Boxer Rebellion – in China

Boxer Rebellion

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The Boxer Rebellion, also called The Boxer Uprising by some historians or the Righteous Harmony Society Movement in northern China, was a proto-nationalist movement by the “Righteous Harmony Society” (義和團 – Yìhétuán), or “Righteous Fists of Harmony” or “Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists” (known as “Boxers” in English), in China between 1898 and 1901, opposing foreign imperialism andChristianity. The uprising took place in response to foreign “spheres of influence” in China, with grievances ranging from opium traders, political invasion, economic manipulation, to missionary evangelism. In China, popular sentiment remained resistant to foreign influences, and anger rose over the “unequal treaties” (不平等條約), which the weak Qing state could not resist. There existed growing concerns that missionaries and Chinese Christians could use this decline to their advantage, appropriating lands and property of unwilling Chinese peasants to give to the church. This sentiment resulted in violent revolts against foreign interests.

In June 1900 in Beijing, Boxer fighters threatened foreigners and forced them to seek refuge in the Legation Quarter. In response, the initially hesitant Empress Dowager Cixi, urged by the conservatives of the Imperial Court, supported the Boxers and declared war on foreign powers. Diplomats, foreign civilians and soldiers, and Chinese Christians in the Legation Quarter were under siege by the Imperial Army of China and the Boxers for 55 days. The Chinese government equivocated between destroying the foreigners in the Legation Quarter and extending olive branches. Clashes were reported between Chinese factions favoring war and those favoring conciliation, the latter led by Prince Qing.


Prince Qing

Reign 1894-1917
Successor Zaizhen
Spouse Lady Hegiya
Lady Lingiya
Zaizhen, Prince Qing
Posthumous name
Prince Mi of Qing 庆密亲王
Father Mianxing, Duke of Fu
Born 16 November 1838
BeijingQing Empire
Died 28 January 1917 (aged 78)
BeijingRepublic of China

The supreme commander of the Chinese forces, Ronglu,

Spouse Wanzhen
one son
Youlan, 2nd Princess Chun
Father Guwalgiya Changshou
Born 6 April 1836
Died 11 April 1903 (aged 67)
claimed three years later that he acted to protect the besieged foreigners. The siege was raised when the Eight-Nation Alliance brought 20,000 armed troops to China, defeated the Imperial Army, and captured Beijing. The Boxer Protocol of 7 September 1901 ended the uprising and provided for severe punishments, including an indemnity of 67 million pounds (450 million taels of silver), more than the government’s annual tax revenue, to be paid as indemnity over a course of thirty-nine years to the eight nations involved
The Boxer Rebellion
File:Boxer Rebellion.jpg
Qing Armies fighting the Eight-Nation Alliance (British and Japanese soldiers depicted)
Date 2 November 1899 – 7 September 1901
Location Northern China
Result Alliance victory
Eight-Nation Alliance (ordered by contribution):
 United Kingdom
France France
 United States

 Righteous Harmony Society

 Qing Empire

Commanders and leaders
Russian Empire Nikolai Petrovich Linevich
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Sir Edward Seymour
German Empire Alfred Graf von Waldersee
Empire of Japan Fukushima Yasumasa
United States William McKinley
Qing Dynasty Ci Xi
Qing Dynasty Zaiyi, Prince Duan
Qing Dynasty Ronglu
Qing Dynasty Yuan Shikai
Qing Dynasty Nie Shicheng  
Qing Dynasty Ma Yukun
Qing Dynasty Song Qing
Qing Dynasty Dong Fuxiang
Qing Dynasty Ma Anliang
Qing Dynasty Ma Fulu  
Qing Dynasty Ma Fuxiang
Qing Dynasty Ma Fuxing
Qing Dynasty Ma Haiyan
Qing Dynasty Ma Qi
Qing Dynasty Ma Lin
Qing Dynasty Colonel Yao Wang
50,255 total (Expeditionary Force)
Russian Empire 100,000 Russian troops for Manchurian Occupation
Qing Dynasty 70,000 Imperial troops
Qing Dynasty including 10,000 MuslimKansu Braves
Qing Dynasty several thousand Manchu Bannermen of the Tiger and Divine Corps (loyal to Prince Duan)
 100,000 – 300,000 Boxers
Casualties and losses
2,500 soldiers
526 foreigners
several thousand Chinese Christians
20,000 Imperial troops
Civilians = 18,952 and up

Origins of the Boxers

The Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists, known by foreigners as the Boxers, or “I-Ho Magic Boxing”, was a secret society founded in the northern coastal province of Shandongconsisting largely of people who had lost their livelihoods due to imperialism and natural disasters.


Foreigners came to call the well-trained, athletic young men “Boxers” due to the martial arts and calisthenics they practiced. The Boxers’ primary feature is spirit possession, which involved:

the whirling of swords, violent prostrations, and chanting incantations to Taoist and Buddhist spirits. When the spirit possession had been achieved, the boxers would allegedly obtain invulnerability against guns and cannon.

The Boxers believed that they could, through training, diet, martial arts and prayer perform extraordinary feats, such as flight. Further, they popularly claimed that millions of spirit soldierswould descend from the heavens and assist them in purifying China of foreign influences.

Images :

The Boxers consisted of local farmers/peasants and other workers made desperate by disastrous floods and widespread opium addiction, and laid the blame on Christian missionaries, Chinese Christians, and the Europeans colonizing their country. Missionaries were protected under the policy of extraterritoriality. Chinese Christians were alleged also to have filed false lawsuits. The Boxers were typical of millennialmovements, such as the American Indian Ghost Dance, often rising in societies under extreme stress.

German Parade,

Several secret societies in Shandong predated the Boxers. In 1895, the Manchu Yuxian, a magistrate in the province, acquired the help of the Big Swords Society in fighting against bandits. Although the Big Swords had heterodox practices, they were not bandits and were not seen as such by Chinese authorities. Their efficiency in defeating banditry led to a flood of cases overwhelming the magistrates, to which the Big Swords responded by executing the bandits that were apprehended. The Big Swords relentlessly hunted the bandits, but the bandits converted to Catholic Christianity, gaining them legal immunity from prosecution and also placed them under the protection of the foreigners. The Big Swords responded by attacking bandit Catholic churches and burning them.As a result, Yuxian executed several Big Sword leaders, but did not punish anyone else. More secret societies started emerging after this.

German infantry,

The early years saw a variety of village activities, not a broad movement or a united purpose. Like the Red Boxing school or the Plum Flower Boxers, the Boxers of Shandong were more concerned with traditional social and moral values, such as filial piety, than with foreign influences. One leader, for instance, Zhu Hongdeng (Red Lantern Zhu),started as a wandering healer, specializing in skin ulcers, and gained wide respect of refusing payment for his treatments. Zhu claimed descent from Ming dynasty Emperors, since his surname was the surname of the Ming Imperial Family. He announced that his goal was “Fan Qing Fu Ming) (Overthrow Qing to Restore Ming).

German cavalry,

After the Hundred Days’ Reform failed in 1898, the conservative Empress Dowager Cixi seized power and placed the reformistGuangxu Emperor under house arrest. The European powers were sympathetic to the imprisoned emperor, and opposed Cixi’s plan to replace the Guangxu emperor. Empress Dowager Cixi decided to use Boxers to expel foreign influences from China which would also weaken the Boxers.

Empress Dowager Cixi
Regency 11 November 1861 – 15 November 1908
(47 years, 4 days)
concurrently with Empress Dowager Ci’an (1861-1881)
Predecessor SushunZaiyuanDuanhua and other 5 officials as regents forTongzhi Emperor
Successor Empress Dowager Longyu andZaifeng, 2nd Prince Chun as regents for Puyi
Spouse Xianfeng Emperor
Tongzhi Emperor
Posthumous name
Short: Empress Xiao-Qin Xian 孝欽顯皇后
Full: Empress Xiao-Qin Ci-Xi Duan-You Kang-Yi Zhao-Yu Zhuang-Cheng Shou-Gong Qin-Xian Chong-Xi Pei-Tian Xing-Sheng Xian 孝欽慈禧端佑康頤昭豫莊誠壽恭欽獻崇熙配天興聖顯皇后
Father Yehenara Huizheng
Mother Lady Fucha
Born 29 November 1835
Died 15 November 1908 (aged 72)
Hall of Graceful Bird,ZhongnanhaiBeijingQing Empire

Thus, the Boxer slogan became “support the Qing, destroy the Foreign.” (扶清灭洋) Aggression toward missionaries and Christians gained the attention of foreign (mainly European) governments.

