China's Boxer Rebellion of 1900

Foreigners Targeted in Bloody Uprising

Execution of three anti-foreign officials in Paoting-fu during the Boxer Rebellion. London Stereoscopic Company / Stringer/ Hulton Archive/ Getty Images

The Boxer Rebellion, a bloody uprising in China at the turn of the 20th century against foreigners, is a relatively obscure historical event with far-reaching consequences that nevertheless is often remembered because of its unusual name.

The Boxers

Who exactly were the Boxers? They were members of a secret society made up mostly of peasants in northern China known as I-ho-ch'uan ("Righteous and Harmonious Fists") and were called the "Boxers" by the Western press; members of the secret society practiced boxing and calisthenic rituals that they thought would make them impervious to bullets and attacks, and this led to their unusual but memorable name.

Background 

At the end of the 19th century, Western countries and Japan had major control over economic policies in China and had significant territorial and commercial control in northern China. The peasants in this area were suffering economically, and they blamed this on the foreigners who were present in their country. It was this anger that gave rise to the violence that would go down in history as the Boxer Rebellion.

The Boxer Rebellion

Beginning in the late 1890s, the Boxers began attacking Christian missionaries, Chinese Christians and foreigners in northern China. These attacks eventually spread to the capital, Beijing, in June 1900, when the Boxers destroyed railroad stations and churches and laid siege to the area where foreign diplomats lived. It is estimated that that death toll included several hundred foreigners and several thousand Chinese Christians.

The Qing Dynasty's Empress Dowager Tzu’u Hzi backed the Boxers, and the day after the Boxers began the siege on foreign diplomats, she declared war on all foreign countries that had diplomatic ties with China.

 

Meanwhile, a multinational foreign force was gearing up in northern China. In August 1900, after nearly two months of the siege, thousands of allied American, British, Russian, Japanese, Italian, German, French and Austro-Hungarian troops moved out of northern China to take Beijing and put down the rebellion, which they accomplished.

The Boxer Rebellion formally ended in September 1901 with the signing of the Boxer Protocol, which mandated the punishment of those involved in the rebellion and required China to pay reparations of $330 million to the countries affected.

Fall of the Qing Dynasty

The Boxer Rebellion weakened the Qing dynasty, which was the last imperial dynasty of China and ruled the country from 1644 to 1912. It was this dynasty that established the modern territory of China.  The diminished state of the Qing dynasty after the Boxer Rebellion opened the door to the Republican Revolution of 1911 that overthrew the emperor and made China a republic.

The Republic of China, including mainland China and Taiwan, existed from 1912 to 1949. It fell to the Chinese Communists in 1949, with mainland China officially becoming the People's Republic of China and Taiwan the headquarters of the Republic of China. But no peace treaty has ever been signed, and significant tensions remain.

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Rosenberg, Jennifer. "China's Boxer Rebellion of 1900." ThoughtCo, Oct. 9, 2017, thoughtco.com/1900-boxer-rebellion-1779184. Rosenberg, Jennifer. (2017, October 9). China's Boxer Rebellion of 1900. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/1900-boxer-rebellion-1779184 Rosenberg, Jennifer. "China's Boxer Rebellion of 1900." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/1900-boxer-rebellion-1779184 (accessed December 14, 2017).