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Impact of Boxer Rebellion on China’s World Relations

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Published: Fri, 29 Sep 2017

What impact did the Boxer Rebellion have on China’s relations with the rest of the world?

The Boxer Rebellion instigated an unprecedented coordinated military response from international powers after The Righteous and Harmonious Fists more commonly known as the Boxers had mutilated and slaughtered thousands of Chinese Christian converts, Western missionaries and foreign nationals.[1] The atrocities occurred between 1898 and 1900 when the Boxers began targeting their perceived enemies in the Shandong region of China before spreading north to Beijing. The Boxers could not differentiate between the Christian missionaries’ desire to proselytise China’s peasants and forced westernisation. This paper contends that the Boxer Rebellion both wounded and opened relations between China and the outside world. Clearly, the discriminate violence of the Boxers shocked and angered the international community.[2] Therefore, far from achieving their objective of purging China from globalisation and the westernisation of Chinese peasants, it caused the world to hone in on China. Inadvertently the Boxer Rebellion opened international relationships with China and the outside world. Countries like the United States refrained from argumentative dialogue and began to have meaningful diplomatic discussions with the Chinese government. Nevertheless, the Boxer Protocol, signed in 1901, seriously affected China’s relationship with the world. The protocol virtually bankrupted China’s economy. The Qing Dynasty was forced to pay three hundred and thirty three million United State dollars indemnity to foreign countries affected by the Boxer’s violence.[3] The Boxer Rebellion like the majority of insurrections has no narrative from the insurgents. The historiographies of rebellions are a combination of texts of victims, politicians, historians and other academics as in the case the Boxer Rebellion. The majority of eyewitness accounts are usually anonymous but reveal the harsh reality of death associated with insurrections. Cohen gives a perfect example of this when he cites an eyewitness account of a Chinese individual who witnessed the scene of death during the Boxer Rebellion in Tianjing in 1900, the eyewitness describes the atrocities of the rebellion, they declare,

‘There are many corpses floating in the river. Some were without heads, others were missing limbs. The bodies of women often had their nipples cut off and their genitalia mutilated… There were also bodies in shallow areas by the banks with flocks of crows pecking away at them. The smell was so bad we had to cover our noses the whole day. Still, no one came out to collect the bodies for burial. People said that they were all Christians who had been killed by the Boxers and the populace dare not get involved.’[4]

Boyd contends that ‘most Westerners went to China to make money or to make converts.’[5] Neither reason was popular with the Righteous Harmonious Fists (Boxers). They viewed themselves as representatives of the Chinese peasantry and rigorously opposed all foreigners. Although, by the end of the nineteenth century, China’s population had reached three hundred and fifty million the majority of Chinese peasants had never encountered foreigners or Western missionaries.[6] Nevertheless, the Boxers held a strong belief that foreigners and Christian missionaries were responsible for the breakdown in the fabric of simple Chinese peasant society and they dishonoured their traditional spiritual and community. Furthermore, the Boxers attributed China’s natural disasters such as flood, drought and famine to the corruption of Christianity. Drought followed the great flood of the Yellow River in 1898 and left two million peasants starving and desperate. The Boxers a bottom up organisation without official leadership saw themselves as representatives of the peasantry in the Shandong region of northern China.[7] Likewise, the missionaries imposed power in the villages they occupied and they were involved in legal decision-making. The missionaries infuriated the Boxers even more because they were not just content to proselytise Christianity they also rejected Confucianism.[8] Harrison contends that the Boxers believed Catholic missionaries posed the greatest threat to Chinese morality. She argues that the Boxers targeted villages where the well-established Catholic missionaries had taken on the role of officials. The Boxers believed that because central government had failed to tackle the issue of village politics and moral issues they would take the law into their own hands.[9] However, this argument is neutralised by the excessive violence and murder of Catholics committed by the Boxers in the villages of central Shanxi.[10]

