The Chinese Secret Society called -
I Ho Ch'uan
"Righteous and Harmonious Fists"
Originally a Secret Society that
Dated before 1700 and whose Origins are Cloaked in Myths and Legends
The Boxer Rebellion (English) or the
Righteous Harmony Society Movement (Chinese)
Was a Violent Anti-imperialism, Anti-Christian Movement
by the "Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists"
Known as "Boxers" in English
Between 1898 and 1901
Boxer Rebellion Poster against Foreigners -
'Pig' Put to Death
|Imperial China in the 19th Century was in a dire state of
decay. Partly responsible for the deterioration of this once powerful
empire was the increasing pressure from the West and later from Japan.
The Chinese had been badly beaten in the Opium Wars (concluded in 1842)
and were forced to open Chinese ports to foreign trade and residents.
The Manchu Dynasty, already ravaged by domestic rebellion, found itself
powerless to resist further demands from Western Powers and between 1856
to 1898, a network of foreign control over the entire Chinese economy
had been established.
The European powers saw China as an imperialistic opportunity where
they could gain influence and power without territorial sovereignty.
Internal weakness in China and the suspicion that China might even
implode resulted in the European powers negotiating more and more
concessions by way of trading posts that were virtually independent
|The Western powers saw China as primitive and ripe for exploitation;
in many respects the last area of the world where territorial gains
could be made, as the days of rapidly expanding Empires were over. For
the Americans, late to the scramble for an Empire, China offered a
chance to make up for missed opportunities and create a new market for
its goods. At no point did the Western powers see China as an equal
despite the fact that Chinese civilization pre-dated their own.
In response to imperialist expansion, growth of cosmopolitan
influences, and missionary evangelism, and against the backdrop of state
fiscal crisis and natural disasters, local organizations began to emerge
in Shandong in 1898. A secret society, known as the Fists of Righteous
Harmony attracted thousands of followers. Foreigners called members of
this society "Boxers" because they practiced martial arts.
Great Misery in China - from Foreign Intervention
|The Boxers believed they had magical powers, and that foreign
bullets could not harm them. Millions of "Spirit Soldiers," they said,
would soon rise from the dead and join their cause.
What is clear is
that a group of Jesuits were expelled from China due to Boxer influence.
A series of bad harvests, plagues, and harsh sanctions imposed by the
Western powers and Japan (after the war of 1894-5) had caused much bad
feeling. There was a growing fear that the Chinese would be reduced to
servants of the Western Powers, into this environment the Boxers started
preaching anti-western beliefs.
Boxers and Chinese Soldiers
|The Boxers saw anything Western as evil. Boxers practiced
traditional martial arts and used Chinese weapons such as curved
halberds and spears. All foreigners were 1st class devils and Chinese
who had converted to Christianity were 2nd class devils, those who
worked for the foreigners were 3rd class devils.
The Boxers were very superstitious, believing in spells and magic. Some
magic would mean they were immune to western bullets. Incantations would
be used to create a trance like state among the followers. The Boxers
were not above using printing presses to publish huge numbers of
leaflets spreading their beliefs accusing the catholic church of abusing
Chinese women and children.
Boxer Religious & Patriotic Frenzy
News Print Illustrations . . . circa
|At first, the Boxers wanted to destroy the Ch'ing Dynasty, which had
ruled China for over 250 years, and wanted to rid China of all foreign
influence (which they considered a threat to Chinese culture). When the
Empress Dowager backed the Boxers, the Boxers turned solely to ridding
China of foreigners.
The Boxer Rebellion was concentrated in Northern China where the
European powers had begun to demand territorial, rail, and mining
concessions. Imperial Germany responded to the killing of two
missionaries in Shandong Province, in November 1897, by seizing the port
of Qingdao. A month later, a Russian naval squadron took possession of
Lushun, in southern Liaoning. Britain and France followed, taking
possession of Weihai and Zhanjiang respectively.
By late 1899 - Bands of Boxers were
Massacring Christian Missionaries and Chinese Christians
Massacres in China of Foreigners
|Description of the Boxers, "They advanced in a solid mass and
carried standards of red and white cloth. Their yells were deafening,
while the roar of gongs, drums and horns sounded like thunder. . . .
They waved their swords and stamped on the ground with their feet. They
wore red turbans, sashes, and garters over blue cloth".
