Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

Martial Arts and the Boxer Rebellion

on July 22, 2022
(By Peter d’Aprix – http://www.galleryhistoricalfigures.com, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13275101)

       The Boxers were a group of martial arts practitioners who formed a secret society called the I Ho Ch’uan (Fists of Righteous Harmony).  They “opposed foreign influence and [were] strongly anti-Christian” (Plante, 1999, pg.1).  When Northern China experienced a series of natural disasters in the 1890s, farmers and workers joined with the Boxers to harass “Chinese Christians and foreign missionaries” (Plante, 1999, pg. 1).

       Originally, the Boxers staged rebellions against the Qing dynasty in the late 18th and early 19th centuries” (Britannica, 2020, pg. 1).  They wanted to destroy the Qing dynasty and all the Western foreigners who had set up “spheres of influence” in China with the full support of the Chinese government (University of Washington, 2021, pg. 1).  The American government wanted a piece of the action in China, but Empress Tsu-Hsi rejected that proposal (University of Washington, 2021, pg. 1).  Secretly, she supported the Boxers but “promised the Westerners that she would stop the Boxer efforts” (University of Washington, 2021, g. 2).

       United States Secretary of State John Hay “contacted the governments with Chinese spheres of influence and tried to persuade them all to share trading rights equally, including the United States” (University of Washington, 2021, pg. 1,2).  The other governments declined to sign any agreements, but Hay charged that the governments had all agreed in theory to his “Open Door Policy,” which represented a legally-binding agreement (University of Washington, 2021, pg. 2).

       In 1900, the Boxers led a peasant revolt against all foreigners in China.  “In Beijing [Peking], the Boxers burned churches and foreign residences and killed suspected Chinese Christians on sight” (Britannica, 2020, pg. 1).  In response, foreign-led forces took control of the Dagu forts.  Empress Tsu-Hsi ordered the murder of all foreigners in China, as a result (Britannica, 2021, pg. 2).

       The Boxer rebellion posed a threat to Hay’s Open Door Policy.  Foreign ministers refused to leave China, even though the Empress had declared a state of war.  On June 20, 1900, the Boxers and Chinese combatants attacked the city of Beijing, with the foreign ministers and their families barricaded within the Legation Quarter (Plante, 1999, pg. 2,3).

       The United States sent troops into the area “to relieve the legations in [Beijing] and protect American interests in China” (Plante, 1999, pg. 3).  Beijing was taken by a coalition of foreign forces, including the United States, and the Boxer Protocol was signed in September, 1901 (Plante, 1999, pg. 4).

China’s Internal Matters: Support for the Boxers.  Should the Chinese Government have Supported the Boxers in their Rebellion?

       By all appearances, Empress Tsu-Hsi was playing both sides in order to direct aggression of the Boxers away from the Chinese government.  Economically, China benefited from the foreign “spheres of influence,” but foreign influence was undermining Chinese culture and society.  “Christian converts flouted traditional Chinese ceremonies and family relations; and missionaries pressured local officials to side with Christian converts . . . in local lawsuits and property disputes” (Britannica, 2020, pg. 1).

       If the Chinese government had formal agreements with foreign governments, they should have kept their agreements.  China was a sovereign country with an established monarchy.  However, the Western countries were more technologically advanced, aggressive in their quest to exploit Chinese resources, and showed no respect for Chinese culture and authority.  In this regard, the West posed a threat to the Chinese and, according to las Casas (2018), “Every nation, no matter how barbaric, has the right to defend itself against a more civilized one that wants to conquer it and take away its freedom” (Brunstetter, 2018, pg. 96).

       Empress Tsu-Hsi exploited the Boxers against the foreigners but undermined her own government in the end.

China’s Internal Matters: Negotiation.  Should the Chinese Government have Attempted to Negotiate a Peaceful Resolution to the Conflict?

       By all appearances, neither Empress Tsu-Hsi, the Boxers, nor the Chinese civilians were interested in peace.  People were suffering economically, Chinese society was being disrupted by foreign influence, and the push to remove all foreigners from China was too strong.  The Empress actually backed the Boxers against the foreigners, ordered the murder of all foreigners, and declared a state of war (Plante, 1999, pg. 1,2).  If the Chinese wanted to negotiate, they could have done so at any time.

       If the Westerners were injuring China and the Chinese people, the Empress should have tried to negotiate terms in favor of her own people.  If the Empress did not want war with the Westerners, she could have negotiated with the Boxers to control the rebellion.  Instead, she supported them.  She was, according to Suarez (2018), derelict in her duty “to maintain order” (Davis, 2018, pg. 111) in the kingdom.

China’s External Matters: Western Governments’ Troop Intervention.  Should Western Governments have Sent Troops to China to Protect their Citizens and Property? 

       By all appearances, foreigners were in China with the permission of the Chinese government.  But in 1898, “conservative, anti-foreign forces won control of the Chinese government and persuaded the Boxers to drop their opposition to the Qing dynasty and unite with it in destroying the foreigners” (Britannica, 2020, pg. 1).  This implies that the Chinese government was not interested in peace or negotiations.  Once established, the Westerners refused to leave China, even in light of the increasing violence and threats of war.  When the foreigners sent troops into China, they had no legitimate authority to do so because China was a sovereign nation with a legitimate government.  According to las Casas (2018), “No ruler, whether king or emperor, nor anyone else, can exercise jurisdiction beyond his borders, since borders or limits are so called because they limit, determine, or restrict the property, power, or jurisdiction of someone” (Brunstetter, 2018, pg. 97).  Before sending in troops, the Western governments should have tried to negotiate a peace deal with the Chinese government.  However, if the Chinese government was unwilling to control the Boxers and negotiate peace, the Western governments had no choice but to send in troops to rescue Western citizens.

