The Drifting Horror
With tears have we announced in our ancestral shrines the outbreak of war -- Imperial edict, 21 June 1900
THE uncertainty was perhaps hardest to bear and the foreigners exhausted themselves with questions. Luella Miner wrote sadly: "We are as isolated here as if we were on a desert island. Our latest news of the outside world-even of the other parts of China . . . is two weeks old. . . . Is the whole of China in turmoil? Are our Christians everywhere being slaughtered?" Had the allies carried out their threat to seize the Taku forts, she wondered? Where was Seymour? Had the foreign settlements in Tientsin been overrun? And were the Powers now formally at war with China?
As far as China was concerned they were. An Imperial edict issued on 21 June told the citizens of the Celestial Empire that "with tears have we announced in our ancestral shrines the outbreak of war." The edict described the Boxers in caressing tones as "patriotic soldiers." They were to be incorporated into the militia and rewarded for their loyalty with silver and grain. On 23 June, a rather more sinister decree stated that "the work now undertaken [in Peking] by Tung Fu-hsiang should be completed as soon as possible, so that troops can be spared and sent to Tientsin for defense." The word used for "work" -- "shih" -- was intentionally vague and a euphemism for a swift massacre of the foreigners. Imperial troops were to carry out the annihilation, while Boxers were withdrawn behind the lines.