The Boxer Uprising: A Background Study

By Victor Purcell | Go to book overview

PREFACE

To the West in general the Boxer Uprising of 1900 is a half-forgotten episode in the history of China's resistance to progress: to the historians of the People's China it is the heroic resistance of the Chinese peasantry to foreign Imperialism, which failed in its object only because of its lack of dialectical awareness. But neither of these interpretations seems sufficient in itself to explain every aspect of its origin and development.

After the suppression of the Uprising there was a flood of publications by foreigners giving their personal experiences, and there were nearly as many theories as to the origins of the trouble as there were authors. Dr W. A. P. Martin, for example, gave all the blame to the Empress Dowager, who 'allying herself with the powers of darkness, entered into a diabolical conspiracy in order to keep her people in ignorance and to shield her family from the competition of superior light and knowledge'; Dr A. H. Smith (another American missionary) felt that the Roman Catholics deserved a major share of the blame and the Protestants only a minor one; Mr Broomhall (of the China Inland Mission) traced everything back to the Opium War and to foreign political and economic aggression, and considered that 'to place any responsibility for the outbreak on the missionaries was absurd'. The foreign diplomats, for their part, found it highly convenient to label the Uprising a 'rebellion', since this theory (or fiction ?) restored the status quo, preserved the unilateral treaties, removed all blame from the Empress Dowager, and allowed the Powers to impose large indemnities, through her government, on the Chinese people.

On the basis of these foreign accounts, the foreign-language press of Shanghai and Tientsin, and the diplomatic archives of Europe and America, Mr G. Nye Steiger, in 1927, produced a study of the Boxers, China and the Occident, which, in spite of many shortcomings due to incomplete information, is still in many ways an indispensable book. In it the author put forward a theory of his own, namely that the Boxers were not a religious sect or secret society at all but the legally constituted militia, raised in obedience to decrees of the Empress Dowager in 1898.

-vii-

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