German cavalryman in Tianjin (Tientsin) after its capture in July 1900,

The Boxers called foreigners “Guizi” (鬼子, literally: ghosts), a deprecatory term, and condemned Chinese Christian converts and Chinese working for foreigners. The Boxers were only lightly armed with rifles and swords, claiming supernatural invulnerability towards blows of cannon, rifle gunshots, and knife attacks.


File:3090 donations lg.jpg

Chinese donate silver ingots to Zeng Guoquan to assist him in destroying the Russian Army; Towards the end of the nineteenth century, China faced territorial erosion on all sides, as foreign powers demanded ‘spheres of influence’ in China. As soon as one foreign power gained a concession, others demanded parity. Such pressures helped to fuel anti-foreign feeling which was part of the Boxer ideology but also permeated the imperial court. Boxes and baskets full of silver ingots are presented to Zeng Guoquan and he salutes his supporters with his hands clasped within the long sleeves of his robe.
By 1900, the great powers had already been chipping away at Chinese sovereignty for sixty years. They had forced China to import opium, thus leading to widespread addiction, defeated China in several wars, asserted a right to promote Christianity and imposedunequal treaties under which foreigners and foreign companies in China were accorded special privileges and immunities from Chinese law.Thus, by 1900, the Qing dynasty, which had ruled China for more than two centuries, was crumbling and Chinese culture was under assault by powerful and unfamiliar religious and secular culture.

Several factors contributed to the unrest among Chinese that led to the growth and spread of the Boxer movement. First, a drought followed by floods in Shandong province in 1897-1898 forced farmers to flee to cities and seek food. As one observer said, “I am convinced that a few days’ heavy rainfall to terminate the long-continued drought…would do more to restore tranquility than any measures which either the Chinese government or foreign governments can take.”

German marines,

By 1900, foreign powers had grabbed land and asserted unequal treaties and extraterritorial rights for their citizens in China, causing resentment and xenophobic reactions among the Chinese. France, Japan, Russia, and Germany carved out spheres of influence, so that by 1900 it appeared that China would likely be dismembered, with foreign powers each ruling a part of the country. The British and American governments wished China to remain intact, though, while retaining their privileges and treaty ports. Britain dominated trade with China, including the important opium trade.

Soldiers from various nations spectate at the execution of Boxers,

A major cause of Chinese discontent was the Christian missionaries, both Protestant and Catholic, who came to China in ever increasing numbers. The exemption of missionaries from various laws angered the local Chinese. In 1899, the French Minister in Beijing help the missionaries to obtain an edict granting official status to every order in the Roman Catholic hierarchy, enabling local priests to support their people in legal or family disputes and bypass the local officials. After the German government took over Shandong, many Chinese feared that the missionaries and quite possibly all Christians were representing imperialist attempts of “carving the melon,” i.e. to divide and colonise China piece by piece. A Chinese official expressed the brief against the foreigners succinctly, “Take away your missionaries and your opium and you will be welcome.

A German soldier at the Legation Quarter in Beijing during the siege,

A Chinese Buddhist temple in Lilienyuan village was converted into a Catholic church by missionaries, which caused widespread anger among the Chinese population. The Chinese Imperial army discharged one third of its soldiers, whereupon most of them joined the Boxers. They also kept their weapons, so that the Boxers were able to use firearms instead of just swords and spears.

Japanese infantry,

The Juye Incident of November 1, 1897 set off a chain of incidents. A band of twenty to thirty armed men stormed into the residence of a German missionary, George Stenz, and killed two priests who were his guests while looking for Stenz, who was sleeping in the servant’s quarters. Christian villagers then came to his defense, driving off the attackers. When Kaiser Wilhelm got news of these murders, he dispatched the German East Asian squadron to occupy Jiaozhou Bay, on the nearby coast. The openly racistGerman Kaiser Wilhelm II often singled out East Asians and incited fear of Yellow Peril in Europe and also justified violence against the Chinese.

Wilhelm II
Emperor Wilhelm II, circa 1890
German EmperorKing of Prussia
Reign 15 June 1888 – 18 November 1918
Predecessor Frederick III
Successor Monarchy abolished
Friedrich Ebert (as chancellor andde facto head of state of the Weimar Republic)
Spouse Augusta Viktoria of Schleswig-Holstein
Hermine Reuss of Greiz
Eitel Friedrich
August Wilhelm
Viktoria Luise
Full name
GermanFriedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albrecht
EnglishFrederick William Victor Albert
House House of Hohenzollern
Father Frederick III
Mother Victoria
Born 27 January 1859
Died 4 June 1941 (aged 82)
Religion Evangelical Christian Church

The German Baron Clemens von Ketteler brutally attacked a Chinese civilian without provocation, and also beat a boy. In response, the Boxers and thousands of Chinese Muslim Kansu warriors under General Dong Fuxiang of the Imperial Army went on a violent rampage against foreigners. A Manchu Captain, En Hai, killed von Ketteler during an encounter. A Muslim commander then ripped the skin off the Baron and ate his heart.

A Boxer during the revolt.

The growth of the Boxer movement coincided with the Hundred Days Reform (11 June–21 September 1898). Progressive Chinese officials, with support from Protestant missionaries, persuaded Emperor Guangxu to institute reforms, which alienated many conservative officials by their sweeping nature. Such opposition from conservative officials led the Empress Dowager to intervene and reverse the reforms. The failure of the reform movement disillusioned many educated Chinese, thus further weakened the Qing government.

Chinese Forces


The Boxers themselves used modern weaponry, such as Krupp artillery and rifles. Their dislike of foreigners only extended to everything unrelated to weaponry. The Boxers attacked both the Qing Imperial Army under General Nie, and the foreign Allied Powers. They used sabotage tactics like razing railroads and telegraph lines in order to deny the Alliance forces any means of transport and communication.

Japanese soldiers executing Chinese men,

Numerous attacks on foreigners occurred, and both missionaries and Chinese Christian converts were killed. Boxers with rifles and swords attacked Russian Cossacks in June 1900, and both sides suffered casualties.

Dong Fuxiang was a sworn brother to Li Laizhong, another Boxer supporter and xenophobe, who commanded Boxers fromShanxi.

The Imperial Army

File:Chinese soldiers 1899 1901.jpg

Chinese forces in 1899-1901.
Left: two infantrymen of the New Imperial Army. Front: drum major of the regular army. Seated on the trunk: field artilleryman. Right: Boxers.

In January 1900, with a majority of conservatives in the Imperial Court, the Empress Dowager changed her long policy of suppressing Boxers, and issued edicts in their defence, causing protests from foreign powers. In June 1900, completely disregardingdiplomatic immunity, the Boxers and some elements of the Imperial army attacked the foreign compounds in Tianjin and Beijing. The legations, namely those of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Austria-Hungary, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, the US, Russia and Japan, were altogether located in the Beijing Legation Quarter near theForbidden City. The legations were hurriedly fortified and became a refuge for foreigners. The Spanish and Belgian legations were located a few streets away, and their staff were able to arrive safely at the compound. The German legation elsewhere in the city was stormed before the staff managed to escape. The German envoy, Klemens Freiherr von Ketteler was murdered on 20 June, and the foreign powers immediately demanded redress. On 21 June Empress Dowager Cixi declared war against all foreign powers. However, a number of regional governors including Li Hongzhang and Zhang Zhidongquietly refused to cooperate. Shanghai’s Chinese elite supported the provincial governors of southeastern China in resisting the Imperial declaration of war. Later many peasants took up arms and joined the Boxers’ cause, but were also defeated.

