The Boxer Uprising: A Background Study

By Victor Purcell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
THE IMPACT OF THE WEST

One feature at least of the Boxer Uprising is beyond dispute, namely that it was 'anti-foreign', and, in particular, 'anti-European'. What then was the nature of the impact of the West upon China which had created the anti-foreign sentiment that the Boxers embodied?

The real nature of the change which China has been undergoing for more than a century, and at a greatly accelerated pace during the last decade or so, is the subject of contemporary debate. Whilst Europe was politically in the ascendant in Asia the process was accepted as being Westernization' pure and simple, but it is now regarded both by Chinese and European authorities as rather a 'self-modernization' under Western stimuli.

That 'Westernization' as a description of the change which China was undergoing after 1840 is a gross oversimplification is being made increasingly clear by modern sinology. Benjamin Schwartz, for example, says that 'Those who are at all close to Chinese studies are now fully aware that there is much more life and movement here than has been suspected'. The concept of a' Changeless China' founded on 'Confucianism' is as false as one of a 'Changeless Europe' founded on 'Christianity'. He continues:

It is, of course, conceivable that even a close and profound study of the intellectual history of China will not reveal the range of possibilities and the diversity of elements which we find in the intellectual history of the West. For one thing, Western intellectual history is fed from such highly diverse streams as Greece, Judaea, Rome, and the barbarian north. Is it conceivable, however, that China was dominated for centuries by a completely unproblematic, unchanging something called Confucianism? Or is it possible the monochromatic appearance of the Chinese intellectual historic landscape is, in part, a function of our distance from it, of our feeble grasp of the language, and of the conceptual categories in terms of which issues are discussed?I

Since China is now a communist country, it is natural that the interpretation of Chinese history by contemporary Chinese historians should be in Marxist terms, and although there has been considerable

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