The Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901) | Project Revolution | History of China

The Boxer Rebellion was the fourth and largest
war, Imperial China fought against Western powers in the nineteenth century (2.382). Oddly enough, in its early stages the Boxer
movement was pitted against both Western influences in China and the Manchu-led Qing dynasty. The Qing Empress Dowager Cixi, however, saw
the possibility to use these rebels for her own ends and managed to court its leaders
in order to forge an anti-Western alliance… it turned out to be a bit of a misjudgment
on her side, to put it mildly. The Boxer Rebellion served as a testament
to the instability and chaos that pestered China and it definitely was one of the most
interesting and tense episodes of Chinese history. Hey, welcome to House of History. This video is part of Project Revolution:
a collaboration with other history-oriented YouTube channels. Once you’ve watched this video and want
to know what transpired after the Boxer rebellion, I’d suggest you check out Emperor Tigerstar’s
fascinating video about the Xinhai rebellion. For the Mexican revolution at the beginning
of the 19th century check out M Laser’s great video. -intro- Geopolitical Background By the time the Boxer rebellion set China
ablaze, the reigning Qing dynasty and Chinese people had suffered major hardships and defeats
for decades. It was once one of the most prosperous empires
of the world: according to Angus Maddison’s statistical estimates, China had the biggest
share in the World’s GDP, making it the largest economy in the world during the 18th
century. But then… two Opium Wars between China and
the British empire ended in severe, humiliating Chinese defeats. Combined with the deadliest civil war ever
seen, the Taiping rebellion, together with several other massive rebellions, China’s
GDP plummeted. Treaties were signed, sovereignty was conceded,
and Western powers gained a foothold in the country. Following the opium wars, the Chinese tried
to reform and embark on a ‘self strengthening’ policy. The Sino-Japanese war three decades later
led to the near total annihilation of China’s fleet, complete defeat of its army and subsequent
humiliating peace treaty. It was the dark conclusion of China’s failed
reforms. A domestic crisis followed, protests swept
over the country. Something had to be done. Disasters were not only accredited to the
Qing, but to foreigners as well. Two German catholic missionaries were murdered
in the Shandong province under governor Li Bingheng in 1898. This was used as a pretext to occupy multiple
port cities and mining and railway rights by the Germans at first, only for the British,
French and Russians to quickly seize what they could get. Never waste a good crisis, right? Some Chinese, rightly so, feared their country
was about to be “carved up like a melon”. It was in 1898 the Chinese Guangxu emperor
embarked on a radical reform program, known as the 100 days of reform. These radical institutional reforms were unprecedented
and would change China for good if successful. Arch conservatives within the government noticed
this as well, and w eren’t too happy. The empress Dowager Cixi managed to sway several
conservative Manchu princes to support her and get rid of the Emperor. After barely 100 days of reform, palace guards
and eunuchs entered the Emperor’s palace, seized the documents containing plans for
reform and Cixi announced the Emperor had (suspiciously) fallen ill. It was only right for her to assume leadership,
she reasoned. How convenient…. And Cixi? She would be the central figure during the
Boxer Rebellion. The Boxers Now that we know the background of the Boxer
Rebellion, I don’t think it’s too difficult to grasp exactly why this anti-Western rebellion
occurred. In eighteen-ninety-eight one spark was enough
to ignite a full-scale rebellion in Northern China. The Ji-hechuan, crudely translated to Fists
of Harmony and Justice, more commonly known as the Boxers, were that spark. They were a secret society, loosely affiliated
with the White Lotus Society and Big Swords Society, embodying anti-foreign and anti-Christian
sentiments. Located in northwestern Shandong without real
clear leadership, Boxer militias were composed mainly of peasants. They took to the streets and their slogan:
“Remove the Qing, Destroy the foreigners” immediately caught the attention of many disgruntled
Chinese peasants. Their anti-dynastic sentiment was due to their
conviction that the Qing dynasty had lost their mandate of heaven. Their interesting name, the Boxers, was based
on their special way of boxing that was akin to a rhythmic like exercise, in an attempt
to harmonize both spirit and muscle in preparation for combat. What followed was a ritual-like formula, a
chant, breathing through clenched teeth and frothing. The boxers would claim they were possessed
by spirits and were invulnerable to sabres and foreign bullets. Well, when demonstrations of this feat were
held it wouldn’t always go according to plan. Nevertheless, during combat they relied on
their fists and sticks, rather than more modern weaponry. There were female boxer groups as well, most
famous the Red Lanterns Shining. They fought alongside the Boxers. As rebellion broke out, the initial targets
were Chinese Christians and the occasional Western missionary. Over time, the Boxer rebellion gained momentum
and spread across Shandong, sweeping village after village, without Beijing undertaking
any countermeasures. The rest of the world wasn’t too invested
in this obscure rebellion in China. It would not be until 1900 when this rebellion
overtook the front-page of Western newspapers, pushing the ongoing Boer war to the second
page. The brutality of the Boxers would shock the
world. Boxers slaughtered and plundered as they made
their way from the countryside towards Chinese cities, among which Beijing. And over there the European diplomat legation
was housed. These diplomats did not feel threatened…
for now. An unlikely alliance When the Qing finally decided to take action