The Boxers believed they were impervious to pain; they could withstand attack from both sword, and bullet. Their strange beliefs made them merciless fighters and a therefore a dangerous enemy of foreigners, Chinese Christian converts and missionaries. Even if their beliefs were well founded and justifiable, their methods of resolving their perceived problems were inexcusable and crude.[11] The Boxers fervent mystical beliefs are not a new phenomenon because allegedly, in preceding years Chinese peasants had experienced similar supernatural powers following natural disasters. Male peasants believed that they acquired special ‘religious’ spiritual powers to overcome the disasters.[12] However, the Boxers method of dealing with the threat was incomprehensible. Fleming’s contentious claim that at the beginning of the Boxer regime, ninety percent of the Boxers were just peasants in ‘fancy dress’ is debateable. However, he declares that as time went by their ‘sartorial costume’ of red and yellow turbans and sashes became less important and the majority of Boxers held strong political ideologies.[13]

Following the suppression of the Boxer’s by the international counterinsurgency force,[14] each nation affected by Boxer violence sought retribution. However, some nations were less harsh than others were. For example, the United States highlighted this in their response. Secretary of State John Hay fearing China’s partition by European nations following the Boxer Rebellion issued a memorandum in July 1900 to those countries affected by the rebellion. Hay suggested that they should continue to support China’s ‘administrative and territorial integrity.’[15] In reality the United States were protecting their own trading interests in China. Furthermore, the United States practised a strict anti-imperialistic foreign policy.[16] However, the United States outward support of the Qing Dynasty was a contradiction of their policies towards Chinese immigrants. Ironically, the Chinese Exclusion Act 1882 and the Geary Act 1892 effectively prevented Chinese people from entering America.[17]

After the suppression on the Boxer Rebellion, China supported American military presence in Beijing to repel any further rebellions following the defeat of the Boxers. The United States politely refused and withdrew from China in October 1900. The commander of the American counterinsurgency force stated,

‘Let us hope that this generous, charitable, and magnanimous treatment of the vanquished may prove an example to the nations of the world, and a step forward in the world’s progress toward a higher and nobler humanity. We are glad to know that this work is appreciated to you. It is needless to tell you, however, that the United States does not maintain an army for the purpose of furnishing the city of Peking with good municipal government, and as a business proposition your appeal for the United States forces to remain longer in Peking has little to stand upon.[18]

Britain was slow to respond to the Boxer Rebellion.[19] However, retrospectively the Boxer Rebellion caused Britain to adopt a more vigorous foreign policy. Indeed, because of the inadequacies of the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary Lord Salisbury in dealing with the Boxer Rebellion, the Conservative government made significant changes to the Diplomatic Service.[20] Sir Claude MacDonald the British minister in Beijing despite being fully aware of the Boxers violence against foreigners, Christian converts and missionaries in northern China refused to contemplate that the Boxer would spread across China.[21] Indeed, Otte contends that Britain’s blasé attitude to the Boxer violence only changed after the siege of Beijing legation district that began on June 14th 1900. For fifty-five days, the Boxers laid siege to the square mile legation district in Beijing.[22]

When the multilateral counterinsurgency force finally arrived in Beijing in August 1900, they displayed to the world for the first time that a sense of unity was possible. The multilateral force consisted of all the nations who had personnel in the legation. The force consisted of approximately twenty thousand troops. The Japanese were the dominant force with ten thousand troops. Japan demonstrated to China and the world that the importance of China was truly international and not just Eurocentric.[23] Furthermore, the multilateral force with the aim of rescuing the personnel and their families from the Beijing Legation district were given different instructions from their governments. German emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II commanded his troops to show no mercy to the Boxers after they had murdered the German Minister in Beijing Baron von Ketteler. The Kaiser declared to his troops before they left Bremerhaven,

‘Just as the Huns a thousand years ago, under the leadership of Attila, gained a reputation by virtue of which they still live in historical tradition, so may the name of Germany become known in such a manner in China, that no Chinese will ever again to look askance at a German.’ [24]

Clearly, the Boxer Rebellion affected relations with Germany and this was borne out by the first point in the Boxer Protocol, it declared,