Japanese soldiers with a captured Boxer,

During the war, Cixi were concerned with China’s situation and foreign aggression, and said of the Boxers, “Perhaps their magic is not to be relied upon; but can we not rely on the hearts and minds of the people? Today China is extremely weak. We have only the people’s hearts and minds to depend upon. If we cast them aside and lose the people’s hearts, what can we use to sustain the country?” The Chinese people were almost unanimous in their support for the Boxers, due to the presence of Alliance troops in China.

Equipment and tactics

Following the defeat of Beiyang army during the humiliating First Sino-Japanese War, the Chinese government invested heavily in modernizing the imperial army, which was equipped with modern Mauser repeater rifles, Krupp Artillery. Mining, engineering, flooding, and simultaneous multiple attacks were employed by Chinese troops. The Chinese also employed pincer movements, ambushes, and sniper tactics with some success against the foreigners. Two brand new German destroyers were deployed along the Taku Forts recently completed by German engineers. Yet, neither the European-style modern weapons nor the new forts could compensate for the lack of training of the soldiers and the backwardness of the Chinese military tactics of the officers. It was the inability to integrate the new Western style weapons and lack of training effectively that prevented the capture of the besieged European consulate in Beijing, and the repulsion of the foreign invading armies.

Cavalry of the British Indian Army, 

During the war, Imperial Chinese forces deployed a weapon called “electric mines” on June 15, at the river Beihe (Peiho) before theBattle of Dagu Forts (1900), to prevent the Eight-Nation Alliance from sending ships to attack. This was reported by American military intelligence in the United States. War Dept. by the United States. Adjutant-General’s Office. Military Information Division.


Zaiyi, Prince Duan, was not just an ordinary prince, he was a member of the Imperial Aisin Gioro clan, a blood relative of the Imperial family (foreigners called him a “Blood Royal”), therefore, his son was his line for the throne. He became the effective leader of the Boxers, and he was extremely anti foreign like his friend Dong Fuxiang, and wanted to expel them from China. Dong Fuxiang was called “savage” by foreigners. the Manchu General Ronglu, on the other hand, was not a blood relative of the Imperial Aisin Gioro Clan, only being related by marriage to the Imperial Family, and he tried to sabotage Zaiyi, Prince Duan and Dong Fuxiang. Prince Qing, a Prince, was pro foreign and led his bannermen accordingly to attack Prince Duan’s forces.

US marines, 

Muslim Kansu Braves

File:Chinese Muslim Kansu Braves 1900 Boxer Rebellion.jpg

Chinese Muslim troops fromGansu of the Qing imperial army serving under General Dong Fuxiang; they were also known as the “Kansu braves” or “Gansu Braves”.

File:Dong Fuxiang.jpg

Muslim General Dong Fuxiang

A unit of 10,000 Hui Muslims from Gansu under the command of the Chinese Muslim General Dong Fuxiang had been stationed with the rest of the imperial army at Beijing since 1898. They were known as the “Kansu braves”. Dong was extremely anti-foreign, and gave full support to Cixi and the Boxers. General Dong committed his Muslim troops to join the Boxers to attack the Eight-Nation Alliance. They were put into the rear division, and attacked the legations relentlessly. Foreigners referred to them as the “10,000 Islamic rabble”. Casualties suffered by the Alliance at the hands of the Muslim troops were high enough that the United States Marine Corps, tasked with guarding U.S. embassies, as it is today, was involved. A Japanese chancellor, Sugiyama Akira, and several other foreigners, were shot to death by the Muslim warriors.

Russian officers. (

Dong refused to use foreign uniforms and musical instruments for his band, instead, his Muslim troops wore Chinese military uniform and played Chinese instruments. However, he armed his troops with modern foreign weapons like Krupp Artillery and Mauser rifles. The Muslim troops actively attacked the foreigners during the Hundred Days Reform in 1898. The Islamic troops were organized into eight battalions of infantry, two squadrons of cavalry, two brigades of artillery, and one company of engineers. In contrast to the Manchu and other Chinese soldiers who used arrows and bows, the Kansu cavalry had the newest carbine rifles. The Muslims were mostly cavalry, wearing black turbans, waving scarlet and block banners, with Mauser rifles.

The Boxers were ordered by the Imperial court to take commands from Dong Fuxiang and the Muslim Kansu troops. General Dong and Manchu Prince Tuan were linked through Prince Tuan’s father, Prince Tun, who reached an agreement with Dong in 1869. Dong Fuxiang’s 5,000 troops, including Muslim General Ma Fuxiang, posted in southern Beijing at Hunting Park, attacked and defeated the Eight Nation Alliance led by the British Admiral Seymour at the Battle of Langfang on Jun 18. The Chinese won a major victory, and forced Seymour to retreat back to Tianjin by June 26, and Seymour’s Alliance army suffered heavy casualties. As the allied European army retreated from Langfang, they were constantly fired upon by cavalry, and artillery bombarded their positions. It was reported that the Chinese artillery was superior to the European artillery, since the Europeans did not bother to bring along much for the campaign, thinking they could easily sweep through Chinese resistance. The Europeans could not locate the Chinese artillery, which was raining shells upon their positions. General Ronglu, who was supervising Dong Fuxiang’s attack on the Legations, forced Dong to pull back from completing the siege and destroying the legations saving the foreigners and making diplomatic concessions. Six thousand of the Muslim troops under Dong Fuxiang and 20,000 boxers repulsed a relief column, driving them to Huang Ts’un. The Muslims made camp outside the temples of Heaven and Agriculture.

Members of the Italian contingent,(

The German Kaiser Wilhelm II was so alarmed by the Chinese Muslim troops that he requested the Caliph Abdul Hamid II of theOttoman Empire to find a way to stop the Muslim troops from fighting. He agreed to the Kaiser’s demands and sent Enver Pasha to China in 1901, but the rebellion was over by that time.

File:General Ma Fuxiang.jpg

Muslim General Ma Fuxiang

File:Ma Fuxing Titai of Kashgar.jpg

Muslim Commander Ma Fuxing

The Muslim Kansu braves escorted the imperial family to Xi’anwhen they decided to flee. One of the officers, Ma Fuxiang, was rewarded by the Emperor, being appointed governor of Altay for his service. His brother, Ma Fulu and four of his cousins died in combat during the attack on the legations. Ma Fuxing also served under Ma Fulu to guard the Qing Imperial court during the fighting. The imperial government refused to punish General Dong when the foreigners demanded his execution. Upon General Dong’s death in 1908, all honors which had been stripped from him were restored and he was given a full military burial.

Another Muslim general, Ma Anliang, Tongling of Ho-Chou, joined the Kansu braves in fighting the foreigners.A Muslim martial artist, Wang Zi-Ping, had joined the Boxers when it began fighting against the foreigners.

Summary of battles of General Dong Fuxiang:

  • Ts’ai Ts’un battle, 24 July
  • Ho Hsi Wu battle, 25 July
  • An P’ing battle, 26 July
  • Chinese army at Ma T’ou, 27 July.

Another General, Ma Yu-kun, who commanded a separate unit, was believed to be the son of the Muslim General Ma Rulong by the Europeans. Ma Yu-kun fought with some success against Japan in the First Sino-Japanese War and in the Boxer Rebellion at theBattle of Yangcun and Battle of Tientsin. Ma Yu-k’un was under General Song Ch’ing’s command as deputy commander.

Han Troops

Chinese Troops in 1900

File:General Nie Shicheng.jpg

Han General Nie Shicheng who fought both the Boxers and the Allies

The Han Chinese Imperial army forces were led by Generals Nie Shicheng, Ma Yukun, and Song Qing.

Some of the Chinese Imperial army forces fought the Boxers and the Alliance forces at the same time. General Nie’s army was one of these. The Boxers and General Nie’s army both beat the Alliance army under Seymour. (See: Seymour Expedition, China 1900The Chinese Army used modern weapons to beat the Allies and the Boxers at the same time. While General Nie opposed the Boxers, the other Imperial army General, Dong Fuxiang and his Muslim soldiers joined the Boxers.