Tz'u hsi - Imperial Dowager Empress of China
|Tz'u-hsi - Empress of the Ch'ing Dynasty, searched for a way
to rid her empire of foreign parasites. Throughout the nineteenth
century, China's Emperors had watched as foreigners encroached further
and further upon their land. Time and again, foreigners forced China to
make humiliating concessions. Foreign regiments, armed with modern
weapons, consistently defeated entire imperial armies. Now, a new
century was about to begin.
The Dowager Empress credited the Boxers' claim of magical
imperviousness to both blade and bullet. She decided to use the Boxers
to remove the foreign powers from China. The Imperial Court, now under
Tz'u-hsi's firm control, issued edicts in defense of the Boxers, drawing
heated complaints from foreign diplomats.
In January of 1900 the Empress released an Edict explaining that Secret
Societies were part of Chinese culture and not to be confused with
criminal elements. The Western powers were furious as this gave almost
official support to the Boxer movement.
At the Gate of the 'Forbidden City' (1900)
Death to Foreigners Notice
|In the early months of 1900 thousands of Boxers roamed the
countryside. They attacked Christian missions, slaughtering foreign
missionaries and Chinese converts. Then they moved toward the cities,
attracting more and more followers as they came. Nervous foreign
ministers insisted that the Chinese government stop the Boxers. From
inside the Forbidden City, the Empress told the diplomats that her
troops would soon crush the "rebellion." Meanwhile, she did nothing.
By May 1900, the Boxer Rebellion had come out of the countryside
and was being waged in the capital of Peking (now Beijing). To help
their fellow countrymen and to protect their interests in China, an
international force of 2,100 American, British, Russian, French,
Italian, and Japanese soldiers were sent to subdue the "rebellion.".
Attacks on Foreigners
Missionaries in China
|On June 18th, 1900, the Empress Dowager ordered all
foreigners to be killed. Several foreign ministers and their families
were killed before the international force could protect them.
Tz'u hsi the Empress Dowager, who ruled in the Emperor's name, declared
war on the foreign powers that had diplomatic representation in Peking.
Diplomats, foreign civilians, soldiers and some Chinese Christians
retreated to the Legation Quarter. They were surrounded, the foreigners
could neither escape nor send for help. For almost two months, they
withstood fierce attacks and bombardment.
The Boxers were unable to break into the compound, which was finally
relieved by the international army of the Eight-Nation Western Alliance
European Legation in Peking Besieged
|The conflict came to a head in June of 1900, when the Boxers, now
joined by elements of the Imperial army, attacked foreign compounds
within the cities of T'ien Tsin and Peking. The legations of Great
Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United States, Russia,
and Japan were all located on the same city block, close to the
The Taiyuan Massacre was the mass killing of foreign Christian
missionaries and of local church members, including children, from July
of 1900, and was one of the bloodier and more infamous parts of the
Boxer Rebellion. 222 Chinese Eastern Orthodox Christians were killed,
along with 182 Protestant missionaries and 500 Chinese Protestants known
as the China Martyrs of 1900. Forty-eight Catholic missionaries and
18,000 Chinese Catholics were killed.
Destruction of a Chinese Temple on the Bank of the
Pei Ho River
Fighting at T'ien Tsin
|The United States, eager to rescue its ministers and to assert its
presence in China, sent a contingent of 2,500 sailors and marines. After
rescuing another besieged delegation in T'ien Tsin, the international
force marched to Peking, fighting Boxers and imperial soldiers along the
The weather was a major obstacle, as it was extremely humid, with
temperatures sometimes reaching 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 Celsius).
Western Forces including American with British and Japanese Troops Storming
|The brutal Boxer Rebellion uprising crumbled on August 14th, 1900, when 20,000
foreign troops entered the Chinese capital, Peking (Beijing).
On August 15th, 1900, the international force took Peking and subdued
The international troops looted the capital and even ransacked the
Forbidden City. Disguised as a peasant, the Empress Dowager escaped the
city in a cart.
|The Boxer Rebellion ultimately claimed the lives of more than 32,000
Chinese Christians and several hundred foreign missionaries.
The Boxer Rebellion weakened the Ch'ing Dynasty's power and hastened the
Republican Revolution of 1911 that overthrew the boy Emperor and made
China a republic.
Prisoner Boxers . . . circa 1901
Boxers Fighting to the Death
Execution of Boxers by Beheading at
Japanese Forces at Peking . . . circa 1900
British ‘Bluejackets’ with Nordenfeldt Gun at T'ien
Tsin . . . circa 1900
Alfred Dodds - French General
Commander of French Forces
Called the Butcher