TITLE=CHINA - BOXER REBELLION
INTRO: This year marks the 100th anniversary of
China's Boxer Rebellion. A new book describes the
events of that hot summer in 1900, when a Chinese
peasant movement turned into a war against all
foreigners and ended with an international army
sacking Beijing. The author says the lessons from the
Boxer Rebellion have yet to be learned, as V-O-A's
Stephanie Mann reports.
TEXT: China was experiencing many difficulties at the
end of the 19th century. The growing rural population
was driven further into poverty by drought and famine.
In addition, rising imports of foreign goods and
technology hurt China's traditional economy as steam
trains and steamboats crossing China's plains put
thousands of barge-men and camel and mule drivers out
In her new book, called "The Boxer Rebellion," Diana
Preston says many Chinese saw those problems as a
direct result of decades of foreign aggression in
China. After Britain defeated China in the 1842 Opium
War, foreign powers had pressed China to grant
concessions in the form of trading rights and the
establishment of military bases and foreign
Ms. Preston, a British journalist and writer, says the
situation was ripe for an uprising of peasants.
// PRESTON CUT ONE //
At first, they were rising up really in response
to severe economic conditions. There was
drought. There was famine. There were plagues
of locusts. You had hundreds of thousands of
people in the agrarian community on the move.
But what began to happen was that a focus of
discontent became foreigners and foreign
activities in China. The Boxers deeply resented
some of the technology, which foreigners had
been bringing to the country.
// END ACT //
Ms. Preston says Chinese were especially offended by
the arrival of large numbers of foreign missionaries
seeking converts to Christianity. She says that began
to cause the disintegration of traditional Chinese
// PRESTON ACT TWO //
It meant that people who became Christians did
not take part in the village festivals, they did
not play a role in the community. It really
started to polarize the rural areas. ...There
was also really deep-seated fear, superstition,
of what Christianity actually meant.
// END ACT //
The peasant movement easily attracted followers who
felt they might have better access to food if they
joined the group. Sect members told peasants that
when all the foreigners in China were annihilated, the
drought would end.
Ms. Preston also says sect members had a kind of
charisma, claiming to be invulnerable to bullets and
swords. They practiced martial arts - which is why
foreigners called them the Boxers - and went from
village to village putting on theatrical-type
Ms. Preston says China's Qing (Manchu) Dynasty
government was watching the rise of the Boxers with
// PRESTON ACT THREE //
At first they were afraid that the Boxers would
actually turn out to be an anti-dynastic
movement, that they would actually try to incite
the people to rise up against the Manchu
Dynasty. But their (the Boxers') dislike, their
hatred, their worry about foreign activity in
China was far greater than their concerns about
the imperial government. And so, gradually the
Chinese authorities, and in particular the
elderly Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi, began to see in
the Boxers a force which could be harnessed to
their own ends.
// END ACT //
The Boxers began attacking missionary churches and
Chinese Christian converts in outlying provinces,
moving their way toward Beijing and the coastal city
of Tianjin. The missionaries alerted their respective
embassies in Beijing, but the diplomats did not
understand or believe the gravity of the situation
until news of deaths began reaching Beijing.
By June 1900, the Boxers were entering Beijing. The
imperial court gave the foreign diplomatic missions an
ultimatum to leave, but the foreigners decided to stay
in their compound.
For the next 55-days, until late August, the
foreigners were virtual prisoners inside their
settlement, while the Boxers laid siege to the city,
killing hundreds of Chinese Christians and foreigners.
Ms. Preston says she found horrific descriptions in
nearly 70 eyewitness accounts from both sides.
// OPT PRESTON ACT FOUR //
People who had been flayed (skinned) alive,
people who had been burned alive, people who had
been tortured by the Boxers in the temples.
Men, women, children with their eyes gouged out
(and) trussed up like chickens. There were also
massacres of foreign missionaries who had not
managed to reach safety.
// END OPT ACT //
It took weeks for an international army of British,
American, Russian, French, and German soldiers to
fight their way to Beijing from the port near Tianjin.
They battled bands of peasants skilled in martial arts
as well as Chinese imperial troops, finally reaching
the capital and rescuing the foreigners. Ms. Preston
says this was the first example of international
policing and was the precursor to what has become a
common activity of NATO and the United Nations.
But the international force of 1900 was new to this
function. The foreign troops divided up Beijing and
claimed their spoils. Soldiers of various
nationalities ransacked and looted Chinese warehouses,
and foreigners held auctions of goods stolen from
A peace treaty was signed in September 1900, ordering
the Chinese imperial government to pay indemnities and
stipulating how it should treat foreigners in the
Diana Preston says the Boxer war against foreigners
stemmed from mutual arrogance and myopia.
// PRESTON ACT FIVE //
I think that one of the chief lessons from the
Boxer event, which both sides, both east and
west, should take is that it was very much the
result of two societies completely failing to
communicate - really looking past each other.
Each feeling immeasurably superior to the other,
not taking the trouble in any sense to
understand the other's needs or pressures or
// END ACT //
And Ms. Preston says there are people today in China
and in the west who still harbor arrogance and
resentment each toward the other. She says this is
evident in the debate inside China over how fast to
implement western-style reforms, and in the debate in
the west over how to allow China to enter the Word
// REST OPT //
Her book, published by Walker and Company, is being
printed in English and German. Ms. Preston hopes that
someday it will be made available in Chinese. But she
says the Boxer Rebellion is still considered a
national shame in China - that an international army
was allowed to march through the country and sack
Beijing. She says China is not yet ready for a book
on such a sensitive a subject written by a foreigner.
20-Jun-2000 12:54 PM EDT (20-Jun-2000 1654 UTC)
Source: Voice of America
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