History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth

By Paul A. Cohen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Magic and Female Pollution

At midnight on the eighteenth day [ June 14, 1900] three churches [in Tianjin's Chinese city], the one inside the West Gate, the one in front of the garrison headquarters, and the one at the entrance to the granary, were burned down by the Boxer bandits. . . . While the church at the granary entrance was burning, the flames spread to a dozen or so private residences next door and across the street. The bandits passed the word around that, just as they were setting fire to the church in question, some woman from across the way had come out of her home and spilled dirty water. Their magic was therefore destroyed, and the misfortune extended [beyond the church]. On the basis of this [explanation], the families whose homes had been burned down didn't resent the Boxer bandits; they all cursed the woman. People who have complete faith in the Boxer bandits' claims say that, as [the Boxers] were on the point of setting fire to the churches, several dozen Red Lanterns ascended high into the air and circled around each church once. After this the Boxer teacher recited an incantation and pointed toward the doorway of the church with a stick of incense, at which point the fire started. . . .

After burning down these churches, the Boxer bandits issued orders to all families not to eat meat for three days. They also instructed women not to go out of their homes at night and not to throw dirty water into their courtyards, lest they give offense to the gods and incur blame. . . .

On the twenty-second day [June 18], from early morning until noon, the sound of gunfire was constant. Supporters of the Boxer bandits said: "When the fighting began between the Boxers and the foreigners, the foreigners were unable to hold their own. Then, suddenly, in the midst of the foreign army there stood a naked woman. The Boxers'magical powers were thwarted, and they dared not advance."

Liu Mengyang, resident of Tianjin1


Boxer Magic and the Question of Efficacy

Chinese, as well as foreigners, who have written on the Boxer movement, either as contemporary witnesses or latter-day scholars, have consistently --

-119-

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History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • List of Illustrations ix
  • Preface xi
  • Acknowledgments xvii
  • Part 1 - The Boxers as Event 1
  • Prologue - The Historically Reconstructed Past 3
  • Chapter 1 - The Boxer Uprising- A Narrative History 14
  • Part 2 - The Boxers as Experience 57
  • Prologue - The Experienced Past 59
  • Chapter 2 - Drought and the Foreign Presence 69
  • Chapter 3 - Mass Spirit Possession 96
  • Chapter 4 - Magic and Female Pollution 119
  • Chapter 5 - Rumor and Rumor Panic 146
  • Chapter 6 - Death 173
  • Part 3 - The Boxers as Myth 209
  • Prologue - The Mythologized Past 211
  • Chapter 7 - The New Culture Movement and the Boxers 223
  • Chapter 8 - Anti-Imperialism and the Recasting of the Boxer Myth 238
  • Chapter 9 - The Cultural Revolution and the Boxers 261
  • Conclusion 289
  • Abbreviations 299
  • Notes 301
  • Glossary 375
  • Bibliography 383
  • Index 415
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