‘…….Prince of the First Rank, Chun, was appointed Ambassador of His Majesty the Emperor of China, and directed in that capacity to convey to His Majesty the German Emperor the expression of the regrets of His Majesty the Emperor of China and of the Chinese Government at the assassination of his Excellency the late Baron von Ketteler, German Minister……. The Chinese Government has stated that it will erect on the spot of the assassination of his Excellency the late Baron von Ketteler, commemorative monument worthy of the rank of the deceased, and bearing an inscription in the Latin, German, and Chinese languages which shall express the regrets of His Majesty the Emperor of China for the murder committed…[25]

The first article of the Boxer Protocol clearly highlights China’s humiliation. Germany like other governments wanted to punish and embarrass China after the Boxer Rebellion. The proceeding articles in the protocol all required apologies, monument erections, the destruction of Chinese arms and fortresses, and the forfeiture of land to foreign powers.[26] However, as previously mentioned, the most damaging article in the protocol was the three hundred and thirty three million dollar indemnity with four percent interest. Undoubtedly, the multilateral troops took revenge on the Boxers and their supporters, Boyd contends that rumours of looting, rape, and torture committed by multilateral troops spread throughout Beijing. [27] Schoppa argues that the Boxer Protocol is the lowest point in Chinese international relations and their ultimate humiliation. The protocol signed on the 7th September 1901 between China and the Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Spain, United States, France, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, and Russia was yet another unequal treaty that humiliated the Chinese government. The terms of the protocol not only restricted China’s domestic privileges, they increased foreign interests in China. Therefore, the fifty years of humiliation that began with China’s defeat in the Opium Wars extended into a new millennium. Therefore, the Boxer Protocol crippled Chinese spirit, economy and international prestige.[28]

Although, the Boxer Rebellion and the consequent protocol severely damaged China domestically and their international reputation it instigated the dismantlement of their biggest burden, the corrupt Qing Dynasty. The Empress Dowager Cixi deceived the international community by pretending that her troops were suppressing the Boxers. However, the reality was that she despised foreign intervention as much as the Boxers did. She cleverly encouraged the Boxers to turn the Chinese peasantry and country against the foreigners. The Boxers declared ‘Support the Qing, destroy the Foreigners.’ Foreigners included missionaries and Chinese Christian converts. As Esherick contends, the Boxer Rebellion was not a true rebellion, as they did not oppose the Chinese Qing government.[29] The rebellion failed to resemble the excepted definition as ‘an organized armed resistance to an established ruler or government.’[30] Once the Qing dynasty realised that counterinsurgency would overthrow the Boxers they soon renounced their involvement so they could continue in the eyes of the West as a legitimate government.[31] However, inevitably the Boxer Rebellion demonstrates that China’s international relations were damaged by the more primitive actions the Boxers and the more sophisticated and sinister intervention of the Qing Dynasty.[32]

In conclusion, the Boxer Rebellion clearly left an indelible mark on China both domestically and internationally. The ruthless action of the Boxers against foreigners, Chinese Christian converts, and missionaries was viewed by the outside world as unjustified and inexcusable. The Boxers clearly believed that they were acting in the best interests of peasants who made up the majority of the Chinese population. Their violent activities led to the Boxer Protocol in 1901 that almost bankrupted China through the huge financial reparations. The further articles of the protocol heaped further humiliation on China and allowed international powers access to prominent trading areas. However, arguably inadvertently the Boxer Rebellion prevented China from being colonised by major international powers. The Boxer Rebellion undoubtedly stirred the United States to intervene in order to save their trading rights in China. They sent a clear message to Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, and Russia to support China’s administrative and territorial integrity. Furthermore, the Boxer Rebellion was the catalyst for disintegration of the dishonest Qing Dynasty. Although, the Qing Dynasty under Empress Dowager Cixi supported the Boxers it was not to protect the interests of China’s peasantry. Even though the Boxer Rebellion eventually instigated improved foreign diplomacy, it is indisputable that their actions not only led to the massacres of foreigners, Chinese Christians and missionaries it led to thousands of deaths of their own people. The international counterinsurgency forces showed no mercy when they exacted retribution on the Boxers and their sympathisers. The ease in which the Boxers and Imperial guard were defeated by the multilateral counterinsurgency forces compelled the Chinese government to modernise their military. The Boxer Rebellion reiterated the Eurocentric ideology that the Chinese are uncivilised. Furthermore, the rebellion alienated the western community from China even though it inadvertently improved international diplomacy and rid China of the corrupt Qing Dynasty that ultimately led to China becoming a republic in 1912. The ease in which the Boxers and Imperial guard were defeated by the multilateral counterinsurgency forces compelled the Chinese government to modernise their military.

