Historically speaking, China has always been the center of conflict; due to its massive land mass, seemingly unlimited natural resources, and general geographical location in relation to other countries allowing for ideal multination trading and military advantage. Consequently during the years leading up to the start of the 20th Century, there had been a number of foreign trade agreements established with China; these nations included Britain, Russia, Germany, France, the United States, Spain, Portugal, Holland, as well as Japan in the late era of the 19th Century7. Naturally, due to the establishment of multiple spheres of influences and trade agreements, China had also become a victim of colonization, and as a result, the import of other religions; most notably being Christianity, which had essentially become a vicious disease that was spreading throughout central China in the 1890s, replacing both traditional ideals of Confucianism and Taoism1 became evident. This was the spark of the Boxer Rebellion, which caused many significant political, economic and social reforms.
The Boxer Rebellion was the result of intolerance towards Christian propagation of faith in China2. As a result, the works of those that experienced this intolerant behaviour are arguably the most important aspect of the social reforms that were caused by the Boxer Rebellion. One of the most notable of these works being A Prisoner in Peking by Luella Miner; who published a personal journal that narrated the treatment of Chinese-Christians during the period of time where underground anti-Christian and anti-foreigner groups thrived. Miner explains her experience with the atrocious and violent acts of the underground Boxer groups with civilians. Her two major publications included A Prisoner in Peking and Two Heroes of Cathay, both of which recount her participation in northern China as an American educational missionary3 as well as stories of the treatment of Chinese Christians by both the government and its people4. Another source that will pertinent to this investigation will be The Boxer Catastrophe by Chester C. Chan; in which political and economic outcomes of the Boxer Rebellion both long term and short term are highlighted.
This event has particular historic value for the influence of Western culture in Asia; it marked the rise of a global Power and the destruction of another. While Western culture was thriving, China was suffering under the economically driven totalitarian rule of the Eight Power Alliance. The question is then: to what extent did the Boxer Rebellion affect China’s political, economic and social foreign policies with Europe during 1901-1915? Therefore, this investigation will focus on the effect of the Western response on the Boxer Rebellion and the resulting outcomes on China’s economic foreign policy with the West, the social contingencies as a result of foreign interference, as well as the political and military consequences post-Rebellion.
The Boxer Rebellion
Having already established multiple trade agreements with other nations such as France, Great Britain and Spain, China was in no position to make its own decisions in terms of trade or its economy; both of which were completely determined by foreign nations. As a result, due to China’s lack of control over foreign nations, it provided a perfect gateway for these exact same foreign nations to send missionaries to colonize the rich land in China. Even beginning in the 13th Century, incidents such as those that Marco Polo were involved in, caused a transfer of information, culture and religion between many different countries and nations. An obvious example of such trade is the Silk Road, in which spices, textiles, information, religion, among other things were shared between nations across the globe5. As a result of these blurred borders of trade, it is almost inevitable that there must be some sort of foreign influence in China. Despite gaining greater technological advancements and other cultural benefits, they were overwhelming the traditional mannerisms and traditions of the Chinese people. In favour of more popular and advanced beliefs and ideologies, many Chinese people turned to Western style medicine and religion5.
Correspondingly, although many Chinese began to switch to Western methodology, there were still the majority that believed in the ancient traditions of China; these were the nationalists, who as mentioned before, were against any sort of foreign interference or integration in China1. 1860 marked the date where Western missionaries in China were allowed to build churches on Chinese territory; it also marked the date where Asian-European tensions began to exist1. The treaty in 1855 had allowed the Christian missionaries, Roman Catholic and Protestants to exist in China; however, hostility grew significantly since then2. This was one of the many triggers to the start of the Boxer Rebellion, in which secret organizations, mainly The Righteous and Harmonious Fists; which were the largest and most extreme in terms of anti-foreign policy1. Otherwise known as the I Ho Ch’uan, these Boxers that aimed to eradicate all “foreign devils” from China, starting from a city called Shandong1. Although initially, these rebellious groups were on their own, they were soon supported by Empress Dowager in an attempt to rid of any foreign emissaries in China. Empress Dowager, also known as Tzu Hsui, gained the throne after the death of Emperor Hsien-Feng to eventually allow her son to ascend the throne; however, his rule only lasted three years1. The next in line would be her nephew, Kuang Hsu, however, she would remain the “real power” behind the facade of Imperialistic rule by Kuang Hsu1. This would mean that whatever the new Emperor demanded, it would essentially not be fulfilled; this was the case for the support of the Boxers.
