The Boxer Legacy
This episode of to-day is not meaningless -- it is the prelude to a century of change and the keynote of the future history of the Far East: the China of the year 2000 will be very different from the China of 1900! -- Sir Robert Hart
THE events of 1900 puzzled people well before Backhouse added to the confusion. Even while the fighting was still at its height, the beleaguered foreigners struggled to make sense of their predicament. What had caused the "unprecedented occurrences of a Peking summer," as Hart called them? Why did the siege go on for so long? What was the reason for the extraordinarily schizophrenic behavior of the court -- attacks punctuated by unexplained cease-fires, gifts of ice and melons, and unctuous and conciliatory messages? Why didn't the Chinese overrun the foreigners while they had the opportunity? They also asked some deeper questions. Was the Boxer Rebellion just another spasm in China's fractured relations with the outside world or would it have more lasting significance? Put bluntly, did it matter?
Although the Boxer rising is one of the best-documented episodes in the history of the Far East, it is also one of the most perplexing. One problem is that most of the available diaries and accounts were written by Westerners. Sir Robert Hart wrote wistfully to Arthur Smith: "It would be interesting to get a really reliable Chinese account of Palace doings -- and Peking doings -- during 1900. As it is, we are all guessing and inferring and putting this and