Images from

The Alliance’s advance into China was assisted by rivalries between the Boxers and the Chinese Imperial army, as well as conflicting orders given to Chinese Generals like Nie Shicheng by the Commander in Chief Ronglu in the name of the Imperial Court, who forged orders and even ordered Nie to protect the foreigners he was supposed to be fighting. The court first ordered General Nie to fight the Boxers, then fight against the Allied and the Boxers at the same time, also it ordered General Nie not to use all the force at his disposal to crush the Allied troops, this resulted in the Chinese forces actually deliberately letting the Allied forces escape, after the Chinese mauled them at the Battle of Langfang.

Ronglu also did his best to make sure the Chinese forces failed to complete the siege of the legations.

Another factor in the Chinese defeat in the war was the fact that Chinese Generals like Yuan Shikai refused to send their own modernized armies to help General Nie against the Allies, instead, waiting the whole war out.

French Soldier

Manchu Bannermen

Several Manchu princes such as Prince Qing declined to join the boxers and the rest of the imperial army to attack the legations, and even ordered their own Manchu Bannermen to attack the Boxers and the Muslim Kansu braves. Other Manchu banners, especially the Three modernized divisions, joined the Kansu Braves and Boxers in attacking the foreigners. They were totally smashed at the end of the war and left only the Muslim Kansu Braves to guard the Imperial court. Among the Manchu dead was the father of the writer Lao She.

Representative members of the interventionist forces, snapped by a Japanese 

Prince Duan commanded his own Manchu Bannermen division, Hushenying, Marksmen for the Tiger Hunt, also known as the “Tiger Spirit Division” (虎神营). It had 10,000 troops in it. It was one of the three modernized Manchu Banner Divisions. The Hushenying was named because Hu means tiger, and Yang, the word for lamb, was a nickname for foreigners, who were also called Yang in Chinese. and the “Divine” (shen) name came from the fact that gui, another term for foreigners, meant devil, and the divine counteracted the devils, as he was plotting to kill all the foreign diplomats in the legations.

The campaign in Manchuria was conducted by both the regular Imperial army, including Manchu Bannermen and Imperial Chinese troops, and the Boxers.

The Chinese treated Russian civilians leniently and allowed them to escape to Russia, even notifying them since a state of war existed, that they should leave the war zone. In contrast, Russian Cossacks brutally killed civilians who tried to flee in the Chinese villages. Foreigners noted that Chinese followed “civilized warfare” while the Russians massacred and butchered. The Chinese summoned all available men to fight, and the Chinese forces and garrisons gathered artillery and bombarded Russian troops and towns across the Amur. Despite the Cossacks repulsing Chinese army crossings into Russia, the Chinese army troops increased the amount of artillery and kept up the bombardment. In revenge for the attacks on Chinese villages, Boxer troops burned Russian towns and almost annihilated a Russian force at Tieling.

The Russians invaded Manchuria during the rebellion, which was defended by Manchu bannermen. The bannermen were annihilated as they fought to the death against the Russians, each falling one at a time against a five pronged Russian invasion. The Russians killed many of the Manchus, thousands of them fled south. The Russian Cossacks looted their villages and property and then burnt them to ashes. Manchuria was completely occupied after the fierce fighting that occurred.

Nature of Chinese tactics

Lack of coordination and sabotage

The Manchu General Ronglu deliberately sabotaged the performance of the Imperial army. When Dong Fuxiang’s Muslim troops were eager to and could have destroyed the foreigners in the legations, Ronglu stopped them from doing so. The Manchu GeneralZaiyi, Prince Duan, was xenophobic and was friends with Dong Fuxiang. Zaiyi wanted artillery for Dong Fuxiang’s troops to destroy the legations. Ronglu blocked the transfer of artillery to Zaiyi and Dong, preventing them from destroying the legations. When artillery was finally supplied to the Imperial Army and Boxers, it was only done so in limited amounts, Ronglu deliberately held back the rest of them.

Ronglu and Prince Qing sent food to the legations, and used their Manchu Bannermen to attack the Muslim Kansu Braves of Dong Fuxiang and the Boxers who were besieging the foreigners. They even issued edicts ordering the foreigners to be protected, but the Kansu warriors ignored it, and fought against Bannermen who tried to force them away from the legations.

Ronglu also deliberately hid an Imperial Decree from General Nie Shicheng. The Decree ordered him to stop fighting the Boxers due to the foreign invasion, and also because the population was suffering from the campaign against the Boxers. Due to Ronglu’s treachery, General Nie continued to fight against the Boxers and killed many of them, while the foreign invaders were making their way into China. Ronglu also ordered Nie to protect foreigners and save the railway from the Boxers.

During the war, because parts of the Railway were saved under Ronglu’s orders, the foreign invasion army was able to transport itself into China quickly.

Due to Ronglu’s sabotage, General Nie was forced to fight the Boxers as the foreign army advanced into China. The fierce Boxer insurgency led General Nie to commit thousands of troops against them, instead of against the foreigners. Nie was already outnumbered by the Allies by 4,000 men. General Nie was blamed for attacking the Boxers, as Ronglu intended to sabotage Nie and let him take all the blame. At the Battle of Tientsin, General Nie decided to take his own life by walking into the range of Allied guns.

Massacre of missionaries and Chinese Christians

Protestant and Catholic missionaries and their Chinese converts were massacred throughout northern China, some by Boxers and others by government authorities. The toll was especially high in Shanxi province, where the Taiyuan Massacre took place and in Inner Mongolia. The total number of missionaries killed was 189 Protestants, including 53 children, and 47 Catholic priests and nuns. Thirty thousand Chinese Catholics, 2,000 Chinese Protestants, and 200 to 400 of the 700 Orthodox Christians in Beijing were estimated to have been killed. Collectively the Protestant dead were called the China Martyrs of 1900.

The Muslim Kansu braves under General Dong Fuxiang joined the Boxers in targeting Chinese Christians, going house to house to check the people’s religious beliefs and to steal property. The Muslim Kansu braves killed Christians only, sparing Chinese who had altars to Chinese gods. Christians were executed by the Muslim braves with swords, the Muslims considered them traitors to China and agents of the foreigners. When the Kansu Muslims found homes that had idols to Chinese Gods, proving that they were not Christian, they sat down to have tea and apologized, not harming anyone, while still stealing from their hosts of several thousands dollars worth of property. This specific rampage was set off after Clemens von Kettelerkilled a Chinese boy in one of his rages. Anger against the Chinese Christians set off again, and the Boxers roasted some of them alive.

The Missionary Herald normally published letters and telegrams sent by Protestant missionaries and their families in Manchu Qing dynasty, in Shanxi province, Taiyuan city. In December 1900, after incrementally more ominous monthly reports, the Missionary Herald broke five-month-old news to its readers: “the entire mission staff in the Province of Shanxi has perished”. At the end of June 1900 priests and their families had been lured out of hiding and cast into prison, then executed by the Manchu officials. The Taiyuan missionaries fled into a co-worker’s house because Boxers were burning churches and houses, killing Christians and foreigners. Three days later the governor sent four deputies with soldiers, “promising to escort them in safety to the coast”. Brought instead to a house near the governor’s residence, they were then “taken to the open space in front of the Governor’s residence, and stripped to the waist, as usual with those beheaded”.

