Essay title - Chinese Boxers and the uprising against the West

To fully understand the Boxer movement there needs to be an understanding of why it started. From anti-foreign ideas and activities in the Chinese society and in the Qing dynasty to economic hardships and natural disasters, the peasants who transformed into Boxers felt they had no other option but to fight against the “foreign devils.” Although it was well into the movement before Qing government took an official stance supporting the Boxer movement, Chinese society was never a very welcoming place for foreign influence. Everyone from ordinary people to the highest officials both feared and hated the newest people to come into their already established society.

In the earliest of times foreigners were looked at by the Chinese as devils. Even though after 1860 Western missionaries were given the option to come into the country and construct churches many Chinese were angered with their presence. The biggest anti-missionary attitude came from the scholar-gentry class. These gentlemen passed rigorous government examinations to become social leaders and felt the missionaries were threatening their positions by carrying out social welfare measures and enjoying special rights in law once only given to the scholar-gentry. Missionaries also preached against worshipping ancestors and spoke out against Confucianism which further upset the standards of being scholar-gentry. As a result, these men often secretly and indirectly supported anti-foreign activities in society.

Although the scholar-gentry classes were more eager to protest ordinary Chinamen both feared and hated foreign missionaries as well. The ordinary man saw how missionaries would use money to attract believers. By using this tactic they often attracted the unjust who committed several crimes believed to be looked over by the missionaries and also saw how the missionaries would protect these bullies so they would not lose their followers. Superstition also grew rapidly as a reason to hate the missionaries. Rumors spilled all over that missionaries raped Chinese women and took out children’s eyes in the church. As well, fortune tellers and Taoist magicians announced that missionaries disturbed feng-shui and the result would be great natural disasters. The Chinese believed deeply that the railways and telegraph lines that were strewn across China were upsetting the gods and fears were enhanced by the rusty red water that would fall from the telegraph lines which the Chinese feared was the blood of the Gods warning them against the Westerners. Combined all of these reasons gave cause for ordinary men to ask for removal of foreigners from government power and believed by pushing the Westerners out was the only way to please the Gods again.

In most countries a rebellion up rises against a tyranist government, but in this instance the Qing government seems only to add fuel to the fire encouraging the rebellious movement of the Boxers. Persons like the Empress Dowager, Kang-I, and Prince Tuan made clear their hatred of the foreigners and would eventually give relief aid to the Boxer movement in the form of extra soldiers. Empress Dowager remembered being forced to leave the capital when Anglo-French forces invaded Peking in 1860 using hatred to block concessions and resist foreign imperialism. Manchu conservatives like Kang-I and Prince Tuan had just re-established their influences after the Hundred Day Reform and had great fear that allowing the Western reform would weaken them and destroy Chinese culture. As a whole a large percentage of Chinese officials belonged to the scholar-gentry class and were therefore themselves anti-foreign. IN order to run local administration in society the government relied on the scholar-gentry to be onboard with all decisions made. This caused Chinese officials to turn a blind eye to the anti-foreign uprisings that were taking place.

With Chinese aggression in an uproar the Western powers and the missionaries had to take a strong stance toward China as well which further increased the tensions between the two groups. From 1870 to 1894, the Western powers adopted a “gunboat” policy in dealing with China: they used force to get what they wanted (Boxer Rebellion). In 1897, for example, the Germans occupied Kiaochow in Shantung this only increased the fear ordinary people had toward the Western powers. As the powers that be took what they wanted by force the Western missionaries snuck in the back door and interfered in Chinese policy to get more believers to their side. They also often misused their treaty rights and even at one time went as far as demanding the transfer of two Qing provincial governors. These sneaky tactics made the Chinese fear that the missionaries could do anything they wanted in government and the officials would never notice they were taking anything.

Even though aggressions between the Chinese and the West did not make an easy situation the biggest factor in the rise of the Boxers came in the form of economic hardship and natural disasters. By 1900, the value of China’s imports was four times that of her exports (Boxer Rebellion). This had two great effects on the Chinese culture, the first being that of great unemployment due to the import of cheap foreign goods that could be sold two-thirds cheaper than Chinese goods. Secondly, foreign economic exploitation caused the Qing dynasty to become very poor. This economic downfall forced the Qing dynasty to pass this on to the people in the form of taxes on the already impoverished, unemployed Chinese. With the rise of imports came the rise of railways which devastated the Grand Canal and caused innkeepers and boatmen to no longer be of use. Those who were out of jobs rushed into Shantung where the Boxer movement was believed to have its origins.

