By the end of the 19th cent. the Western powers and Japan had established wide interests in China. The Opium War (1839–42), which Great Britain had provoked, forced China to grant commercial concessions (see treaty port) and to recognize the principle of extraterritoriality. The concessions to Great Britain were soon followed by similar ones to France, Germany, and Russia. The Ch'ing regime, already weakened by European encroachments, was more enfeebled by Japan's success in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–95) and the subsequent further partitioning of China into foreign spheres of influence. The Ch'ing emperor, Kuang-hsu, attempted to meet the imperialist threat by adopting modern educational and administrative reforms, but he stirred conservative opposition and was frustrated (1898) by the dowager empress, Tz'u Hsi, who, favoring a last effort to expel foreign influence, supported armed resistance.
The dowager empress tacitly encouraged an antiforeign secret society called I Ho Ch'uan [Chinese,=righteous, harmonious fists] or, in English, the Boxers. The Boxers soon grew powerful, and late in 1899 the movement began to assume menacing proportions. Violent attacks on foreigners and on Chinese Christians occurred, particularly in the provinces of Zhili, Shanxi, and Shandong; in Manchuria; and in Inner Mongolia. In those regions, railway building, a visible symbol of the foreigner, was most active; and Chinese Christians, especially Roman Catholics, adherents to the foreigners' religion, were most numerous. Also located there were the majority of territorial leaseholds acquired by the European powers.
In June, 1900, the Boxers (some 140,000 strong and now led by the war party at court), occupied Beijing and for eight weeks besieged the foreigners and the Chinese Christians there. Provincial governors in SE China suppressed the court's declaration of war and assured the powers of protection for foreign interests, thus limiting the area of conflict to N China. The siege was lifted in August by an international force of British, French, Russian, American, German, and Japanese troops, which had fought its way through from Tianjin. The Boxer Uprising thus ended.
The Western powers and Japan agreed—mainly because of U.S. pressure to
preserve Chinese territorial and administrative integrity and because of mutual jealousies among the powers—not to carry further the partition of China. Nevertheless, China was compelled (1901) to pay an indemnity of $333 million, to amend commercial treaties to the advantage of the foreign nations, and to permit the stationing of foreign troops in Beijing. The United States later (1908) used some of its share of the indemnity for scholarships for Chinese students. China emerged from the Boxer Uprising with a greatly increased debt and was, in effect, a subject nation.
See A. H. Smith, China in Convulsion (1901); G. N. Steiger, China and the Occident (1927); C. C. Tan, The Boxer Catastrophe (1955); P. Fleming, The Siege at Peking (1959); V. W. W. S. Purcell, The Boxer Uprising (1963); R. O'Connor, The Spirit Soldiers (1973).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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