The Boxer Uprising: A Background Study

By Victor Purcell | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

I have lived amongst men of letters who have written history without mixing in affairs, and amongst politicians who have been occupied with making things happen without ever troubling to write about them. I have always noticed that the former see general causes on all sides, while the latter, living in the haphazard of daily events, prefer to think that everything that happens must be attributed to particular accidents and that their daily string-pulling represents the forces that move the world. I believe that both are mistaken. For my part I hate these absolute systems which make all the events of history depend on first great causes by a chain of fatality, and which, as it were, exclude man from the history of mankind. I believe, with all due deference to the writers who have invented these sublime theories to nourish their vanity and facilitate their work, that many important historical facts can only be accounted for by accidental circumstances, and that many others remain inexplicable, and that, in fine, chance, or rather that network of secondary causes which we call chance since we are unable to unravel it, counts for much that we see in the theatre of the world. Antecedent facts, the nature of institutions, mental attitudes, the state of morals—these are the materials from which are composed those impromptus which amaze and terrify us.

ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE, quoted by J. P. Mayer, Alexis de Tocqueville; a Biographical
Study in Political Science
( New York, 1960), pp. 91-2.

The Boxer movement was anti-foreign and therefore anti-Christian. Any attempt to apportion the responsibility for arousing the popular resentment as between the foreign governments, the diplomats, and the merchants on the one hand and the missionaries on the other is bound to be inconclusive, and any attempt to apportion the blame as between the Roman Catholics and the Protestants is likely to be equally unhelpful. Although the Chinese were disposed to regard Catholicism and Protestantism as two different religions (with two different self-given names), they regarded them both indifferently as enemies.

Steiger argues that the Boxers could not have been both a religious sect and hostile to Christianity since this was against Chinese tradition, but the fact is that they were both a religious sect and anti-foreign and anti-Christian. Says Jerome Ch'ên: 'It was a religious uprising—the

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