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 colonies.

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.

Western Imperialism

Boxer Religious & Patriotic Frenzy

News Print Illustrations . . . circa 1900

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 in July.

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 Forbidden City.

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 way.

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 Peking

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 rebellion.

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 Assault on Peking

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 Kowloon

Japanese Forces at Peking . . . circa 1900

British ‘Bluejackets’ with Nordenfeldt Gun at T'ien Tsin . . . circa 1900

Russian Soldiers

Australian Forces

German Military in China

Alfred Dodds - French General
Commander of French Forces

Yu Hsien
Called the Butcher

Video - Boxer Rebellion


Green Dragon Society