China Only Yesterday, 1850-1950: A Century of Change

By Emily Hahn | Go to book overview
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Chapter Fifteen

Kuang-hsü, tamed and secure in the Ocean Palace, was carefully watched by the servants of his Imperial Father, and the conservative Manchus thought they had put away their troubles with him. But the adventure of the Hundred Days was not a detached incident: it was only one symptom of a deep-rooted problem that could not be settled so easily as the Emperor had been. There were other symptoms. Though Kuang-hsü's friends and allies had been chased out or killed, the root of the matter remained and spread underground throughout the country. Reform had been lopped off, but the Boxer Movement, like the surviving branch of a tree, grew stronger as soon as its rival was removed.

The Boxers were a secret society that inherited its title from an ancient religious brotherhood. The name is not so much a translation as a foreigners' nickname suggested by the Chinese original, "Society of Righteously Harmonious Fists." Jung-lu, who did not care for the Boxers, had other theories as to their background and said their first name was "Plum Blossom Fists," and that the founder claimed to be a Manchu prince. It is not important. What matters is the strong influence Boxerism had on its members. Anyone who knows the Chinatowns of the Western world can testify to the hold these secret societies maintain over the men who join them, and the climate of China in the 1890s contributed much to the peculiar fervor of the Boxers for their faith. '88 and '89 were both famine years. China was full of discontent arising from the Sino-Japanese debacle and its attendant growth of Western power and interference. The resentment felt by the late lamented Reform party had been shared by the Boxers, but there were important differences between the groups. The Reformers had been educated, scholarly men. The Boxers, at least those of the society's early stages, were


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