The Boxer Uprising: A Background Study

By Victor Purcell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
THE MANCHU GOVERNMENT AND
ITS ARMED FORCES

If the Boxer Uprising really was a 'rebellion', against what constituted authority did the Boxers rebel? The answer can only be, the Manchu government of China. And since, moreover, this was the same government that the Boxers were ostensibly supporting during the crisis of 1900, it is necessary that we should form some idea of its nature before we consider the history of the Boxers themselves. And, at the same time, some account must be taken of the armed forces of this government, against which the Boxers fought in 1899 and into which they were incorporated in the summer of 1900.

The Chinese governmental system was an organic unity of ruler and people. 'Heaven sees as the people see; Heaven hears as the people hear.' The Emperor's mandate to rule 'all under Heaven' was very unlike the 'divine right' of kings in Europe. There was no dichotomy of body and soul, of Church and State; the Emperor was the high priest of a cosmic numen.

It was probably a misfortune for China that in the era in which she was first subjected to the impact of the West an alien dynasty was on the throne, for although the Chinese accepted the Manchu emperor as the de facto 'Son of Heaven' who ruled over t'ien hsia ('what is below heaven', or the earth in general), they did not think of him as the head of a Chinese 'nation' (kuo). One consequence of this was that when Chinese, especially labourers from South China, were hired by the invading foreigner to assist him in attacking the Imperial forces, they had no sense of being guilty of treason against their own country. To enter the international world, China had herself to become a nation, and had there been a native dynasty in power at the time of the onslaught of the foreigner, possessing both physical force and new ideas, the conception of nationhood might well have grown up around the Emperor. If so, the succession of humiliating defeats that China suffered would almost certainly have been avoided, she would probably have taken her place in the modern world much more rapidly than she did, and in consequence she would have had no sense of injury to

-i-

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