Bibliography

Books

  1. Boyd, J., A Dance with Dragon. The Vanished of Peking’s Foreign Policy (London: I. B. Tauris & Co. Ltd, 2012).
  2. Cashman, D., America in the Age of the Titans: The Progressive Era and World War I (New York: New York University Press, 1998).
  3. Cohen, Paul, in ‘Humanising the Boxers’, in Bickers, R. & Tiedemann, R. (eds), The Boxers, China, and the World (Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Ltd, 2007), pp. 179-197.
  4. Cullinane, M., Liberty and American Anti-Imperialism: 1898-1909 (New York: Palgrave MacMillian, 2012).
  5. Durschmeid, E,. Beware the Dragon, China: 1,000 Years of Bloodshed (London: Carlton Publishing Group, 2008).
  6. Esherick, J., The Origins of the Boxer Uprising (Oakland: University of California Press).
  7. Fleming, P., The Siege at Peking (Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd, 2001).
  8. Harrison, Henrietta, in ‘Humanising the Boxers’, in Bickers, R. & Tiedemann, R. (eds), The Boxers, China, and the World (Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Ltd, 2007), pp. 1-15.
  9. Otte, Thomas, ‘Heaven knows where we shall finally drift’: Lord Salisbury, the Cabinet, Isolation, and the Boxer Rebellion’ in Kennedy, G. & Neilson, K. (eds), Incidents and International Relations: People, Power, and Personalities (Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, 2002).
  10. Schoppa, K., The Columbia Guide to Modern Chinese History (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000).
  11. Seonnichsen, J., The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (Santa Barbara: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2011).
  12. Spence, J., The Searching of Modern China (London: Century Hutchinson Ltd, 1990).
  13. Steiner, Z., The Foreign Office and Foreign Policy, 1898-1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970).

Journals

  1. Oulett, ‘Multinational counterinsurgency: the Western intervention in the Boxer Rebellion 1900-1901’ Small Wars & Insurgencies. 20: 3.4 (2009): pp. 507-527.

Radio broadcast

  1. Bragg, M., ‘The Boxer Rebellion’ In our Time. BBC radio 4 archive broadcast (21.30, 9 March 2009)

Internet source

  1. ‘Rebellion.’ Oxford English Dictionary (03 April 2014). Available online: http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/159201?isAdvanced=false&result=1&rskey=nNKkrE& Date accessed: 02 April 2014.
  2. ‘Boxer Protocol, 1901, Peace Agreement between the Great Powers and China 09/07/190’ (03 April 2014) Available online: http://china.usc.edu/(S(ivfmlzuvquerbb45edthpbze)A(irVj2QZVywEkAAAAYWQzZmNiZGMtZTBhNC00MDc1LTg5ZTItOGQ4OGU4MGI0NTk3Uo36FF2grKtLe_4GD64z6sKQqsw1))/ShowArticle.aspx?articleID=420 Date accessed: 03 April 2014

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[1] Oulett, ‘Multinational counterinsurgency: the Western intervention in the Boxer Rebellion 1900-1901’ Small Wars & Insurgencies. 20: 3.4 (2009): p. 511.

[2] Durschmeid, E,. Beware the Dragon, China: 1,000 Years of Bloodshed (London: Carlton Publishing Group, 2008)p. 172.

