Sunday, August 13, 2006
The Boxer Rebellion Ends, August 14, 1900
Today, August 14, in the year 1900, an international force featuring British,
Russian, American, Japanese, French, and German troops relieved the
Chinese capital of Peking after fighting its way 80 miles from the port of
Tientsin. The Chinese nationalists, which had been besieging Peking's
diplomatic quarter for almost 2 months, were crushed, and the Boxer
Rebellion effectively came to an end.
By the end of the 19th century, the Western powers and Japan had forced
China's ruling Ch'ing dynasty to accept wide foreign control over the
country's economic affairs. In the Opium Wars, popular rebellions, and the
Sino-Japanese War, China had fought to resist the foreigners, but it lacked a
modern military and millions died as a consequence.
In 1898, Tz'u Hsi, the dowager empress, gained control of the Chinese
government in a conservative coup against the Emperor Kuang-hsu, her
adoptive son and an advocate of reforms. Tz'u Hsi had previously served as
ruler of China in various regencies and was deeply anti-foreign in her
ideology. In 1899, her court began to secretly support the anti-foreign rebels
known as the I Ho Ch'uan, or the "Righteous and Harmonious Fists."
The I Ho Ch'uan was a secret society formed with the original goal of
expelling the foreigners and overthrowing the Ch'ing dynasty. The group
practiced a ritualistic form of martial arts that they believed gave them
supernatural powers and made them impervious to bullets. After witnessing
their fighting displays, Westerners named members of the society "Boxers."
Most Boxers came from northern China, where natural calamities and
foreign aggression in the late 1890s had ruined the economy. The ranks of
the I Ho Ch'uan swelled with embittered peasants who directed their anger
against Christian converts and foreign missionaries, whom they blamed for
their misery and saw as a threat to their traditional ways.
After the dowager empress returned to power, the Boxers pushed for an
alliance with the imperial court against the foreigners. Tz'u Hsi gave her
tacit support to their growing violence against the Westerners and their
institutions, and some officials even incorporated the Boxers into local
militias. Open attacks on missionaries and Chinese Christians began in late
1899, and by May 1900 bands of Boxers had begun gathering in the
countryside around Peking. In spite of threats by the foreign powers, the
empress dowager began openly supporting the Boxers.
In early June, an international relief force of 2,000 soldiers was dispatched
by Western and Japanese authorities from the port of Tientsin to Peking. The
empress dowager ordered Imperial forces to block the advance of the
foreigners, and the relief force was turned back. Meanwhile, the Peking-
Tientsin railway line and other railroads were destroyed by the Chinese. On
June 13, the Boxers, now roughly 140,000 strong, moved into Peking and
began burning churches and foreign residences. On June 17, the foreign
powers seized forts between Tientsin and Peking, and the next day Tz'u Hsi
called on all Chinese to attack foreigners. On June 20, the German
ambassador Baron von Ketteler was killed en route to a meeting with the
Chinese government and the Boxers began besieging the foreign legations in
the diplomatic quarter of the Chinese capital.
As the foreign powers organized a multinational force to crush the rebellion,
the siege of the Peking legations stretched into weeks, and the diplomats,
their families, and guards suffered through hunger and degrading conditions
as they fought desperately to keep the Boxers at bay. Eventually, an
expedition of 19,000 multinational troops pushed their way to Peking after
fighting two major battles against the Boxers. On August 14, the eight-
nation allied relief force captured Peking and liberated the legations. The
foreign troops routed the Boxers then commenced to looting the city, while
the empress and her court fled to the north. The victorious powers began
work on a peace settlement.
Due to mutual jealousies between the nations, it was agreed that China
would not be partitioned further, and in September 1901 the Peking Protocol
was signed, formally ending the Boxer Rebellion. By the terms of
agreement, the foreign nations received extremely favorable commercial
treaties with China, foreign troops were permanently stationed in Peking,
and China was forced to pay $333 million as penalty for its rebellion. China
was effectively a subject nation. The Boxers had failed to expel the
foreigners, but their rebellion set the stage for the successful Chinese
revolutions of the 20th century.
On a related note, while doing my research for this episode, I came across a
piece of information that I found interesting. I mentioned the city of
Tientsin a few times in this episode. It was an important city on the railway
line to Peking and the defenses of the international settlement there were laid
out by a young American engineer named Herbert Hoover who would later
become President of the United States.