By June 1900 placards calling for the death of foreigners and Christians covered the walls around Beijing. Armed bands combed the streets of the city, setting fire to homes and “with imperial blessing” killing Chinese Christians and foreigners
—Father Geoffrey Korz, of the Orthodox church

In 2005 British Professor Henry Hart released a book, Lost in the Gobi Desert, to commemorate his great-grandfather’s efforts to save the life of foreign missionaries and their Chinese followers from the hands of the Boxer rebels:

Boxers blamed “foreign devils” like my great-grandparents for causing northern China’s drought and famine, exacerbating economic hardships by building railroads and telegraph lines (because such modern conveniences eliminated jobs), undermining the native textile industry with European imports, infecting and killing Chinese children with Christian prayers and for various other real and imagined infamies.
The barbaric Boxer Rebellion came as a sudden thunderstorm; all foreigners were to be killed not in the sudden merciful death of a bullet but sliced to death by big, old rusty knives and swords…. I had an old Winchester rifle and plenty of ammunition ready for the journey….The Boxer uprising ultimately claimed the lives of more than 32,000 Chinese Christians and several hundred foreign missionaries (historian Nat Brandt called it “the greatest single tragedy in the history of Christian evangelicalism

Siege of Beijing

Locations of foreign diplomatic legations and front lines in Beijing during the siege.

The compound in Beijing remained under siege from Boxer forces from 20 June – 14 August. A total of 473 foreign civilians, 409 soldiers from eight countries, and about 3,000 Chinese Christians took refuge in the Legation Quarter. (See Siege of the Legations, Beijing 1900) Under the command of the British minister to China, Claude Maxwell MacDonald, the legation staff and security personnel defended the compound with small arms, three machine guns, and one old muzzle-loaded cannon; it was nicknamed the International Gun because the barrel was British, the carriage was Italian, the shells were Russian and the crew was American.

During the defence of the legations, a small Japanese force of one officer and 24 sailors commanded by Colonel Shiba, distinguished itself in several ways. Of particular note was that it had the almost unique distinction of suffering greater than 100 percent casualties. This was possible because a great many of the Japanese troops were wounded, entered into the casualty lists, then returned to the line of battle only to be wounded once more and again entered in the casualty lists.


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Also under siege in Peking was the North Cathedral, the Beitang, of the Catholic Church. The Beitang was defended by 43 French and Italian soldiers, 33 Catholic Priests and nuns, and about 3,200 Chinese Catholics. The defenders suffered heavy casualties especially from lack of food and Chinese mines exploded in tunnels dug beneath the compound.

Foreign media described the fighting going on in Beijing, as well as the alleged torture and murder of captured foreigners. While it is true that thousands of Chinese Christians were massacred in north China, many horrible stories that appeared in world newspapers were based on the actual murder of men, women and children within the foreign legation. Nonetheless a wave of anti-Chinese  sentiment arose in Europe, the United States and Japan. The poorly armed Boxer rebels were unable to break into the compound, which was relieved by an international army of the Eight-Nation Alliance in August.

On 1 July, the Chinese artillery bombardment had finally exhausted the Allies patience, and they determined to put it to a halt. The Italians and British sought to sortie and destroyed the Chinese artillery. When the Italian attack commenced, they ran toward the Chinese lines, but as soon as the Chinese fire hit them, they fled in terror and retreated, several Italians were killed and wounded, fleeing like mad to escape. Some of their clothes were dripping in blood. The Italian Lieutenant was severely wounded and the dead bodies of Italians went missing.


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The Chinese captured the east French Legation, and unleashed a bombardment upon the French; the French position quickly turned into a death trap, with men wounded and one Frenchman had his face blown off.

Chinese snipers surrounded the French legation and Su Wang Fu, maintaining a constant watch. The foreigners were steadily and rapidly losing men killed by Chinese snipers. Chinese artillery targeted the Allied Defences, as the casualty rate rose to over 200 men. The Chinese Imperial Army and Boxer snipers, aided with Chinese artillery, persisted in the siege, destroying buildings in the French settlements while foreign casualties continued to rise. In the settlements, sniper casualties included various nationalities; French, British, and American.


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Accurate Chinese snipers and artillery constantly pounded the legations, forcing defenders to abandon multiple positions. The Chinese forces occupied Su Wang Fu and the French Legation, being nearly successful in defeating American and Russians in the city wall. However, the Dowager Empress Cixi declared a truce on 25 June, because she had an altercation with the anti foreignPrince Duan, who wanted all the foreigners exterminated. But when news came of the Chinese victory over Seymour’s forces in theFirst intervention, Seymour Expedition, China 1900, fighting resumed. It was Chinese collaborators in the legations who led the foreigners to a cannon after digging, which they managed to deploy to defend themselves. On 13 July, the French legation was demolished by Chinese mining explosives. However, the pro foreign factions and anti foreign factions were squabbling against each other at the Chinese court. The pro foreigner Qing Princes even offered the foreigners safety in the Zongli Yamen. They even declared a cease fire from 14 July- 4 August, Dowager Empress Cixi even sent food and supplies to the foreigners.

Prince Qing declined to join the boxers and the rest of the imperial army to attack the legations, and even ordered his own Manchu Bannermen to attack the Boxers and the Muslim Kansu braves, who were besieging the foreigners. It was reported that Prince Qing’s pro foreign bannermen fought against Prince Duan’s anti foreign troops.

During the siege, foreign maintained control over diminishing food resources, prioritising their own needs and denying aid to the Chinese Christians who had sought shelter with them. As Max Boot describes it, “the starving Chinese converts were reduced to eating tree bark and leaves, while the Europeans still enjoyed free-flowing champagne.

An incident occurred when Russian soldiers, wanting to rape Chinese Christian schoolgirls, were discovered by the British. It is unknown whether it was discovered before any rapes occurred, as sensitivity prevented an investigation.


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Conflicting attitudes within the Imperial Court

The Chinese government was split into two factions i.e. the conservatives who wished to use the Boxers to remove foreigners from China and the ones who were more moderate. Reflecting this inconsistency, some Chinese soldiers were quite liberally firing at foreigners under siege from its very onset. The Dowager Empress, however, did not personally order the Chinese Imperial troops to conduct a siege, on the contrary, she ordered them to protect the foreigners in the legations. Prince Duan led the Boxers to loot his enemies within the Imperial court and the foreigners, and in fact, when the Boxers originally were let into the city and went on a looting rampage, against both the foreign and the Chinese Imperial forces, the Imperial authority kicked them out. Old Boxers were sent outside Beijing to halt the invading foreign armies, while young Boxers were absorbed into the Muslim Kansu army.

The commander of all the forces, Ronglu, tried to negotiate for a ceasefire, but it was the foreigners who opened fire on Dong Fuxiang’s army. The foreigners in the legations opened fire on Chinese officials, forces, and other people without provocation, killing numerous people, the Muslim army was forced to defend itself by returning fire. When the Chinese forces built notices and sent messengers notifying the foreigners that the Imperial Chinese forces were going to protect them, and open up communications, and to cease fire, the foreigners in the legations responded by shooting and killing the messengers and refused to make peace. It was the British minister who dragged Chinese Christians with him into the Su Wang Fu palace after removing Su Wang Fu from the palace.

The only soldiers who wanted to press a siege, were Dong Fuxiang’s Muslim warriors, who were allied to the anti foreign Prince Duan, who had originally allowed the Boxers to come into the city. Ronglu directed his own forces to instead protect the foreigners in the legations, per the Dowager Empress’s decree, and only fired a limited amount of ammunition and firecrackers to satisfy conservatives in the Chinese imperial court.

Torching of Chinese dwellings

On 23 June 1900 the Boxer rebels started setting fire to areas north and west of the British Legation, using it as a “frightening tactic” to attack the defenders. And Hanlin Yuan, a complex of courtyards and buildings that housed “the quintessence of Chinese scholarship … the oldest and richest library in the world”, (Yongle Dadian) was just nearby. Sir Claude MacDonald, the commander-in-chief, had become worried that the Boxer rebels might try to burn the Hanlin Yuan, the “buildings at some point being only an arm’s length from the British building walls.”

On 24 June 1900, when the winds shifted, the unanticipated happened: Hanlin Yuan’s group of buildings had caught fire, and the fire was beginning to spread further. Eyewitness’ accounts:

The old buildings burned like tinder with a roar which drowned the steady rattle of musketry as Tung Fu-shiang’s Moslems fired wildly through the smoke from upper windows…Some of the incendiaries were shot down, but the buildings were an inferno and the old trees standing round them blazed like torches…An attempt was made to save the famous Yang Lo Ta Tien [now spelled Yongle Dadian], but heaps of volumes had been destroyed, so the attempt was given up.
— eyewitness, Lancelot Giles, son of Herbert A. Giles.

