DATE=6/20/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=CHINA - BOXER REBELLION NUMBER=5-46524 BYLINE=STEPHANIE MANN DATELINE=WASHINGTON INTERNET=YES CONTENT= VOICED AT: 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 of work. 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 settlements. 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 village life. // 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 performances. Ms. Preston says China's Qing (Manchu) Dynasty government was watching the rise of the Boxers with great interest. // 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 Chinese mansions. 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 future. 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 motivations. // 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 Trade Organization. // 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. (SIGNED) NEB/SMN/RAE 20-Jun-2000 12:54 PM EDT (20-Jun-2000 1654 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .
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