Warfare in Chinese History

By Hans J. Van Der Ven | Go to book overview
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MILITARY DIMENSIONS OF THE 'BOXER UPRISING'
IN SHANXI, 1898–1901
ROGER R. THOMPSON

What would the 'Boxer Uprising' look like if the perspective were shifted from the dominant North China plain to a province in an outlying region? A detailed look at events taking place in Shanxi Province, beginning with the court's effort to mobilize local militias in 1898, reveals a very different portrait of these troubled years. Although most attention has been paid to violence-wracked Zhili in this period, with emphasis on Admiral Seymour's ill-fated expedition from Tianjin in June 1900, the siege and relief of the Legations in Beijing, and the occupation of Tianjin, Beijing, and other sites on the North China plain by the Allied Expeditionary Force in the summer and fall of 1900, Shanxi was a critical variable in the strategic and tactical considerations of both Chinese and Western leaders.1 The province, in whose capital city there was an important arsenal and source of gunpowder, was called upon to provide troops for the defence of Beijing in July 1900 and to protect the retreating Qing court in August. Allied knowledge of the court's location prompted initial calls in September 1900 to invade the province and capture the court as well as punish the Chinese responsible for massacres of hundreds of Westerners earlier in the summer. Qing resistance by regular army units and irregulars was among the reasons that prompted Allied commanders to drop this plan. Only with the cooperation of Chinese officials did Westerners finally return to Shanxi. In retrospect we can see the 'Western Tour' of the Empress Dowager Cixi and the Qing court as a tactical retreat that served the strategic need of preserving executive authority beyond the effective reach of Western military might. The West had the Forbidden City but in distant

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1
See Paul A. Cohen, History in three keys: the Boxers as event, experience, and myth (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 14–56 for an excellent narrative history of the Boxer Uprising. Cohen discusses Boxer-related violence in Shandong, Zhili, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, and Henan and mentions non-Boxer-related incidents elsewhere in China, the most serious being a militia-led attack in Zhejiang that led to the deaths of eleven missionaries. See ibid., 51–52, 310n.75.

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