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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 
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 
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 
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 
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.   
20-Jun-2000 12:54 PM EDT (20-Jun-2000 1654 UTC)
Source: Voice of America

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