To further escalate the economic hardships there rose the extreme natural disasters of the late 19th Century. With the flood of the Yellow River in 1898 the Shantung province was hard hit and the people there lost food, shelter, and many family members. Then in 1900, on the heels of recovering from the Great flood North China was hit with a serious drought that also claimed the lives of many. The combination of the great flood and the following drought created one of the largest famines known to man. As it was believed that all these natural disasters were caused by the presence of the foreigners, anti-foreign feelings only spread (boxer rebellion). These hardships were the beginning of the Boxer uprising and a long series of deaths of the foreign powers.

A huge debate has long gone on about the objectives and origins of the Boxer uprising. For the most part it is believed to have started in Shantung one of the hardest hit provinces by economic hardships and natural disasters. Shantung was traditionally famous for its long history of rebellions led by secret societies. The Boxers were poor peasants found among Shantung that had a firm belief in China’s ancient ways. Boxers derived their names from the martial art rituals they were often seen doing that put them into trances where they were believed to have been channeling Gods. When a Boxer would invoke a particular God he would take on their characteristics and the believers would feel that the God was there to protect them. This invoking of Gods was one way the Boxers would captivate new members into joining. The aims of the Boxers were in the beginning anti-dynastic and anti-foreign. Boxers hated and feared foreigners and they also blamed the Qing dynasty for being weak and inefficient in allowing the foreign influence in. Although after some time the Boxer movement moved more into the mainstream and gained many followers even some in the government. From 1895 to 1898, Shantung was under the rule of Governor Li Ping-heng; he secretly encouraged the Boxers to attack Christian missionaries (boxer rebellion). In early 1900 Empress Dowager was convinced of the Boxer’s strength and usefulness and ordered half of the regular government troops to join them. Government officials even began to mimic the boxing and martial art methods of the new found saviors of the Chinese.

On the last day of 1899, in Shantung, the Boxers claimed their first missionary victim (boxer rebellion). The gruesome murder of the Reverend Sidney Brooks instilled fear in the Western powers and gave them cause to join together against the Boxer movement. By June the threat to foreigners was so serious Britain sent a force of 2000 men under Admiral Seymour to protect legations in Peking (Roberts 199). The Boxers cut off the soldiers and forced them to retreat and on June 21, 1900 Empress Dowager officially declared war against the foreign powers. China officials came out in support of the Boxer movement, the most notorious example being that of Yu Xian, now governor of Shanxi, who rounded up and executed 44 men, women and children from missionary families (Roberts 199). Foreign legations were besieged for 55 days and relief came in the form of the Eight-Nation Alliance which consisted of the United States, Austria-Hungry, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United Kingdom. Eventually the Boxers were defeated and the streams of concessions were started.

Soon after the end of the Boxer uprising the Boxer protocol was created and stated the concessions China must make to be forgiven. The following terms had to be met (Boxer Rebellion):

The effect of these concessions weighed greatly on the Chinese economy. The large indemnity imposed a financial burden on the already suffering Chinese economy. Although the United States lead the way in waiving payment the effects were still great. Also the Allied Expedition’s brutal demonstration of power and China’s quick defeat greatly hurt the Chinese pride and self-respect. The Chinese attitude toward the foreigners quickly changed from on of hatred to one of great fear. With the barbarous nature of the Boxers foreign powers were also less likely to revise unequal treaties, especially treaty rights like extra-territoriality thus delaying China’s chance of recovering national rights. The uprising also lead to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 when the Russians refused Japanese demands to withdraw from the provinces they were in during the boxer movement.

The Boxer movement was but one of the many rebellions in China’s history although it was looked upon as the worst. This rebellion made for a break in the Chinese economy and also a break in the Qing Dynasty which came to an end shortly after the occurrence. The Boxers felt impoverished and helpless in a time of great tragedy. The strongly believed that by making the foreigners leave they would be restoring order to their failing nation. Even with these tragic happening of the past China has recovered and become a strong nation of its own, but without this rebellion who knows where China would be today.

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