The Manchu authority blamed the British for setting the fire as a defensive measure, whereas the British pointed to the direction of the wind, and claimed that it was either the Boxer rebels or the ordinary Manchu soldiers who “set fire to the Hanlin, working systematically from one courtyard to the next. Rescued from among the burning buildings were portions of the Yongle Encyclopedia, and other works.

The Eight-Nation Alliance with their naval flags. Japanese print, 1900

Arrival of reinforcements

Forces of the Eight-Nation Alliance
(1900 Boxer Rebellion)

Troops of the Eight nations alliance 1900.jpg
Troops of the Eight nations alliance in 1900.
Left to right: Britain, United States, Russia,
British India, Germany, France, Austria,
Italy, Japan.
Countries Warships
Japan 18 540 20,300
Russia 10 750 12,400
United Kingdom 8 2,020 10,000
France 5 390 3,130
United States 2 295 3,125
Germany 5 600 300
Austria–Hungary 4 296
Italy 2 80
Total 54 4,971 49,255
Foreign navies started building up their presence along the northern China coast from the end of April 1900. Several international forces were sent to the capital, with various success, and the rebellion was ultimately quashed by the Eight-Nation Alliance of Austria-HungaryFranceGermany,ItalyJapanRussia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

First international force

On 31 May, before the sieges had started and upon the request of foreign embassies in Beijing, an international force of 435 navy troops from eight countries were dispatched by train from Takou to the capital (75 French, 75 Russian, 75 British, 60 U.S., 50 German, 40 Italian, 30 Japanese, 30 Austrian). After covering the 80 miles distance to the capital, these troops joined the legations and were able to contribute to their defense.

Seymour Expedition

Main article: Seymour Expedition
File:Sir Edward H. Seymour 2.jpg

As the situation worsened a second international force of 2,000 sailors and marines under the command of the British Vice-Admiral Edward Seymour, the largest contingent being British, was dispatched from Takou to Beijing on 10 June. The troops were transported by train from Takou to Tianjin with the agreement of the Chinese government, but the railway between Tianjin and Beijing had been severed. Seymour resolved to move forward and repair the rail or such as the train, or progress on foot as necessary, keeping in mind that the distance between Tianjin and Beijing was only 120 km. However, Seymour left Tiensten, and started toward Peking, which angered the Chinese Imperial court. As a result, the Pro Boxer Manchu Prince Tuan became leader of the Tsungli Yamen (foreign office), replacing Prince Ching, orders were given to Imperial army to attack the foreign forces. Chinese General Nie let Seymour’s army slip pass in trains, because Ronglu deliberately issued contradicting orders, which left Nie confused.


Japanese marines who served under the British commander Seymour.

After Tianjin the convoy was surrounded, the railway behind and in front of them was destroyed, and they were attacked from all parts by Chinese irregulars and even Chinese governmental troops. News arrived on 18 June regarding attacks on foreign legations. Seymour decided to continue advancing, this time along the Pei-Ho river, toward Tong-Tcheou, 25 km from Beijing. By the 19th, they had to abandon their efforts due to progressively stiffening resistance and started to retreat southward along the river with over 200 wounded. Commandeering four civilian Chinese junks along the river, they loaded all their wounded and remaining supplies onto them and pulled them along with ropes from the riverbanks. By this point they were very low on food, ammunition and medical supplies. Luckily, they then happened upon The Great Hsi-Ku Arsenal, a hidden Qing munitions cache that the Allied Powers had no knowledge of until then. They immediately captured and occupied it, discovering not only German Krupp-made field guns, but rifles with millions of rounds in ammunition, along with millions of pounds of rice and ample medical supplies.


Admiral Seymour returning to Tianjin with his wounded men, on 26 June.

There they dug in and awaited rescue. A Chinese servant was able to infiltrate through the Boxer and Qing lines, informing the Eight Powers of their predicament. Surrounded and attacked nearly around the clock by Qing troops and Boxers, they were at the point of being overrun. On 25 June a regiment composed of 1800 men, (900 Russian troops fromPort-Arthur, 500 British seamen, with an ad hoc mix of other assorted Alliance troops) finally arrived. Spiking the mounted field guns and setting fire to any munitions that they could not take (an estimated £3 million worth), they departed the Hsi-Ku Arsenal in the early morning of 26 June, with the loss of 62 killed and 228 wounded.

Gaselee Expedition

Main article: Gasalee Expedition

The Boxers bombarded Tianjin in June 1900, and Dong Fuxiang’s Muslim troops attacked the British Admiral Seymour and his expeditionary force.

With a difficult military situation in Tianjin and a total breakdown of communications between Tianjin and Beijing, the allied nations took steps to reinforce their military presence significantly. On 17 June they took the Taku Forts commanding the approaches to Tianjin, and from there brought increasing numbers of troops on shore.

The international force with British Lieutenant-General Alfred Gaselee acting as the commanding officer of the Eight-Nation Alliance, eventually numbered 55,000, with the main contingent being composed of Japanese soldiers: Japanese (20,840), Russian (13,150), British (12,020), French (3,520), U.S.(3,420), German (900), Italian (80), Austro-Hungarian (75) and anti-Boxer Chinese troops. The international force finally captured Tianjin on 14 July under the command of the Japanese Colonel Kuriya, after one day of fighting.


The capture of the southern gate of Tianjin. British troops were positioned on the left, Japanese troops at the centre, French troops on the right.

Notable exploits during the campaign were the seizure of the Dagu Forts commanding the approaches to Tianjin, and the boarding and capture of four Chinese destroyers by Roger Keyes. Among the foreigners besieged in Tianjin was a young American mining engineer named Herbert Hoover.

The march from Tianjin to Beijing of about 120 km consisted of about 20,000 allied troops. On 4 August there were approximately 70,000 Imperial troops with anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 Boxers along the way. They only encountered minor resistance, fighting battles at Beicang and Yangcun. At Yangcun the 14th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. and British troops led the assault. The weather was a major obstacle, extremely humid with temperatures sometimes reaching 110 °F (43 °C).

File:Siege of Peking, Boxer Rebellion.jpg

Corporal Titus scaling the walls of Peking.

The international force reached and occupied Beijing on August, 14. All the nationalities in the international force raced to be the first to liberate the besieged Legation Quarter with the British winning the race. The U.S. was able to play a minor role, in suppressing the Boxer Rebellion due to the presence of U.S. ships and troops deployed in the Philippines since the U.S. conquest of the Spanish American and Philippine-American War. In the U.S. military the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion was known as the China Relief Expedition. American soldiers scaling the walls of Beijing is one of the most iconic images of the Boxer Rebellion.

Russian Invasion of Manchuria

Crushing of boxers in Northern and Central Manchuria

Boxers attacks on Chinese Eastern Railway

Battles on Amur River (1900)

Defence of Yingkou

Main article: Defence of Yingkou

Battle of Pai-t’ou-tzu

Evacuation of Imperial Court from Beijing to Xi’an

During the Battle of Peking, the Entire Chinese Imperial Court, including the Empress Dowager and Emperor Guangxu, safetly escaped from Beijing and evacuated to Xi’an in Shaanxi province, deep beyond protective mountain passes where the foreigners could not reach. The Foreigners were unable to pursue, and had no such orders to do so, so they decided no action should be taken. The Muslim Kansu Braves protected the Imperial Court from the foreigners, Xi’an was deep in Chinese Muslim territory. Several foreigners commented that the Chinese shrewdly outsmarted the foreign forces, and succeeded in making the foreigners look stupid by escaping from their grasp, where they could not attack them.



Russian troops in Beijing.


American troops during the Boxer Rebellion.

