A succinct revisiting of the turn-of-the-century uprising that pitted Chinese recalcitrance against “imperial buccaneering.”
There are still some important lessons to be learned in studying the Boxer Rebellion, as Silbey (History/Cornell Univ.; A War of Empire and Frontier: The Philippine-American War, 1899–1902, 2007, etc.) clearly points out—certainly as a way of understanding how the Chinese have traditionally met with chaos from outside. By 1900 the incursions of the imperialistic powers Britain, Russia and Germany had forced open China to foreign trade, especially opium, weakening further the Qing dynasty and hastening an internal collapse of a poor, overpopulated country. The catastrophic loss to Japan after the First Sino-Japanese War had shocked the Chinese into a need for reform; however, it was not forthcoming under the rule of Empress Dowager Cixi. Groups of illiterate peasants, unemployed and displaced by the coming of the railroads and resentful of the presence of meddling missionaries, acted out, attacking foreigners. From the secret societies, “the last refuge of the dispossessed,” emerged the Yi-he-quan, the Boxers, a kind of cult that caught on. They were steeped in martial arts and the role of being Robin Hoods, writes Silbey, and they disrupted society, catching the attention of the foreign press by the fall of 1899, and culminating in the murder of missionary Rev. Sidney Brooks. Drought and famine exacerbated local worries, spreading the movement across northern China, until finally the violence against Chinese Christians, railway workers and merchants exploded in 1900 and a combination of foreign legations fought their way to Beijing, battling for forts and arsenal, ultimately relieving the besieged embassies and breaking the Boxer resistance. Although the uprising ultimately failed, it would forge a generation of peasant resisters, whom Mao Zedong believed “did the hard and dirty work of preparing China for a true, Marxist revolution.”
A fresh, accessible take on a crucial turning point for the modern Chinese state.