[3] Spence, J., The Searching of Modern China (London: Century Hutchinson Ltd, 1990), p. 235.

[4] cited by Cohen, Paul, in ‘Humanising the Boxers’, in Bickers, R. & Tiedemann, R. (eds), The Boxers, China, and the World (Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Ltd, 2007), p. 186

[5] Boyd, J., A Dance with Dragon. The Vanished of Peking’s Foreign Policy (London: I. B. Tauris & Co. Ltd, 2012), p. xvi.

[6] Fleming, P., The Siege at Peking (Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd, 2001), p. 36.

[7] Bragg, M., ‘The Boxer Rebellion’ In our Time. BBC radio 4 archive broadcast (21.30, 9 March 2009)

[8] Ibid.

[9] Harrison, Henrietta, in ‘Humanising the Boxers’, in Bickers, R. & Tiedemann, R. (eds), The Boxers, China, and the World (Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Ltd, 2007), p. 12

[10] Harrison, Henrietta, in ‘Humanising the Boxers’, p. 7

[11] Oulett, ‘Multinational counterinsurgency: the Western intervention in the Boxer Rebellion 1900-1901’, p. 508.

[12] Bragg, M., ‘The Boxer Rebellion’ In our Time

[13] Fleming, The Siege at Peking, p.36.

[14] Oulett, ‘Multinational counterinsurgency: the Western intervention in the Boxer Rebellion 1900-1901’, p. 508.

[15] Cashman, D., America in the Age of the Titans: The Progressive Era and World War I (New York: New York University Press, 1998), p.436.

[16] Cullinane, M., Liberty and American Anti-Imperialism: 1898-1909 (New York: Palgrave MacMillian, 2012), p. 4.

[17] Seonnichsen, J., The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (Santa Barbara: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2011), p. xiv.

[18] cited in Oulett, ‘Multinational counterinsurgency: the Western intervention in the Boxer Rebellion 1900-1901’. p. 518.

[19] Otte, Thomas, ‘Heaven knows where we shall finally drift’: Lord Salisbury, the Cabinet, Isolation, and the Boxer Rebellion’ in Kennedy, G. & Neilson, K. (eds), Incidents and International Relations: People, Power, and Personalities (Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, 2002), p. 30.

[20] Steiner, Z., The Foreign Office and Foreign Policy, 1898-1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), p. 180.

[21] Otte, Thomas. ‘Heaven knows where we shall finally drift’: Lord Salisbury, the Cabinet, Isolation, and the Boxer Rebellion’, p. 26

[22] Otte, Thomas. ‘‘Heaven knows where we shall finally drift’: Lord Salisbury, the Cabinet, Isolation, and the Boxer Rebellion’, p. 29

[23] Bragg, M., ‘The Boxer Rebellion’ In our Time

[24] Fleming, The Siege at Peking, pp. 135-136

[25] ‘Boxer Protocol, 1901, Peace Agreement between the Great Powers and China’ (09/07/1901). Available online: http://china.usc.edu/(S(ivfmlzuvquerbb45edthpbze)A(irVj2QZVywEkAAAAYWQzZmNiZGMtZTBhNC00MDc1LTg5ZTItOGQ4OGU4MGI0NTk3Uo36FF2grKtLe_4GD64z6sKQqsw1))/ShowArticle.aspx?articleID=420 Date accessed: 03 April 2014

[26] Fleming, The Siege at Peking, pp. 250-251

[27] Boyd, J., A Dance with Dragon. The Vanished of Peking’s Foreign Policy, p. 22.

[28] Schoppa, K., The Columbia Guide to Modern Chinese History (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), p. 171.

[29] Esherick, J., The Origins of the Boxer Uprising (Oakland: University of California Press), p. xiv.

[30] ‘Rebellion.’ Oxford English Dictionary. 2014, Available online: http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/159201?isAdvanced=false&result=1&rskey=nNKkrE& Date accessed: 02 April 2014.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Esherick, The Origins of the Boxer Uprising, p. 312


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