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the climax of a movement against the spread of Western and Japanese influence in China
Throughout the nineteenth century, foreign powers encroached further and further into China. The "Opium War" had resulted in Great Britain gaining trading rights at the ports of Amoy, Canton, Foochow, Ningpo, and Shanghai, and colonial rights to Hong Kong. In 1844, China granted trading rights to the United States. In 1858 and 1860, more warfare led to new treaties, which opened additional Chinese ports to trade -- Britain added Kowloon to Hong Kong, and Russia received all Chinese-controlled territory north of the Amur River and east of the Ussuri River. In 1894-1895, China lost Taiwan in a war with Japan, and was forced to recognize Korea as an independent country. Britain, France, Germany, and Russia then forced the Manchus to grant them more trading rights, and to give up more territory.
By the 1890's, many Chinese violently disliked all non-Chinese persons and nations. Chinese rebels formed secret societies and pledged to end Western influence in China, and the Righteous and Harmonious Fists (I-ho-ch'uan in Chinese) was one of those societies. Nicknamed "Boxers" because they practiced gymnastics and callisthenics, members believed they had magical power and that foreign bullets could not harm them.
In 1898, the Boxers began a campaign of terror against Westerners and Chinese Christians, burning houses, schools, and churches, and killing any Chinese individual espousing Western ideas. They had the help of Chinese militia units, and the secret approval of the royal family. By 1900 the British and German governments were demanding that the Manchu government do something to stop the Boxers. In response, the Empress Dowager Tsu Hsi issued an edict stating that the Boxers were an integral part of Chinese culture and were not criminals. Soon the Boxers were carrying banners bearing the slogan "Support the Ch'ing; destroy the foreigner!"
The Final Battle
By May 1900 many Westerners had fled to Peking. Taking refuge in a diplomatic compound just outside the walls of the Forbidden City, the Westerners urgently sought help from their native governments. On May 30, the Manchu government declared war against all foreign powers then in China. On May 31, 340 foreign troops arrived in Peking, followed by another 90 troops four days later. Calls for even more troops went unheard, however, as the Boxers had already cut the telegraph lines going out of the city.
On June 21, the compound was besieged by a force of about 20,000 Boxers and government troops. Despite being well outnumbered, the people inside the compound were able to fend off repeated assaults for more than a month, during which time at least 50 Boxers and 76 defenders were killed.
In early August, after a month of no news from their diplomats, the foreign powers assembled an international relief force of soldiers and marines from eight countries. After initial difficulties at Tientsin, the rescue force made its way to Peking, fighting Boxers and imperial soldiers the entire distance. On August 14, the international force entered Peking and quickly ended the Boxer Rebellion.
On September 7, 1901, the Manchu government and representatives of 11 other nations signed a final settlement, called The Boxer Protocol. China agreed to execute several officials and punish many others, destroy many forts, and to pay about $330 million in damages.
Foreign Troop Numbers
Boxer and Chinese Losses
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This page was last updated on October 23, 2017.