Social: Religion and Treatment
The nature of the Rebellion was civil unrest; it was an uprising consisting of anti-foreign and anti-Christian believers who were utterly nationalistic towards the Chinese tradition culture, religion and people1. As mentioned before, these groups were called the Boxers. These groups mainly consisted of peasants, farmers and angry protesters2. Even though the main target of these Boxers was the Chinese Christians, which they stated was “just as bad as the foreign devils”2. Socially, the Boxer Rebellion had completely tarnished the Chinese reputation of being a “world power” and was entirely prone to “bullying” from other countries like Japan and the US. Although incapable of controlling the effects of the natural disaster (a flood from the Yellow River), there can be no denial that it had cost Chinese agricultural farmers millions of dollars in revenue, which in turn would also cause famine and further economic disruption and instability in China2. The effect of foreign social influence in China certainly did not make the situation any better; in fact quite a bit worse. People were without shelter and food for multiple months. Within the Legations Quarter, large groups of Chinese labourers, even including Chinese Christians were used as servants to the foreign families that lived in the Quarters. These Chinese labourers built barricades against the Boxers, prepare food rations, clearing rubble, digging countermines and grave digging1. The Chinese did not receive rations within the perimeter and relied on stray animals, trash and rats to feed themselves; anyone who was healthy enough was used to work on the barricades and other menial tasks2. The most significantly impacted group, however, was the foreign Christians; which was the religion that was most often propagated in schools6. The Boxers, who practices ancient Chinese martial arts, believed that they had impenetrable skin that could not be injured by bullets or knives2. Consequently, their insolence and ignorance allowed them to slaughter thousands of people both foreign and native. Based on the accounts of Luella Miner, she states that the Boxers were chanting the words “Kill! Kill! Kill!” (The Outlook on the accounts of Luella Miner, pg. 642 1900). Clearly, because of this evident intentional intent to kill foreigners, it was basically fair for the foreign Powers to feel that their policies were violated, thus leading to the invasion of the Eight-Nation Alliance.
Additionally, following the end of the Boxer Rebellion in 1901, many Chinese felt unsafe in their own country. Chinese-Christians that were able to escape the wrath of the Boxers were scared for their lives and their family’s lives. The outcome was the movement of Chinese people towards the west; the most imperative event being the beginning of Chinese immigration into the United States during the 1900s7. The Boxer Rebellion brought humiliation on the Chinese people both in reference to the fact that these Boxers would turn against their own people, as well as the fact that they were utterly defeated by foreign nations with imperialistic goals. Not only did this politically and economically affect China, it also affected how the citizens viewed the government (dynastic rule in general) and how the country as a whole was view globally by other world powers; not only was it no longer truly being considered a world power, it was being overshadowed by Japan’s defeat of the Russians after the Russo-Japanese War in 19047.
Additionally, the Boxer Protocol of 1901 was also the forced reformation of education systems; where traditional Chinese educational systems were replaced with modern-Western style ones7. One of the impacts of this new adaptation was the creation of new scientific and mathematical analysis5. The most significant impact is the switch from Confucianism to modern Western philosophical theories. The outcome of this was the formation of Communist parties in China after Russian influences during the years of 1917 through 19185.
Economic: The Open Door Policy and Spheres of Influences
The Boxer Rebellion brought an end to all dynastic rules in China; after only lasting around two years, foreign governments stepped in to protect their colonies and trade agreements. Consequently, the invasion of China by others such as the United States, Great Britain and Japan became inevitable. One of the many reforms to China’s economic platform was the creation of a new agreement with the United States, which became known as the Open Door Policy. The Open Door policy was created by John Hay, which allowed for European international trade and commerce to occur in China8.
An essential part of the political, economic and social effects occurred after all of the international settlements as well. The subsequent agreements and policies set in place for China included the payment of over $300 million dollars (around $30 million at the time) or 67.5 million euros in reparations as well as many other trade agreements and land leasing or obtaining5. China had to apologize for the deaths of foreign ministers such as that of von Kettler, who was a German diplomat that was murdered during the Boxer Rebellion and was the main cause for the German takeover of the Port Arthur2. Although China had lost a significant amount of money due to the need to pay indemnities to the eight nations, China had actually gained the ability to industrialize incredible quickly. This was mainly the result of the Open Door Policy that was established in 1899 just before the start of the Boxer Rebellion8. The entire purpose of the Rebellion was to refuse the intrusion of foreign missionaries, faith and power in China, but the Boxers had inadvertently also prevented their possible success as a rebel force due to their out-dated equipment and ill-trained army. With the Open Door Policy already created, the years following the Boxer Protocol in 1901 mean the fast-paced modernization of China and the open to trade with many other European and Western nations aside from the already existing trade relations with only a select few of Western nations.
