinese Christians sought refuge in the Legation Quarter. In response to reports of an armed invasion to lift the siege, the initially hesitant Empress Dowager Cixi supported the Boxers and on June 21 declared war on the foreign powers. Diplomats, foreign civilians and soldiers as well as Chinese Christians in the Legation Quarter were placed under siege by the Imperial Army of China and the Boxers for 55 days.
Chinese officialdom was split between those supporting the Boxers and those favoring conciliation, led by Prince Qing. The supreme commander of the Chinese forces, the Manchu General Ronglu (Junglu), 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 September 7, 1901 provided for the execution of government officials who had supported the Boxers, provisions for foreign troops to be stationed in Beijing, and 450 million taels of silver—more than the government's annual tax revenue—to be paid as indemnity over the course of the next thirty-nine years to the eight nations involved.
Origins of the Boxers
The Righteous and Harmonious Fists or "Boxers United in Righteousness" (Yihequan/I-ho-chuan) was a secret society which arose in the inland sections of northern coastal province of Shandong. American missionaries were probably the first to refer to the well-trained, athletic young men as "Boxers," because of the martial arts and calisthenics they practiced. The Boxers' primary practice was spirit possession, which involved "the whirling of swords, violent prostrations, and chanting incantations to Taoist and Buddhist spirits".
The excitement and moral force of these possession rituals was especially attractive to unemployed and powerless village men, many of whom were teenagers. The Boxers believed that through training, diet, martial arts and prayer they could perform extraordinary feats, such as flight. Furthermore, they popularly claimed that millions of spirit soldiers would descend from the heavens and assist them in purifying China of foreign oppression. The Boxers, armed with rifles and swords, claimed supernatural invulnerability towards blows of cannon, rifle shots, and knife attacks. The Boxer beliefs were characteristic of millenarian movements, related to such practices as the Native American Ghost Dance, a practice of a different society under stress.
A Boxer during the revolt
Several secret societies in Shandong prepared the way for the Boxers. In spite of ambivalence toward their heterodox practices, in 1895, Yuxian, a Manchu who was then prefect of Caozhou and would later become provincial governor, used the Big Swords Society in fighting bandits. The Big Swords, emboldened by this official support, also attacked their local Catholic village rivals, who turned to the Church for protection. The Big Swords responded by attacking Catholic churches and burning them. "The line between Christians and bandits," remarks one recent historian, "became increasingly indistinct." As a result of diplomatic pressure in the capital, Yuxian executed several Big Sword leaders, but did not punish anyone else. More secret societies started emerging after this.
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