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Boxer Rebellion - 1900

Among the anti-Manchu societies which were flourishing at the end of the 19th Century was that known as the I Ho kwan, or Righteous Harmony Fist's Association, popularly known as the Boxers. The Empress Tsz hsi adroitly led them to reconsider their anti-dynastic prejudices and to enlist themselves in her anti-foreign campaign. This they did with a fanatical enthusiasm which boded ill. The Boxers were not only madly hostile to the foreigner but were profoundly convinced of their own invulnerability to the arms of the alien, and their numbers, swollen by all the elements which made for mischief, grew daily more formidable. An alliance of anti-reformers seemed to Tsz hsi to ensure doubly the success of her plans.

The first fury of the Boxers fell upon the missionaries, who were for the most part in the remoter districts of the inflamed provinces and who were, for various reasons, specially obnoxious to the mob. Mr. Brooks, a missionary of the Church of England in Shan tung, was murdered late in 1899, and, after four months of unrest and futile negotiation,, the massacres were resumed on an unprecedented scale. Messrs. Norman and Robinson, English missionaries, were murdered in June, 1900, the mission stations of Pao ting were burned and their inmates slaughtered.

Dr. A. H. Smith sums up the casualties, so far as they-apply to the foreign missionaries, as follows: "The devastating Boxer cyclone cost the lives of a hundred and thirty-five adult Protestant missionaries and fiftythree children and of thirty-five Roman Catholic fathers and nine Sisters. The Protestants were in connection with ten different missions, one being unconnected. They were murdered in four provinces and in Mongolia, and belonged to Great Britain, the United States, and Sweden." We must add to these figures several thousand native converts who met their fate with unflinching heroism. But for the strong stand taken by some of the Viceroys, notably by Chang Chih tung, Yuan Shih kai, Liu Kun yi, Tuan Fang and Li Hung chang, the bloodshed would doubtless have been a thousandfold worse. Happily there were men in China at this crisis who were prepared to take the consequences of disobeying the Dowager.

The advance of the Boxers upon Peking soon cut off the communications of the foreign ministers with the outside world. But for the timely arrival of some four hundred and fifty marines from the warships it would scarcely have been possible to defend the Legations against the attacks which in a few days commenced. The foreign powers were beginning to realize the critical nature of the situation and poured troops into Tien tsin, but the force of two thousand men sent to relieve their fellow-countrymen in Peking prjHd insufficient and was forced to retire with hearyioss. Consequently the legations were "straitly shut up" within the walls of the British Embassy and disaster on a large scale seemed imminent. The chancellor of the Japanese legation, Mr. Sugiyama, was murdered on June 11 and Baron von Ketteler, the German minister, on June 20.

The attack, which at times was made with the greatest possible fury, at other times appeared to be half-hearted, and it was apparent that there were divided counsels in the Chinese Court. Later investigation brought out the fact that the reactionary leader, Prince Tuan, was the most inveterate enemy of the besieged, whilst it was to Prince Jung lu that they owed their eventual escape. When the longed-for and long-expected relief came ammunition and food were well-nigh exhausted and out of the defending force of less than five hundred, sixty-five had been killed and a hundred and thirty-one wounded. Moreover, the anxiety and suffering of those within were matched by the suspense of the whole civilized world outside, ignorant and apprehensive of the fate of the besieged.

Meanwhile a strong relief force was gathering, and on August 4 an army of twenty thousand men, Japanese, American, French, Russian, German and British, was able to start for Peking. Opposition was met at various points, but in ten days the force was within striking distance, and on August 14 General Gaselee and a party of Sikhs were the first to fight their way to the beleaguered garrison. Mrs. Conger writes: "Rejoice! All nations rejoice and give thanks. Our coming troops are outside the city wall." Simultaneously with the entry of the Allies, the Empress Dowager, the Emperor and a few attendants left hurriedly for the old capital of China, Singan fu.

One of the most heroic episodes of the siege was the defense of the French Cathedral hy Bishop Favier. He had with him eighty Europeans and three thousand four hundred native Christians, of whom two thousand seven hundred were women and children. Four hundred died during the siege, mostly buried under the ruins caused by exploding mines. Few things in the history of this terrible time are more touching than the story told by a Portuguese Sister to Mrs. Little of how the Sisters used to make the children under their care follow them in a long train to this side or that side, wherever the fire seemed the slackest, until at last one day a large number were blown up by a mine and killed.

An unhappy incident of the relief of the Legations was the wanton and savage destruction with which the foreign troops avenged the savagery of their foes. It is useless now to bandy reproaches among the various nationalities concerned, but it may be said that order was first restored among the Japanese, then among Americans and British. Many Chinese, perfectly innocent of complicity with Boxerdom, had occasion to rue the entrance of the foreign forces into Peking and the object lesson which it was designed to give was to a large extent spoiled. Captain Brinkley writes: "It sends a thrill of horror through every white man's bosom to learn that forty missionary women and twenty-five little children were butchered by the Boxers. But in Tung chow alone, a city where the Chinese made no resistance and where there was no fighting, five hundred and seventy-three Chinese women of the upper classes committed suicide rather than survive the indignities they had suffered." After this the looting of the treasures of Yamens and private houses and the carrying off by the Germans of the beautiful astronomical instruments given by Louis XIV to Kang hsi seem insignificant. Our civilization of which we boast so much is still something of a veneer.

Field Marshal General von Waldersee arrived with a German force in September, 1900, and, taking supreme command, at once started upon the complicated task of obtaining reparation for the mischief wrought. The Concert of Powers was as usual somewhat difficult to keep in tune and Russia's withdrawal for her own ends, while maintaining her claim for a very heavy indemnity, was annoying and mischievous. Ultimately the punishments were agreed upon. Certain guilty officials, eleven in number, were to receive the reward of their misdeeds, the importation of arms was forbidden for a term of years, the customary examinations were to be suspended for five years, and an indemnity of 450,000,000 taels, divided among the powers, was ordered paid. Of this last a number of the missions concerned refused to accept their share, feeling that the blood spilled was not to be valued in coin, and the United States generously arranged for its share to go to the education of the youth of China. There was further exacted a mission of apology to Germany and Japan, and memorials of the murdered Chancellor and Ambassador were to be erected in Peking, where they are currently said to be regarded as monuments in honor of the assassins.

Russia had detached herself from the powers to pursue her own policy, and this involved the occupation of Manchuria, avowedly because of the disturbed condition of the country. It was the beginning of a movement not finally checked until the Japanese undertook to check it with the sword. A foul blot upon the first stage of the occupation was the terrible massacre of Chinese at Blagovestchensk on the Amur, in reprisal for an attack made by the Chinese on some Cossack troops. Thousands of men, women and children were ruthlessly driven at the bayonet point into the river. It was a crime which fitly deserved the Nemesis which was so soon to overtake the great northern power.

Russia's hold on Manchuria was tightened through the support of Li Hung chang, while Liu Kun yi and Chang Chih tung, supported by Great Britain and Japan, made so vigorous a protest that the Convention proposed by Russia was withdrawn. On September 7, 1901, the Peace Protocol was finally signed and in the same month the foreign troops, with the exception of the legation guards, were withdrawn from Peking. In October the Imperial Court returned from Singan fu.

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Page last modified: 05-08-2011 20:03:27 ZULU