The Boxer Rebellion was a violent uprising of Chinese citizens against Western influence in their country. The rebellion was instigated in 1900 by a secret organization known as the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists, but the tensions that fueled the violence had been simmering since China’s defeat in the Opium Wars nearly half a century before. At its peak the rebellion even had the support of China’s then-empress, but it was violently suppressed by a multinational alliance. The Boxer Rebellion lasted only a year, but its impact on Chinese history and the ruling Qing dynasty, were profound.
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SOCIETY OF RIGHTEOUS AND HARMONIOUS FISTS The Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists was a secret society that emerged primarily in the Northern Chinese province of Shandong in the 1890s. Also known as the Yihequan, the Society earned the nickname “boxers” from their elaborate martial arts rituals. The leadership of the Boxers believed that these rituals would render them immune to bullets. The Boxers had been mounting attacks on Christian missionaries and Christian converts for several years before exploding into full-out rebellion in 1900 and attacking Beijing.
At the time of the Boxer Rebellion, the Dowager Empress Cixi had ruled as regent twice—first for her son and later for her nephew. When that nephew, Guangxu, launched the poorly-received Hundred Days’ Reforms in 1898, the Empress retook the throne with the help of Chinese conservatives. The Empress supported the Boxer movement as it gained power, but after it fell she was forced to agree to a humiliating indemnity. The terms of settlement limited Qing military power even further, dismantling the Dagu Forts that were meant to defend against Western invaders.
CLEMENS VON KETTELER
One of the most publicized deaths of the Boxer Rebellion was that of German ambassador Baron Clemens von Ketteler. The Boxer forces arrived in Beijing in June of 1900. Ketteler enraged both the Boxers and the Imperial army forces by shooting a child. During the ensuing street fighting Ketteler was shot by an army captain named En Hai.
The Kansu Braves were a unit of 10,000 Chinese Muslim soldiers stationed in Beijing during the Boxer Rebellion. Commanded by the virulently anti-Western General Dong Fuxiang, the Kansu Braves joined the Boxers early on in the fighting in Beijing. In addition to killing Clemens von Ketteler they also tore apart Japanese ambassador Sugiyama Akira. Although the Braves were initially dismissed as "10,000 Islamic rabble” they proved their mettle in their one major engagement with foreign forces outside of the walls of Beijing—The Battle of Langfang.
Stunned by the ferocity of the Boxers and aware that the Legation Quarter in Beijing was under siege, eight nations formed a multinational coalition. The titular eight nations were Japan, Great Britain, Russia, France, Austria-Hungary, Italy, the United States, and Germany. The Boxers didn’t just roll over, though; the Alliance’s initial march towards Beijing, the Seymour Expedition, was thwarted at the aforementioned Battle of Langfang in June. It took until August for the Alliance to finally retake Beijing, after which they unleashed violence and looting upon the already-damaged city.
Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:
Although the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists was officially closed to women, women such as Lin Hei’er played an important role in the Boxer Rebellion.
Were the Boxers martial artists as we understand the term?
The Dowager Empress lost what little power she had after the failure of The Boxer Rebellion, but she still managed to live in incredible luxury.
Watch this video to learn more about the circumstances that led to the Boxer Rebellion.
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