The Boxer Rebellion targeted both the Manchu dynasty in China and the influence of European powers within China. Though the Boxer Rebellion failed but it did enough to stir up national pride within China itself.
In 1895, China had been defeated by Japan. This was a humiliation for the Chinese as Japan had always been considered as a lesser nation to China. China lost control of Korea and Formosa to Japan.
Within the elite of Chinese society, it was believed that this defeat was entirely the blame of the Europeans who were dominant in China and that they alone were responsible for China’s defeat.
Many Chinese began to feel the same. It was believed that the Europeans were driving China’s domestic and foreign policy and that the situation was getting out of control. By the end of the Nineteenth Century, a strong sense of nationalism swept over China and many wanted to reclaim China for the Chinese. In 1898, these feelings boiled over into rebellion.
The rebellion began in north China in the Shantung Province. This province was a German sphere of influence and Germany dominated the rail lines, factories and coal mines that existed in Shantung. The Germans made considerable profits while the Chinese there were paid very poor wages and lived very poor lifestyles.
In Shantung, gangs of Chinese people roamed the streets chanting “Kill the Christians” and “Drive out the foreign devils”. Germans who lived in Shantung were murdered as were other European missionaries. Those Chinese who had converted to Christianity were also murdered.
Those behind the Shantung rebellion belonged to a secret society called Yi Ho Tuan – which meant “Righteous Harmony Fists” when translated into English. This was shorten to Boxers and the rebellion has gone done in history as the Boxer Rebellion.
By 1900, the rebellion had started to spread across northern China and included the capital Peking.
One of the targets of the Boxers was the Manchu government. They were seen as being little more as unpatriotic stooges of the European ‘masters’ who did nothing for national pride.
The inspiration behind the Manchu government was the Empress Dowager. She was nicknamed “Old Buddha” – but never to her face. She had been married to the former emperor and was a very clever person. China was a society where women were ‘kept in their place’, therefore, she was an oddity within that male dominated society. Empress Dowager Tzu realised what was going on and made secret contact with the Boxers offering them her support. This they accepted. This allowed the Boxers to turn their full attention to the Europeans.
Peking had many Europeans living in it in 1900. Their lifestyle was completely different to that of the Chinese who lived in the city. The Europeans effectively treated the Chinese in Peking as their slaves. It was not surprising that the Boxers found many ready supporters in Peking.
In June 1900, it became clear that their lives were in danger and many prepared to leave the city. The German ambassador in China wanted to register one final protest at the way the Europeans were being treated in China. As he made his way to the Royal Palace to protest, he was dragged from his sedan chair (being carried by Chinese) and murdered. The message was clear. Even the high and mighty were not safe. The rest of the Europeans crowded into the British Legation for their own safety. They were defended by an assortment of 400 European soldiers and sailors nicknamed the “Carving Knife Brigade” because of their lack of proper weapons. They fought off the Boxers with great bravery who were joined in the attack by troops who guarded the Manchus.
The Siege of the Legation lasted for 55 days until an international force marching from Tientsin on the coast managed to relieve them. 66 Europeans had been killed in this time and 150 had been wounded. This type of treatment was unforgivable from a European point of view. America had also been shocked by the treatment of the Europeans.
The international force, as a punishment, went of the rampage in Peking – effectively urged on by the officers commanding them. Peking was extensively damaged. The Chinese government was also ordered to pay $450 million in compensation – a vast sum of money for any nation let alone one as poor as China. The European force, now supported by the Manchus, then took its revenge on the Boxers. Those caught were given little mercy and they were beheaded in public. The Manchus were effectively forgiven as was the Dowager Empress despite her apparent treachery. She and her family were allowed to return to the Forbidden Palace in Peking facing no punishment other than European nations re-establishing their authority over the Chinese. She had no other choice but to be compliant.