Moreover, even though already having to pay reparations for damage caused by the Boxers, there was more to be owed; the creation of spheres of influence in China. Foreign Powers had also caused widespread famine, plague, locusts, and the natural disaster of the flood from the Yellow River all contributed to the rise of the Boxers against foreign influences1. China had basically lost everything at this point; it lost land to both Germany and Russia who seized Port Arthur and Darien, as well as the cities of Kiaochow and Tsingtao2. Britain had leases on pieces of land, the French seized Kwangchowan, and the Japanese captured Weihaiwei2. All of these areas were a part of the Shantung province; “the native province of Confucius, which had been noted for the honour and respect accorded to the sages and their teaching” (Tan, pg. 45, 1967). In a sense, the Boxer Rebellion was a battle between the Rebel force and eight foreign Powers. Within a few months of the start of 1900, the Boxer Rebellion grew rampant; there was huge support for the eradication of foreign missionaries from the land. The result was the massacre of over seventy Chinese Christians at Pao Ting Fu, nearby the city of Beijing (referred to as Peking). British missionaries were also attacked, in addition to the destruction of foreign companies, railways, and property2.This was the main provocation of the Western Powers entering China; it was thought to be the extermination of the Chinese culture, government and basically the entire nation as a whole. June 9, 1900 was the first Boxer attack in Peking as it was the main area of foreigner activity in the Legation Quarter1.
The division of China into colonies was similar to that of the “scramble for Africa” in the sense that the imperialistic goals of the Powers was to gain more spheres of influence in China. These countries mainly included France, Germany, Japan, Russia, and Great Britain9. Great Britain would take Hong Kong from the Republic of China as a colony while the United States would maintain the Open Door Policy.
Political: The Fall of Divine Rule
The Boxers, with groups such as the Righteous and Harmonious Fists, were almost entirely supported by the government in ridding of any foreign material or persons in China. The political support the Boxer’s received was absolutely essential to the rise of the Rebellion; it was the center of the cause, an Imperial order by the Empress herself. This meant that the Boxers were virtually given the complete open opportunity to begin their siege on foreign property and missionaries granted by the government’s inability to control the extremity of the Boxers’ “revenge”. Although originally containing wholly farmers, angry protesters, and other peasants, the idea of an entirely nationalistic China began to leak into the Imperial government; causing the recruit of government officials and princes of the Imperial Court bloodline into the Rebellion2. This also meant that corruption was bound to be present; it would ultimately lead to the crush of the Qing Dynasty from foreign policy. During the month of July on 1896, the secret societies were becoming active in the Shantung province; Li Ping-heng, the governor of the province was first to speak out about the foreign effect on China and solidified his wholehearted support for the secret societies and the Boxers on the basis that foreigners were ruining the ancient Chinese culture that culminated before their arrival2. Additionally, Li Ping-heng also stated that “the reason that the people of China could not live together peacefully was that the Christians, with the support and protection of the missionaries, bullied and oppressed the common people” (Tan, pg. 46, 1967 excerpt from Li Ping-heng’s memorial). This exemplifies the corruption and influence that the Boxer movement had in government control. However, even with this apparent support for the movement, it was not meant to be consent for the murder and massacre of Chinese Christians; the government’s decisions were entirely overruled by corrupt officials and the strength of the Rebellion itself. Even when given imperial orders to stop, the Boxers continued to attempt to eradicate all “foreigners”2. The outcome of this behaviour and lack of government control was the apprehension of government affairs by overseas nations, the main ones being the United States and Great Britain.
Another significant impact that the Boxer Rebellion had on China’s political structure was the government’s control over its military. The invasion of the Eight Power Alliance also meant they had integral control of China’s land, trading and general military power. Consequently, this would obviously allow for these Eight Allied Nations to take advantage of the heavily sought after natural resources and geographical location. Like mentioned before, this imperialistic search for greater resources led to a “scramble” for Chinese land by the Eight Powers; splitting China into different spheres of influence7. It is important to note that, although there were imperialistic actions being taken, the British government gave up on colonizing China on their own; instead they turned to controlling the already existing Chinese government under the rule of Empress Dowager7. Even though eventually individual control was given back to China, and returned to its original sovereign state, the government was in shambles; it basically had no control over its people, its land, or its resources. In other words, China was prone to any other invasions; which was exactly the case with the initiation of the Second Sino-Japanese War during World War II.
