This series has ten easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Origin of the Boxers.
In China, after decades of oppression and humiliation by the western powers, a grassroots uprising occurred. They called themselves “the Boxers”. As Chuan-Sen relates below, it was semi-rational and semi-mystical. This uprising (mistakenly called a “rebellion”) had the support of China’s ruler. Like other rebellions/uprisings in established countries its locus was in the capital city of Beijing (think the French Revolution in Paris). Since this uprising was directed outward against the foreign nations instead of inward the target of the Boxers was the foreign diplomatic presence.
The selections are from:
- His Account included in George Lynch’s ‘The War of the Civilizations’ by Chuan-sen published in 1901.
- The Siege in Peking by William A.P. Martin published in 1900.
For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. There’s three installments by Chuan-sen and seven installments by William A.P. Martin.
We begin with Chuan-sen. George Lynch was a journalist who got to the scene just after the Uprising was put down. He wrote,
After the Relief I was anxious to get, if possible, an account of the siege from one of those who had taken part in it on the side of the assailants. This was naturally difficult, as there were practically no prisoners. I was fortunate enough, however, to meet a young Chinaman named Chuan-Sen. He was a Manchu of good family, a very cultured and intellectual young man, with a fair knowledge of English. It would be a pity to interfere with the quaintly worded account he wrote for me, which is in many respects the most interesting I have seen on the siege. Chuan-Sen lived in the Tsung-Li-Yamen during the siege, and translated all the communications from the legations. There were three hundred Boxers using the building of the Tsung-Li-Yamen as a barracks, so he had opportunity of studying them and their code of superstitions as well as their actions.
Chuan-Sen took nearly a week to write the following account. He has long been known to many Englishmen as a reliable and trustworthy man.”
The drill of militia in all districts for local defense has been introduced into China very long since, but it has not been approved till last year. In Tsae-Chou-Fu of Shantung very often the inhabitants assembled together, and formed bands for evil purposes, which were called the Big Sword Societies.
They thought their bodies were bullet-proved, and no weapons could wound them. As their societies became greater, they took advantage of militia drill, saying that they would kill the foreigners, and calling themselves Yi-He-Tuan, which means righteous and harmonious militia.
They expressed that they had the power of taking the souls of spirits into their own bodies when they were boxing, which made the foolish people sincerely believe their doings, but those who were wise still deemed it as superstitious.
Why were the people so anti-foreign? The case was that the Chinese Christian converts took advantage of the missionaries sheltering them, in lawsuits before the magistrates concerning property. Thus, when these people declared that their resolution was to slaughter the Christians, very many people were glad to join the society.
The Boxers were gradually spreading to Tientsin, Chi- Chou, Chuo-Chow, and Pao-Ting-Fu and some other districts. Those Boxers who belonged to the Kan (a word for the north direction) group had red cloth on the heads, around the waist and legs ; while those who belonged to the Chien (a word for the northwest direction) used yellow cloth instead of red. Their weapons were only spears and swords, which were not sharp.
It was rumored that they were so easily fed that one pint of rice would be sufficient for several hundred persons, and that they could pass the seas and oceans by means of using pieces of cloth instead of ships. In Tientsin there were societies of red lanterns, which consisted of young girls who could walk in the air if they held a handkerchief in one hand and a red lantern in the other, which could help the Boxers to burn the missionary buildings.
Most of the people did not believe this, and considered it superstitious conduct, as others could not see them when they were walking in the air. Till then, none of the Pekinese practiced boxing. Shortly afterward a merchant of the Chinese city, a native of Chi-Chou, came back from home and learnt how to box. The young men, or rather boys, knowing him, asked him to teach them to box for playing purposes.
In Chuo-Chow, Chi-Chou, and some other districts round Peking the Boxers prepared altars, which were composed of mat- sheds, in which they placed tablets with names of spirits written on. In each shed, or altar, there was a certain number of men, and each man got a sword or a spear. Before boxing, the men first knelt down in the yard toward the southeast, burnt a ‘piao’ (which was composed of three sheets of yellow paper) incense, and knocked their heads.
After doing so, they again all kneeled down before the tab lets, and each made, on purpose as I supposed, a strong breath with a great noise; after one or two minutes all stood up and began to box. Before finishing the boxing, every man had to ex pose his back for several cuts given by another man with the blade of a sabre.
The Empress-Dowager knew that it would be harmful, and wanted to suppress them, but did not like to kill all of them, as there were among them good people, who had no real intentions of attacking foreigners, and who were simply induced to do so owing to their want of wisdom, so she sent Kang-Yi and Chao-Shu-Chiao, the leaders, and advised the accomplices to stop boxing.
During these days the Dowager was living in the Imperial Garden, and was amusing herself as well as possible.
Since then the Boxers gave more trouble. One of my friends told me that he saw a few Boxers who were admitted to the city, and destroyed two people near the Imperial River bridge. A rumor said that some old women were sent out by the missionaries to put dirty blood on the doors of some of the houses, and that if it were not cleaned by the Boxers the inmates of the house would all become fatally mad.
Such superstitious power had never been heard of in foreign countries, so I thought it was the Boxers’ design to make people know that they could dissolve such calamities.
Outside the Hai-Tai Gate two women, who were considered to put dirty blood on the door, were killed at once. A rumor said that the red lantern girls could pull down high-storied houses with thin cotton strings, and could set fire to the house simply by moving a fan, and also said they had the power of hanging a rock of several pounds on a hair.
Upon a certain day there were several Boxers passing along Chia-Min-Hsiang, among whom a young one was captured by the German guards. It was then rumored that this Boxer was so well exercised that he was not slightly wounded, though the Germans tried to dig his eyes out.
William A.P. Martin begins here.
We want to take this site to the next level but we need money to do that. Please contribute directly by signing up at https://www.patreon.com/history