Beijing, Tianjin, and other cities in northern China were occupied for more than one year by the international expeditionary force under the command of German General Alfred Graf von Waldersee. The German force arrived too late to take part in the fighting, but undertook several punitive expeditions to the countryside against the Boxers. Although atrocities by foreign troops were common, German troops in particular were criticized for their enthusiasm in carrying out Kaiser Wilhelm II’s words. On 27 July 1900 when Wilhelm II spoke during departure ceremonies for the German contingent to the relief force in China, an impromptu, but intemperate reference to the Hun invaders of continental Europe would later be resurrected by British propaganda to mock Germany during World War I and World War II.

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 Germany become known in such a manner in China, that no Chinese will ever again dare to look askance at a German.
—Michael Hunt, The Making of a Special Relationship: The United States and China to 1914

The Germans were not the only offenders. On behalf of Chinese Catholics, French troops ravaged the countryside around Beijing to collect indemnities—and on one occasion arresting American missionary William Scott Ament who, a one-man army, beat them to the punch in gathering wealth from some villages. Nor were the soldiers of other nationalities any better behaved. “The Russian soldiers are ravishing the women and committing horrible atrocities” in the sector of Beijing they occupied. The Japanese were noted for their skill in beheading Boxers or people suspected of being Boxers. General Chaffee commented, “It is safe to say that where one real Boxer has been killed …fifty harmless coolies or laborers on the farms, including not a few women and children, have been slain.

File:Beijing Castle Boxer Rebellion 1900 FINAL.jpg

“The Fall of the Peking Castle” from September 1900. British and Japanese soldiers assaulting Chinese troops.

The intermediate aftermath of the siege in Beijing was “an orgy of looting” by soldiers, civilians, and missionaries. Each nationality in the expeditionary force accused the other of being the worst looters. An American diplomat, Herbert G. Squiers, filled several railroad cars with loot. The British Legation held loot auctions every afternoon and proclaimed, “looting on the part of British troops was carried out in the most orderly manner.” The Catholic Beitang or North Cathedral was a “salesroom for stolen property. The American commander General Adna Chaffee banned looting by American soldiers, but the ban was ineffectual.

The missionaries were the most condemned. Mark Twain reflected American outrage against looting and imperialism in his essay, “To the Person Sitting in Darkness”.American Board Missionary Ament was his target. To provide restitution to missionaries and Chinese Christian families whose property had been destroyed, Ament guided American troops through villages to punish Boxers and confiscate their property. When Mark Twain read of this expedition, he wrote a scathing attack on the “Reverend bandits of the American Board. Ament was one of the most respected and courageous missionaries in China and the controversy between him and Mark Twain was front page news during much of 1901. Ament’s counterpart on the distaff side was doughty British missionary Georgina Smith who presided over a neighborhood in Beijing as judge and jury.

Alliance Atrocities

The American missionary Luella Miner observed that the Boxers regularly killed and mutilated foreigners, including women and children, though claimed that they did not commit rape. The Guardian journalist John Gittings also claimed that when the Alliance force entered Beijing, “it proceeded to loot, kill and rape with as much ferocity as the Boxers had shown (with the difference that the Boxers looted and killed, but did not rape).

File:Foreign armies in Beijing during Boxer Rebellion.jpg

Forces of the Eight Nation Alliance at a victory parade in the Forbidden
City, 20 November 1900 (

It was reported that Japanese troops were astonished by other Alliance troops raping civlians. Thousands of Chinese women committed suicide. The Daily Telegraph journalist Dr. Dillon stated it was to avoid rape by Alliance forces, and he witnessed the mutilated corpses of Chinese women who were raped and killed by the Alliance troops. Japanese officers had brought along Japanese prostitutes to stop their troops from raping Chinese civilians. A foreign journalist, George Lynch, said “there are things that I must not write, and that may not be printed in England, which would seem to show that this Western civilization of ours is merely a veneer over savagery. All of the nationalities engaged in looting. Russian and French behavior was particularly appalling. Chinese women and girls committed suicide to avoid being raped. The French commander dismissed the rapes, attributing them to “gallantry of the French soldier”.

The Russian writer Leo Tolstoy praised the Boxers. He was harshly critical of the atrocities he heard reports of being committed by the Russians and other western troops. He accused them of engaging in slaughter when he heard repoorts about the lootings, rapes, and murders, in what he saw as Christian brutality. He accused Nicholas II of Russia and Wilhelm II of Germany of being chiefly responsible.


Executed Boxer leaders at Hsi-Kou 1900-1901, guarded by a German soldier.

The Qing dynasty was by no means defeated when the Allies took control of Beijing. They Allies had to temper their demands they sent in a message to Xi’an to get the Dowager Empress to agree with them, among them was that China did not have to give up any land at all. Many of the Dowager Empress’s advisers in the Imperial Court insisted that the war be carried on against the foreigners, arguing that China could have defeated the foreigners since it was disloyal and traitorous people within China who allowed Beijing and Tianjin to be captured by the Allies, and the interior of China was impenetrable. Dong Fuxiang was also recommended by them to continue fighting. The Dowager was practical, and decided that the terms were generous enough for her to acquiesce and stop the war, when she was assured of her continued reign after the war.

On 7 September 1901, the Qing court agreed to sign the “Boxer Protocol” also known as Peace Agreement between the Eight-Nation Alliance and China. The protocol ordered the execution of 10 high-ranking officials linked to the outbreak and other officials who were found guilty for the slaughter of foreigners in China. The British signatory of the Protocol was Sir Ernest Satow.

Ma Jun (馬駿), a Muslim, brought a petition to the government which demanded that Xu Shichang must not sign the Boxer Protocol.

Share of reparations
Country Share %
Russia 30.00
Germany 20.00
France 15.75
Britain 11.25
Japan 7.70
US 7.00

China was fined war reparations of 450,000,000 taels of fine silver (1 tael = 1.2 troy ounces) for the loss that it caused. The reparation would be paid within 39 years, and would be 982,238,150 taels with interests (4 percent per year) included. To help meet the payment it was agreed to increase the existing tariff from an actual 3.18 percent to 5 percent, and to tax hitherto duty-free merchandise. The sum of reparation was estimated by the Chinese population (roughly 450 million in 1900), to let each Chinese pay one tael. Chinese custom income and salt tax were enlisted as guarantee of the reparation.

China paid 668,661,220 taels of silver from 1901 to 1939, equivalent in 2010 to ~US$61 billion on a purchasing power parity basis (see Tael).

Execution of Boxers by beheading

Execution of Boxers after the rebellion.

A large portion of the reparations paid to the United States was diverted to pay for the education of Chinese students in U.S. universities under the Boxer Rebellion Indemnity Scholarship Program. To prepare the students chosen for this program an institute was established to teach the English language and to serve as a preparatory school for the course of study chosen. When the first of these students returned to China they undertook the teaching of subsequent students; from this institute was bornTsinghua University. Some of the reparation due to Britain was later earmarked for a similar program.

The China Inland Mission, lost more members than any other missionary agency: 58 adults and 21 children were killed. However, in 1901, when the allied nations were demanding compensation from the Chinese government, Hudson Taylor refused to accept payment for loss of property or life in order to demonstrate the meekness and gentleness of Christ to the Chinese.

The French Catholic vicar apostolic, Msgr. Alfons Bermyn wanted foreign troops garrisoned in inner Mongolia, but the Governor refused. Bermyn resorted to lies, and falsely petitioned the Manchu Enming to send troops to Hetao where Prince Duan’s Mongol troops and General Dong Fuxiang’s Muslim troops allegedly threatened Catholics. It turned at that Bermyn had created the incident as a hoax. One of the false reports claimed that Dong Fuxiang wiped out Belgian missionaries in Mongolia and was going to massacre Catholics in Taiyuan.

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The Qing did not capitulate to all the foreign demands. The Manchu Governor Yuxian was executed, but the Imperial court refused to execute the Chinese General Dong Fuxiang, both were anti foreign and had encouraged the killing of foreigners during the rebellion. Instead, General Dong Fuxiang lived a life of luxury and power in “exile” in his home province of Gansu.


