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The Boxer Rebellion

Updated on August 25, 2013
Nick Burchett profile image

Nick is a US Army veteran, husband and father of three, and has a BA in History. He is a Civil War aficionado and also enjoys genealogy.

Historic picture showing foreign armies in Beijing's forbidden city during boxer rebellion.
Historic picture showing foreign armies in Beijing's forbidden city during boxer rebellion. | Source

The Boxer Rebellion

The Boxer Rebellion, which lasted from 2 November 1899 until 7 September 1901, significance and lasting impact would be that never before or since would eight major military powers of the world come together and fight against a common enemy. That enemy would be the I Ho Ch'uan, which means Righteous Harmonious Fists, or better known to the world as the Boxers.

The Boxers were one of many "secret societies" in China and had favor in the imperial court of the ruling monarch, the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi, in the person of Prince Tuan, who although himself not a Boxer, had strong sympathies for the secret society.

The Chinese people had endured crop failure, famine and locust plague along with the flooding of the Yellow River. All of this, on top of being defeated by Japan in 1895, and an influx of foreigners led to the people feeling disillusioned and oppressed. They would turn to the secret societies to control one aspect of their turmoil they felt they had control over - foreigners, and what they felt was a foreign invasion of their country.

The Boxers had been proponents of anti-foreign sentiment for many years, and even classified these "foreign devils" into three groups. The "first-class devils" were all foreigners. The "second-class devils" were Chinese Christians converts, and "third-class devils" were anyone who worked with foreigners. This hatred of foreigners at the turn of the century, when many nations were flexing their imperialistic muscle, would be critical in bringing together an alliance made up of Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.

Hostilities would boil over and a significantly ill-equipped, poorly led and badly trained Chinese force of Boxers and Imperial Guard would prove no match for the might of the eight combined imperial powers. What the conflict would lead to is treaties and concessions by the Chinese that would further alienate the common citizen and would ultimately lead to the eventual downfall of the Manchu Dynasty. However, with the influx of westerners to China, the country would experience and explosion in industrial grown. This would not only lead to advances in industry, but would lead to better living conditions and would bring the Chinese peasant into a modern twentieth century.

Ultimately, the crisis would become unstoppable due to the climate of the world at the turn of the century. Imperialism was rampant and the quest for land and power was insatiable. China had already suffered defeat at the hands of the Japanese and with the steady influx of western civilizations into China during an age when imperialism reigned supreme; China was propelled into this conflict by trying to maintain her ancient beliefs. The only chance of avoiding conflict would have been for a disassociation with her belief system and to adopt western culture as her own or to achieve victory over the imperial powers. Regardless, the conflict it seems was ultimately unavoidable.

In the end, China would come out to what many consider gain. She would join the rest of the industrialized nations and ultimately see the end of empirical governance. For the Allies however, the results of the Boxer Rebellion were less grandiose. Lives were lost, alliances would lead to dissension and eventually war and access to natural resources through concessions would be hindered.

But for one brief and shining moment in 1900, the world was aligned together by powers that would ultimately fight two world wars and would usher in the deadliest century the world has ever known.


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