China’s External Matters: Western Governments’ Negotiations.  Should Western Governments have Attempted to Negotiate either with the Boxers or the Chinese Government Directly?

       After the defeat of China in the First Sino-Japanese War, Japan was granted the right to conduct trade in China.  This encouraged Western governments to also seek trading rights in China (Britannica, 2021, pg. 2).  “Austria, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, and Russia all [claimed] exclusive trading rights with specific areas of China” (University of Washington, 2021, pg. 1).  The United States wanted trading rights, too, but Empress Tsu-Hsi rejected U.S. proposals (University of Washington, 2021, pg. 1).  Secretary of State John Hay pressured the other Western governments into an unwritten agreement that had no legal status.  Hay insisted that the agreement was real and called it the Open Door Policy (University of Washington, 2021, pg. 1,2).  Some of these Westerners claimed to own the land within their trading zones, which infuriated the Boxers and the local civilians (University of Washington, 2021, pg. 1).

       The United States had no legitimate authority to invade China, even if the other Western governments did.  They had no legitimate claim to take back the land because they did not legitimately own the land in the first place.  So, las Casas’s assertion that it was just cause “to take back formerly Christian lands held by unbelievers” (Brunstetter, 2018, pg. 97) does not apply.  The effort “to punish pagans who practice idolatry in provinces formerly under Christian control” (Brunstetter, 2018, pg. 97) also would not apply.  Las Casas (2018), however, does consider it a just cause to “wage war upon those who prevent the gospel from being preached within their jurisdiction” (Brunstetter, 2018, pg. 99).  If the missionaries had permission previously to evangelize in China, the Western governments would have a legitimate cause to send troops into China to rescue missionaries, converts, and government officials from persecution by the Boxers and the Chinese government.

Legitimate Negotiations. Given that the Boxers had No Legitimate Authority within China, could Negotiations have Occurred with them Directly under any Circumstances?  If so, how?

       The Boxers were fundamentalists who believed that “they had magical powers and were invulnerable to bullets and pain, and that ‘spirit soldiers’ would rise from the dead to join them in their battles” (University of Washington, 2021, pg. 2).  With that kind of thinking, why would they negotiate if they were convinced that they could defeat the Westerners and already had the backing of the Chinese government?  From my point of view, only the Empress could have negotiated with both the Boxers and the Westerners.  For one thing, she was the only one with real authority to negotiate and control events.  She was the only one with real authority to declare war, per Suarez’s requirement that “war must be waged by a legitimate power” (Davis, 2018, pg. 111).

References

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopedia (2020, February 13). Boxer rebellion. Encyclopedia

       Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/event/Boxer-Rebellion

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopedia (2021, July 25). First sino-japanese war. Encyclopedia

       Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/event/First-Sino-Japanese-War-

       1894-1895

Brunstetter, D.R. (2018). Bartolome de las casas (1484-1566). In D.R. Brunstetter & C.   

       O’Driscoll (Eds.), Just war thinkers: From cicero to the 21st century (92-104). Abingdon,

       Oxon: Routledge

Davis, G.S. (2018). Francisco suarez (1548-1617). In D.R. Brunstetter & C. O’Driscoll (Eds.),

       Just war thinkers: From cicero to the 21st century (105-117). Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge

University Libraries. (2021). Essay: The boxer rebellion. University of Washington. Retrieved

       from http://www.content.lib.washington.edu/chandlessweb/boxer.html

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

November 11, 2021; July 22, 2022

Copyright 2021-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.


14 responses to “Martial Arts and the Boxer Rebellion

  1. aparna12 says:

    Wow. Very interesting. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is interesting Dawn and what we call a hot mess. How can you play both sides of the fence and win? If you have the authority to keep peace and order, wouldn’t you try? I never heard about this so thanks for sharing my friend. 😊🙏🏼☮

    Liked by 1 person

  3. […] Source: Martial Arts and the Boxer Rebellion | Dawn Pisturino’s Blog […]

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Iowa Life says:

    That was fun. Who knew? Did you ever see Sand Pebbles? Two interesting things out of China for me. Them getting conquered by the Japanese in WW II, and their lasting legacy of martial arts. I suppose a third would be how so many are receptive to Christianity, and so many are reviled by it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Nitin Lalit says:

    Extremely interesting post. The empress playing both sides was cunning and terrible. But I believe that both the Boxers and the missionaries (and also the US government) were wrong in their approaches and ideologies. This post covered a portion of history, I didn’t know anything about. You could write a historical fiction novel that has point of view characters on both sides of the conflict. So well researched. I also liked the question and answer format of this post. It engages the reader more.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. elvira797mx says:

    Wow! So interesting, Dawn! Thank’s for share.
    Lovely day!
    Elvira

    Liked by 1 person

  7. cigarman501 says:

    55 Days at Peking was always a favorite movie until I became a history major and found out how world powers tried to carve up China in the same way we carved up Africa.

    Liked by 1 person

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