The Boxer Rebellion: The Dramatic Story of China's War on Foreigners That Shook the World in the Summer of 1900

By Diana Preston | Go to book overview

2
Boxer and Devils

Support the Ching, destroy the foreigner. -- Boxer slogan, 1900

A possible ally had appeared on the scene in the form of an obscure peasant movement spreading across northern China like wildfire. Its members shared the same potent and explosive creed -- they were virulently anti-Christian, antimissionary, and antiforeign. Westerners called them simply "Boxers" because of the physical exercises they practiced en masse. But their origins were as complex as their rituals.

They first appeared in the northern province of Shantung. Calling themselves the I Ho Tuan, or Boxers United in Righteousness, they believed not only that they could make themselves invulnerable, but also that they could summon up thousands of spirit soldiers to their aid. Heirs to a long tradition of sects and societies in northern China, they fused religion, theater, magic, and martial arts in their rituals.

They were particularly influenced by two earlier groups that also had roots in Shantung. The first of these, the Big Sword Society, was essentially a vigilante group. It became prominent in southwestern Shantung in early 1895 in response to banditry and anarchy in the aftermath of the Sino-Japanese War, which had left China in a weakened state, unable to garrison her provinces adequately. The Big Swords filled the vacuum, protecting lives and

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