Boxer Rebellion

Boxer Uprising

Boxer Uprising, 1898–1900, antiforeign movement in China, culminating in a desperate uprising against Westerners and Western influence.

By the end of the 19th cent. the Western powers and Japan had established wide interests in China. The Opium War (1839–42), which Great Britain had provoked, forced China to grant commercial concessions (see treaty port) and to recognize the principle of extraterritoriality. The concessions to Great Britain were soon followed by similar ones to France, Germany, and Russia. The Ch'ing regime, already weakened by European encroachments, was more enfeebled by Japan's success in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–95) and the subsequent further partitioning of China into foreign spheres of influence. The Ch'ing emperor, Kuang-hsu, attempted to meet the imperialist threat by adopting modern educational and administrative reforms, but he stirred conservative opposition and was frustrated (1898) by the dowager empress, Tz'u Hsi, who, favoring a last effort to expel foreign influence, supported armed resistance.

The dowager empress tacitly encouraged an antiforeign secret society called I Ho Ch'uan [Chinese,=righteous, harmonious fists] or, in English, the Boxers. The Boxers soon grew powerful, and late in 1899 the movement began to assume menacing proportions. Violent attacks on foreigners and on Chinese Christians occurred, particularly in the provinces of Zhili, Shanxi, and Shandong; in Manchuria; and in Inner Mongolia. In those regions, railway building, a visible symbol of the foreigner, was most active; and Chinese Christians, especially Roman Catholics, adherents to the foreigners' religion, were most numerous. Also located there were the majority of territorial leaseholds acquired by the European powers.

In June, 1900, the Boxers (some 140,000 strong and now led by the war party at court), occupied Beijing and for eight weeks besieged the foreigners and the Chinese Christians there. Provincial governors in SE China suppressed the court's declaration of war and assured the powers of protection for foreign interests, thus limiting the area of conflict to N China. The siege was lifted in August by an international force of British, French, Russian, American, German, and Japanese troops, which had fought its way through from Tianjin. The Boxer Uprising thus ended.

The Western powers and Japan agreed—mainly because of U.S. pressure to "preserve Chinese territorial and administrative integrity" and because of mutual jealousies among the powers—not to carry further the partition of China. Nevertheless, China was compelled (1901) to pay an indemnity of $333 million, to amend commercial treaties to the advantage of the foreign nations, and to permit the stationing of foreign troops in Beijing. The United States later (1908) used some of its share of the indemnity for scholarships for Chinese students. China emerged from the Boxer Uprising with a greatly increased debt and was, in effect, a subject nation.


See A. H. Smith, China in Convulsion (1901); G. N. Steiger, China and the Occident (1927); C. C. Tan, The Boxer Catastrophe (1955); P. Fleming, The Siege at Peking (1959); V. W. W. S. Purcell, The Boxer Uprising (1963); R. O'Connor, The Spirit Soldiers (1973).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Boxer Rebellion: Selected full-text books and articles

Empire, Nation, and Beyond: Chinese History in Late Imperial and Modern Times : a Festschrift in Honor of Frederic Wakeman By Joseph W. Esherick; Wen-Hsin Yeh; Madeleine Zelin Institute of East Asian Studies, 2006
Librarian's tip: Chap. 9 "Terror and War at the Turn of Two Centuries: The Boxer Crisis Revisited"
Incidents and International Relations: People, Power, and Personalities By Gregory C.Kennedy; Keith Neilson Praeger, 2002
Librarian's tip: Chap. 2 "“Heaven knows where we shall finally drift”: Lord Salisbury, the Cabinet, Isolation, and the Boxer Rebellion"
Warfare in Chinese History By Hans J. Van Der Ven Brill, 2000
Librarian's tip: "Military Dimensions of the 'Boxer Uprising' In Shanxi, 1898–1901" begins on p. 288
China Unbound: Evolving Perspectives on the Chinese Past By Paul A. Cohen Routledge, 2003
Librarian's tip: Chap. 4 "Boxers, Christians, and the Gods: The Boxer Conflict of 1900 as a Religious War"
Baptism of Fire: China's Christians and the Boxer Uprising of 1900 By Tiedemann, R. G International Bulletin of Mission Research, Vol. 24, No. 1, January 2000
Death Throes of a Dynasty: Letters and Diaries of Charles and Bessie Ewing, Missionaries to China By E. G. Ruoff Kent State University Press, 1990
Librarian's tip: Chap. 2 "The Boxer Uprising and Subsequent Manchu Reform Efforts, 1899-1904"
A primary source is a work that is being studied, or that provides first-hand or direct evidence on a topic. Common types of primary sources include works of literature, historical documents, original philosophical writings, and religious texts.
Rebellions and Revolutions: China from the 1800s to the 1980s By Jack Gray Oxford University Press, 1990
Librarian's tip: "The Boxer Movement" begins on p. 136
Imperial Rivals: China, Russia, and Their Disputed Frontier By S. C. M. Paine M.E. Sharpe, 1996
Librarian's tip: Chap. 8 "Over-Extension: The Boxer Uprising and the Russian Invasion"
Justice on Behalf of Heaven By Harrison, Henrietta History Today, Vol. 50, No. 9, September 2000
Chinese Burns Britain in China 1842-1900 By Bickers, Robert History Today, Vol. 50, No. 8, August 2000
The Search for Modern China By Jonathan D. Spence W. W. Norton, 1999 (2nd edition)
Librarian's tip: Discussion of the Boxer rebellion begins on p. 230
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