Last modified on 27 April 2009, at 22:00

VCE History Revolutions/Chinese Revolution/The Boxer Rebellion

From China and the Manchus by Herbert Allen Giles [out of copyright]:

There was great unrest, especially in Shantung, due, it was said, to ill-feeling between the people at large and converts to Christianity, and at any rate aggravated by recent foreign acquisitions of Chinese territory. It was thus that what was originally one of the periodical anti-dynastic risings, with the usual scion of the Ming dynasty as figure-head, lost sight of its objective and became a bloodthirsty anti-foreign outbreak. The story of the siege of the Legations has been written from many points of view; and most people know all they want to know of the two summer months in 1900, the merciless bombardment of a thousand foreigners, with their women and children, cooped up in a narrow space, and also of the awful butchery of missionaries, men, women, and children alike, which took place at the capital of Shansi. Whatever may have been the origin of the movement, there can be little doubt that it was taken over by the Manchus, with the complicity of the Empress Dowager, as a means of getting rid of all the foreigners in China. Considering the extraordinary position the Empress Dowager had created for herself, it is impossible to believe that she would not have been able to put an end to the siege by a word, or even by a mere gesture. She did not do so; and on the relief of the Legations, for a second time in her life—she had accompanied Hsien Fêng to Jehol in 1860—she sought safety in an ignominious flight. Meanwhile, in response to a memorial from the Governor of Shansi, she had sent him a secret decree, saying, "Slay all foreigners wheresoever you find them; even though they be prepared to leave your province, yet they must be slain." A second and more urgent decree said, "I command that all foreigners, men, women, and children, be summarily executed. Let not one escape, so that my empire may be purged of this noisome source of corruption, and that peace may be restored to my loyal subjects." The first of these decrees had been circulated to all the high provincial officials, and the result might well have been an indiscriminate slaughter of foreigners all over China, but for the action of two Chinese officials, who had already incurred the displeasure of the Empress Dowager by memorializing against the Boxer policy. These men secretly changed the word "slay" into "protect," and this is the sense in which the decree was acted upon by provincial officials generally, with the exception of the Governor of Shansi, who sent a second memorial, eliciting the second decree as above. It is impossible to say how many foreigners owe their lives to this alteration of a word, and the Empress Dowager herself would scarcely have escaped so easily as she did, had her cruel order been more fully executed. The trick was soon discovered, and the two heroes, Yüan Ch`ang and Hsü Ching-ch`êng, were both summarily beheaded, even though it was to the former that the Empress Dowager was indebted for information which enabled her to frustrate the plot against her life in 1898.