The Boxer Uprising
The Boxers were, or at least had begun as, a Chinese Secret Society .The
Society seems to have had roots going back as far as the late eighteenth
century. Originally, it was a society opposed to the Manchu dynasty and
in favour of a restoration of the Mings. It was banned in the early
nineteenth century but continued to function.
Causes of the Boxer uprising:
The uprising was possible because the boxers were able to gain support
from the Court and popular support (at least in Northern China).
1.Court support for the Boxers
a) After the failure of the 1898 Reform Movement, power at court was
in the hands of the Empress Dowager and her reactionary Manchu
supporters, such as Zai Yi. Gray stresses the importance of this
Manchu takeover “government had been taken over by Manchu
nobles and courtiers …who were obscurantist, superstitious,
parasitic and vengeful” .This group shared a resentment at the
influence of foreigners in China and a determination to make no
b) The Empress Dowager had additional personal reasons for disliking
the foreigners. She had been forced to flee the capital in 1860 as a
result of the Second Opium War. More recently, foreigners had
helped some of the 1898 reformers to escape. In 1900 she was
informed (falsely) by the pro-boxer faction that the foreign
diplomats were demanding virtual foreign control over China.
c)The new hostile attitude of the Court to foreign demands was shown in
February 1899 when the Italians demanded territory in Zhejiang province.
This was successfully rejected by the Court.
d) Moreover, as the Big Sword society had begun as an anti-Manchu
organization there was a danger to the Court if they tried to suppress it.
2.Popular support for the Boxers
a) The activities of Christian missionaries were resented.
Protection was often given by the missionaries to converts,
who themselves might have been ‘bought’ for Christianity
b) Local gentry often disliked the disruptive influence of
c) The ‘scramble for concessions’ aroused much anger amongst
d) The effects of foreign influence were also harming many Chinese
economically: Chinese industry could not compete with Western industry. The result was a lot of Chinese
The railway - a foreign invention - put a lot of people out of
work. By 1900 all people living by the grand Canal were
suffering economic problems.
e) The Chinese government had a trade deficit with the West. To
help pay for this they imposed heavier taxes.
f) As well as these rational grounds for Chinese resentment of
foreigners, other unfortunate circumstances helped to make
people more disposed to protest against their lot. The Yellow
River flooded frequently after 1882. There was a major flood
in 1898. This caused much suffering.
But in 1900 there was a severe drought in much of
Northern China. Some people were prepared to believe that
foreigners were somehow to blame for these natural
Events of the Boxer Uprising
1. The Boxers become more powerful
. a) The Boxers were not one body but were made up of
different groups under their own leaders. The Boxers fought with
swords and lances rather than guns. The Boxers practiced ‘magic’
arts which,they claimed, gave them immunity to bullets after 100
days of training.
b)The main policy of the Boxers was to exterminate the ‘Hairy Men’ -
the foreigners and also Chinese Christians
c)In the 1890’s the Boxers (called the Big Sword Society) were
very active in Shandong. They received secret encouragement
from the governor of the province.
d) In 1897 two German missionaries were killed in Shandong (and
Germany began the ‘scramble for concessions’). But the Boxers
became even more powerful in Shandong.
e) In March 1899 there was appointed a new governor of Shandong
province. He also gave support to the Boxers and gave them a
new name -Righteous and harmonious Militia. The Boxers, not
surprisingly, increased their attacks on missionaries and Chinese
converts. In December 1899 foreign pressure forced the Court
to withdraw the governor. (He was replaced as governor of
Shandong by Yuan Shikai, who disapproved of the Boxers.
Although the Court was increasingly sympathetic to the Boxers,
Yuan Shikai suppressed them in Shandong)
f) When Yu Xian was dismissed as governor of Shandong, he
went to Beijing and sought to persuade the Court to look favourably upon the Boxers. As a result, the Court became
g) A secret demonstration was arranged for the Dowager
Empress to ‘prove’ the immunity of the Boxers to guns. She
was impressed by the demonstration and gave her approval to
the Boxers. With Court support and e