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In addition to not only sparing Dong Fuxiang, the Qing also refused to exile the Boxer supporter Prince Tuan to Xinjiang, as the foreigners demanded. Instead, he moved to Alashan, west of Ningxia, and lived in Wangyeh Fu, where the local Mongol Prince lived. He then moved to Ningxia during the Xinhai Revolution when the Muslims took control of Ningxia, and finally, moved to Xinjiang with Sheng Yun.


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Long-term consequences

The great powers stopped short of finally colonizing China. From the Boxer rebellions, they learned that the best way to govern China was through the Chinese dynasty, instead of direct dealing with the Chinese people (as a saying “The people are afraid of officials, the officials are afraid of foreigners, and the foreigners are afraid of the people” (老百姓怕官,官怕洋鬼子,洋鬼子怕老百姓). Dowager Cixi used Boxers to fight foreigners largely because foreigners sympathized with the Guangxu Emperor, who had been on house arrest after an aborted reformation. Eventually, as an unwritten agreement, Dowager Cixi was allowed to stay in power, since comparatively, Cixi could use her influence to suppress the Chinese anti-foreign sentiment better than the weak and ineffectual Guangxu Emperor. The Guangxu Emperor spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

In October 1900 Russia was busy occupying much of the northeastern province of Manchuria, a move which threatened Anglo-American hopes of maintaining what remained of China’s territorial integrity and an openness to commerce under the Open Door Policy. This behavior led ultimately to the Russo-Japanese War, where Russia was defeated at the hands of an increasingly confident Japan.


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Among the Imperial powers, Japan gained prestige due to its military aid in suppressing the Boxer Rebellion and was now seen as a power. Its clash with Russia over Liaodong and other provinces in eastern Manchuria, long considered by the Japanese as part of their sphere of influence, led to the Russo-Japanese War when two years of negotiations broke down in February 1904. The Russian Lease of the Liaodong (1898) was confirmed.


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Besides the compensation, Empress Dowager Cixi reluctantly started some reformations despite her previous view. The imperial examination system for government service was eliminated; as a result, the classical system of education was replaced with a European liberal system that led to a university degree. After the death of Empress Dowager Cixi and the Guangxu Emperor (on the same day, mysteriously) in 1908, the regent (Guangxu Emperor’s brother) launched reformation. However, these efforts seemed to be too late. The revolutionaries within Han Chinese could not wait. The imperial government’s humiliating failure to defend China against the foreign powers contributed to the growth of nationalist resentment against the “foreigner” Qing dynasty (who were descendants of the Manchu conquerors of China). By circumstance, the Qing Dynasty, weakened by the war and the 1911 revolution, led by Sun Yat-sen, became the last dynasty in Chinese history.


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The effect on China was a weakening of the dynasty as well as a weakened national defense. The structure was temporarily sustained by the Europeans. Behind the international conflict, it further internally deepened the ideological differences between northern-Chinese anti-foreign royalists and southern-Chinese anti-Qing revolutionists. This scenario in the last Chinese dynasty gradually escalated to a chaotic warlord era in which the most powerful northern warlords were hostile towards the first Chinese republic in the south until the 1930s when the Chinese communists and Japanese imperialists became the greatest threats to the republic and the northern warlords respectively. Before the ultimate defeat of the Boxer Rebellion, all anti-Qing movements in the previous century such as the Taiping Rebellion were successfully suppressed by the Qing and her foreign collaborators.


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Historian Walter LaFeber has argued that President William McKinley‘s decision to send 5,000 American troops to quell the rebellion marks “the origins of modern presidential war powers”:

McKinley took a historic step in creating a new, twentieth-century presidential power. He dispatched the five thousand troops without consulting Congress, let alone obtaining a declaration of war, to fight the Boxers who were supported by the Chinese government . . . Presidents had previously used such force against non-governmental groups that threatened U.S. interests and citizens. It was now used, however, against recognized governments, and without obeying the Constitution’s provisions about who was to declare war.

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. concurred, writing that:[155]

The intervention in China marked the start of a crucial shift in the presidential employment of armed force overseas. In the nineteenth century, military force committed without congressional authorization had been typocally used against nongovernmental organizations. Now it was beginning to be used against sovereign states, and, in the case ofTheodore Roosevelt, with less consultation than ever.

Controversies and changing views of the Boxers

From the beginning, views differed as to whether the Boxers are better seen as anti-imperialist or as futile opponents of inevitable change. The historian Joseph Esherick comments that “confusion about the Boxer Uprising is not simply a matter of popular misconceptions,” for “there is no major incident in China’s modern history on which the range of professional interpretation is so great.”.

Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of the Republic of China and of the Kuomintang party at first believed that the Boxer Movement was stirred up by the Qing government’s rumors, which “caused confusion among the populace,” and led to his “scathing criticism” of the Boxers’ “anti-foreignism and obscurantism.” He concluded that the “anti-foreignism sponsored by the Manchus reached its pinnacle in the Boxer Upheavals of 1900.” In 1918, however, Sun praised the Boxers for fighting against foreign imperialism. He said the Boxers were courageous and fearless, fighting to the death against the Alliance armies, Dr. Sun specifically cited the Battle of Yangcun.


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Views of the Boxers among 20th century Chinese intellectuals and scholars remain complex, and contentious. The failures of the Boxer Rebellion initially humiliated educated Chinese nationalists, who disdained them for their superstition and aggression. Sun Yat-sen “[praised] the Boxers for their spirit of resistance” but called the Boxers “‘bandits’, as many educated Chinese of his generation did.” Students of the era shared an ambivalent attitude to the Boxers, stating that while the uprising originated from the “ignorant and stubborn people of the interior areas”, the beliefs were “brave and righteous”, and could “be transformed into a moving force for independence”. Foreigners, such as Mark Twain, were sympathetic towards the Boxers. Twain said that “the Boxer is a patriot.


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He loves his country better than he does the countries of other people. I wish him success. After the fall of the Qing dynasty, nationalist Chinese too became sympathetic to the Boxers. Chen Duxiu forgave the “barbarism of the Boxer… given the crime foreigners committed in China”, and contended that it was those “subservient to the foreigners” that truly “deserved our resentment”.


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In the People’s Republic of China, orthodox textbooks used to analyze the Boxer movement as an anti-imperialist, patriotic peasant movement whose failure was due to the lack of leadership from the modern working class. In recent decades, however, large-scale projects of village interviews and explorations of archival sources have led historians to take a more nuanced view. Some non-Chinese scholars, such as Joseph Esherick, have seen the movement as anti-imperialist; while others view this interpretation as anachronistic in that the Chinese nation had not been formed and the Boxers were more concerned with regional issues. Paul Cohen’s recent history includes a survey of “the Boxers as myth,” showing how their memory was used in changing ways in 20th-century China from the New Culture Movement to the Cultural Revolution.

In this 1860s woodprint, the “Heavenly pig” or Tian Zhu (a homophone for “Lord of Heaven”) and goats are slaughtered by Manchu officials.

In recent years the Boxers have been debated in the People’s Republic, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. The philosopher Tang Junyi viewed the Boxer Uprising as a religious war between the Chinese and Christianity. In 1998, the critical scholar Wang Yi argued that the Boxers had features in common with the Cultural Revolution. Both events had the external goal of “liquidating all harmful pests” and the domestic goal of “eliminating bad elements of all descriptions” and this relation was rooted in “cultural obscurantism.” Wang traced the changes in attitudes towards the Boxers from the condemnation of the May Fourth Movement to the approval expressed by Mao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution. In 2006 Yuan Weishi, a professor of philosophy at Zhongshan University in Guangzhou, criticized the official government-issued middle schools history textbooks. Yuan wrote that the Boxers by their “criminal actions brought unspeakable suffering to the nation and its people! These are all facts that everybody knows, and it is a national shame that the Chinese people cannot forget.” For many years, history text books had been lacking in neutrality in presenting the Boxer Rebellion as a “magnificent feat of patriotism”, and not presenting the view that the majority of the Boxer rebels were both violent and xenophobic. These views were criticized and some labeled Yuan Weishi “Hanjian” (漢奸, betrayer of the Han)



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19 thoughts on “Boxer Rebellion – in China

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