The Boxer Rebellion

The Boxer Rebellion

The Dramatic Story of China's War on Foreigners That Shook the World in the Summer of 1900

Paperback - 2001
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Chinese peasants chafed against the foreign technologies and ideas that the imperialists introduced. Then a new movement-mystical, materialistic, and virulently anti-Christian-began to spread among them like wildfire. The foreigners laughed at the peasants' martial-arts routines and nicknamed them "the Boxers"-never imagining that the group, with the backing of China's empress dowager, would soon terrorize the world...This acclaimed account of the Boxer Rebellion, by an Oxford-trained historian, is an important new addition to every shelf of high-quality, highly accessible history.
Publisher: New York : Berkley Books, 2001, c2000.
ISBN: 9780425180846
Characteristics: xxvii, 436 pages :,illustrations ;,23 cm.
Additional Contributors: Preston, Diana 1952- Besieged in Peking.


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Jan 24, 2020

Diana Preston’s book does an excellent job of telling the story of the Boxer Rebellion from the viewpoint of the Westerners who were caught up in it, although, as pointed out in one of the reviews above, it is a bit thin on the historical background and the motivations and policies of the Manchu government, the Empress Dowager, and the many officials and functionaries who move through the story, as well as the Boxers themselves; but these were complete mysteries to people at the time as well! For anyone wishing to understand the history of China in the 20th Century, and why today’s China seems determined to become a major player on the world stage, the book is highly recommended.

China’s fear and resentment of foreigners can perhaps be traced all the way back to the Mongol invasion of the 13th Century and the setting up of the Yuan Dynasty; as well as the Opium Wars of the 1840’s and the conflict with the French in 1860, plus the efforts of other western powers to carve out, for economic gain and exploitation, their “spheres of influence”; and China’s humiliating defeat in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95. The Manchu government saw in the Boxer movement, which was a religiously motivated phenomenon of northern China which fanned among the peasantry the flames of nationalism, economic inequality and religious bigotry, an opportunity to exact revenge, and became an active participant in the attempt to wipe out the Western legations and every trace of Christianity. Yet the campaign was disorganized, schizophrenic, half-hearted and erratically pursued; sometimes those in the besieged legations wondered why attacks by Imperial troops suddenly ceased when, if pursued, they could have wiped the Westerners out. China was such a vast country that many regions, especially in the west and south, were not aware of, or cared little about, events in Peking and Tientsin and declined to participate; the outcome was that the campaign backfired and ultimately caused yet another humiliation of China, unimaginable devastation, and the needless deaths of thousands of Chinese and hundreds of Westerners, plus eventually the downfall of the Manchu dynasty in 1911 with the establishment of the Republic of China by Sun Yat-sen. The intervention by the armies of the Western powers to rescue their citizens has been called a "police action" and compared to that initiated by the United Nations in Korea in 1950. And, along with the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese Wars, it marked the emergence of Japan as a full-fledged power on the world stage.

The tens of thousands of Chinese Christian converts and the Catholic priests and nuns and Protestant missionaries (including their wives and children) who were mostly located in the interior with little or no protection, and who were mercilessly and pitilessly slaughtered, can certainly be considered modern martyrs for the faith. Yet this did not deter further missionary efforts after the rebellion, and the martyrs would rejoice to see the way the faith is spreading in China today and to realize that their blood was not shed in vain. The “Three-Self Patriotic Movement” encompasses the recognized churches; but there are thousands of house churches which continue to increase in number despite the occasional attempts to suppress them (and the publication of Bibles and other Christian literature), and the Christian community in China is one of the fastest growing worldwide.

Sep 20, 2017

In the summer of 1900, an obscure Chinese religious sect - known as Boxers after their belief that certain martial arts rituals could render them invulnerable to bullets - grew into a major movement. The Boxers demanded that the foreigners who had polluted and despoiled China be exterminated along with all those Chinese who followed their alien ways - especially the hundreds of thousands of Chinese Christians. Soon, the Boxer movement exploded into violence, with Boxers torturing, raping, and murdering their way across northern China. The Empress Dowager allied herself with the movement, and the foreigners resident in the capital of Peking found themselves besieged in their legations by a combination of Boxers and imperial troops. The defenders - Europeans, Japanese, and Chinese - held out through months of desperate if sporadic fighting until relieved by a multinational expeditionary force.

Preston admirably sifts through a mass of diaries, papers, and memoirs left behind by the Europeans trapped in Peking, which provide a wide range of sometimes conflicting perspectives. Unfortunately, the upheavals of the twentieth century have destroyed most of the primary sources on the Chinese side, and this means that the Chinese experience of the Rebellion remains largely a mystery. Dramatically, this is satisfying, as it places the reader in the shoes of the besieged, but it is devastating historically.

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