The Boxer Uprising: A Background Study

By Victor Purcell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
THE BATTLE OF THE CONCESSIONS

From the Opium War until her defeat by Japan in 1895, China had suffered the encroachment of the Powers, but when it was suddenly made plain that the country was defenceless against modern military organization and weapons, this encroachment turned into a scramble for concessions which seemed to foreshadow its actual territorial partition. This scramble intensified the Chinese hatred of the foreigner and precipitated the desperate twelfth-hour attempt at modernization known as 'The Hundred Days of Reform'.

Up to 1895 the British had supported China as a bulwark against Russia, but the outcome of the Sino—Japanese War demonstrated in a spectacular fashion that China was quite incapable of defending herself. Nor after the peace of Shimonoseki were they able to take a new, constructive line of their own because Europe was divided into two rival groups of Powers—the Dual ( France and Russia) and the Triple ( Germany, Austria and Italy) Alliances—to neither of which was Britain attached so that in Asia she had liabilities and risks without friends to share them. Some Britons, like Curzon, advocated a more forceful policy for Britain, whereby she would have taken the lead in the reform of China and insisted on her maintenance as a buffer State, if necessary under British dominion. But this solution would have been opposed not only by the Dual Alliance but by Germany also. Another possible solution would have been to abandon the Open Door and join in the race for spheres of influence. Reluctant to adopt such a course, the British government under Lord Salisbury had fallen back on the difficult task of attempting to reconcile the expansion of the European Powers with the maintenance of the Open Door by means of agreements with France and Russia. But although Japan's demands for the opening up of more Chinese ports suited Britain's interests, she did not find herself able to stand by Japan when the pressure of the other Powers made itself felt.I

Some British merchants and writers, however, still entertained hopes for China's future. The experiences of the war, they said, would show even the Chinese mandarins the need for reform and modernization.

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