Attributable to the Boxer Rebellion was the weakening, or rather, complete eradication of the existing political structure in China. With the help of the Boxer Rebellion, the Qing Dynasty fell as a result of corrupt officials that allowed atrocities to occur to religious missionaries belonging to foreign countries2. The Boxer Rebellion was one of many other Rebellions the Qing Dynasty was facing; however, it should be considered to be one of the most impactful, especially due to the signing of the humiliating Boxer Protocol in 19017. The Boxer Protocol was a decree made between two representatives of China and the Eight-Nation Alliance Powers in a negotiation of indemnities that were to be paid by the Chinese government to the eight nations for the damage caused by the Boxer Rebellion10. The Boxer Protocol, also known as the Peace Protocol of Peking entrenched a set of rules and mandates that the Chinese government was to follow strictly. There was an increase of around 5 percent of tariffs and a series of Articles that would dictate China’s imports, exports, manufacturing, land leasing, and foreign policies10. These policies were set as a whole document; even though it was the combination of all eight of the nation’s demands placed into a set of reparations that were supposedly fair to all nations. Ultimately, the government’s feebleness and incompetence in being able to control any aspect of the country’s economy illustrated the feebleness and incompetence of the current government, which was now run by a three year old infant Emperor after Empress Dowager’s death7. In the end, people began to realize the ineffectiveness of the Qing rule and the majority developed anti-Qing ideologies that were adapted by new revolutionary’s post-Boxer era7. Fittingly, the Qing Dynasty finally collapsed in 1911 caused by a revolution that caused the establishment of a Republic in China5.
The Boxer Rebellion was not just an event; rather it caused a “domino effect” to occur, in which China was the victim of political, economic and social reforms. Politically, China fell into the hands of foreign rule: the Eight-Nation Alliance, with more emphasis on United States and Great Britain’s role in the proceedings. The result was final and most evident, the Boxer Rebellion caused China to go into deeper economic and political turmoil and ruin its reputation with the Western Powers as one of the major Powers. China had already been defeated multiple times by other countries such as Japan in the First Sino-Japanese War and lost again to Western Powers. The Boxer Rebellion was the reasoning for the fall of the Manchu Empire and, consequently, the fall of dynastic rule in China11. The relations with Western Powers within the Eight-Nation Alliance: Japan, Italy, France, Great Britain, the United States, Austria-Hungary, Germany and Russia were severely affected by the Boxer Rebellion mostly positive ways. It allowed them to gain economic and military strength by taking advantage of the indemnities that the Chinese government had to pay for the effects of the Rebellion. It was an excuse for them to occupy a greater amount of territory in China and gain spheres of influence that would help increase the supply of resources and political rule in China and Manchuria.
1 Buck, D. D. (1987). Recent studies of the Boxer Movement. Armonk, NY: The University of Wisconsin
2 Tan, C. (1967). The Boxer Catastrophe. Published: 1967 Columbia University Press. New York, USA. Print.
3 Stowe, D. M. (2005). Luella Miner. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from http://www.bdcconline.net/en/stories/m/miner-luella.php
4 Miner, L. (n.d.). Luella Miner Papers PDF. Retreived 23 January, 2018 from http://www.lib.washington.edu/static/public/specialcollections/findingaids/1090-001.pdf
5 China and the West: Imperialism, Opium, and Self-Strengthening (1800-1921). (2009). Retrieved January 23, 2018, from http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/main_pop/kpct/kp_imperialism.htm
6 Miner, L. (1900, November 10). A Prisoner of Peking PDF. The Outlook. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from
7 Welsh, P. (2016, July 22). Consequences of the Boxer Rebellion. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from https://www.chinainsight.info/history/1177-consequences-of-the-boxer-rebellion.html
8 Secretary of State John Hay and the Open Door in China, 1899–1900. (n.d.). Retrieved January 23, 2018, from https://history.state.gov/milestones/1899-1913/hay-and-china
9 PBS. (n.d.). The Effect of Western Influence in China. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from https://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/551d421c-ea36-45d6-9838-0df75a993411/the-effect-of-western-influence-in-china/#.WmeCjainGM8
10 US- China Institute. (1901, December 13). Boxer Protocol, 1901. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from http://china.usc.edu/boxer-protocol-1901
11 UCLA. (2004, December 08). Boxer Protocol, 1901. Retrieved December 18, 2017, from http://www.international.ucla.edu/asia/article/18133