against the Boxers in late 1899 it wasn’t a surprise the Boxers suffered some massive
defeats against Qing troops. The Boxers now probably realized they could
not fight two enemies at once and took a more accommodating stance towards the Qing dynasty. Their anti-dynastic rhetoric became more moderate. Empress Dowager Cixi saw the success of the
Boxer rebellion as an instrument they could use to counter the encroachment of these European
powers, to whom the boxers referred as hairy ones. Cixi issued several edicts serving to protect
Boxers in early 1900. She decided to join forces with the Boxers
against these…. hairy ones. As such, the Boxer’s new battle-cry would
be “Support the Qing government and exterminate the foreigners”! As for the Western diplomats residing the
capital Beijing, not too far away from Cixi, who was now plotting to wage war against their
nations? The diplomats were confident of Western superiority
and were slow to recognize that the Empress Dowager, after decades of unequal treaties,
suppression and encroachment, was finally prepared to let this popular movement challenge
the West by force. Some Chinese governors were happy with this
new alliance. The governor of Shandong, A Manchu by the
name of Yuxian, publicly encouraged the Boxers to take action against Christians as they
saw fit. He even helped them out, massacring all Christians
he gathered in his capital under the pretense of protection. Cixi did not enjoy popular support from all
civil servants however. Those that served in provinces that were suffering
under the Boxer’s violence considered the pro-Boxer stance of Cixi to be self-destructive. But they could do nothing against the Boxers
without unleashing an all-out civil war. And as such, Boxers continued to pillage and
murder. Cixi didn’t mind the Christian purges and
opposition to Western influence, although the cost for some provinces certainly was
heavy. The European Corps Diplomatique Alright, so during the spring of nineteen-hundred,
Cixi issued several more decrees that implicitly supported the Boxer movement. Foreign diplomats, slowly waking up to what
was going on, protested vehemently against it and decided that they had to resort to
violence if the Qing government didn’t undertake any action against these thugs. Meanwhile a squadron of seventeen Western
warships had anchored just outside Taku. As the Boxers were advancing towards Beijing,
massacring and pillaging along the way, the diplomats requested military protection and
the fleet let 455 marines disembark. Once they reached Beijing their number was
described as ‘dangerously low’. Regardless of their number, this iconic photograph
you was the result of these eight nations fighting together. Some diplomats were worried, but others, among
which sir Claude MacDonald, the British ambassador, weren’t necessarily worried about the Boxers… Moreso about the possibility of an international
scramble for concessions if the Qing government were to collapse. They had to get their fair share, after all. All the while Boxers kept advancing onto Beijing,
destroying railway lines on the way, isolating the capital. As Boxers encircled the city days later, the
worries about a scramble for concessions faded to the background, even for Claude MacDonald. That same afternoon Macdonald had requested,
with urgency, reinforcements from the British admiral sir Edward Seymour. Seymour, stationed several days of travel
away, left with two-thousand soldiers, composed of eight different nationalities, the next
morning. He planned to travel the entire distance by
train, repairing the railroad on the way. On the planned date of arrival several trucks
were waiting at the Beijing station to transport the reinforcements that would arrive… But no one arrived. Seymour was referred to as ‘see no more’
from then on. Wasn’t really his fault though, as soon
as Seymour left his force was attacked by a mixture of Boxers and Qing troops. Later that day in Beijing, Sugiyama Akira,
the chancellor of the Japanese legation, went to the railway station unaccompanied wearing
a bowler hat and western suit. He seemed the perfect target for Boxers and
loyalist Qing troops. He was apprehended by Kansu Braves, Muslims
loyal to the Qing, hacked into pieces and beheaded, his mutilated corpse left on the
street. Meanwhile Seymour abandoned the expedition. There were several skirmishes between Boxers
and Westerners throughout the province and Dagu forts were seized by Western troops to
provide cover for a troop landing. The fortification of the legation Within Beijing tensions rose. The reactionary and pro-Boxer prince Duan
was appointed as the minister of foreign affairs. He issued an order which allowed the Boxers
to enter the capital. Roaming the streets, dressed in motley uniforms
of red, black or yellow turbans and red leggings, killing Chinese Christians. Several days later Cixi was informed, albeit
falsely, that the European powers wished her to abdicate in favour of the emperor. In a rage she ordered all diplomats to leave
Beijing the next day. The next morning, German Imperial Envoy, Baron
Klemens von Ketteler left the legation in order to discuss the situation with Qing representatives. He was shot and killed in the middle of the
street. None of the diplomats even considered leaving
the legation after this. Not leaving the city meant defying Cixi’s
will, however. The legations were fortified as the Boxers
started surrounding the area, waiting for the ultimatum to expire. This was one of the most tense moments for
the Europeans, locked in their legation quarter. The foreign legations would number around
sixty men given normal circumstances. During the siege there were 475 foreign civilians,
450 marines and 3000 Chinese Christians that were granted asylum at the last minute. The legation under siege was divided in various
ethnic squadrons under the command of MacDonald. The presence of one-hundred-and-fifty ponies
ensured fresh meat. The real problem was lack of ammunition. The Japanese didn’t have more than one-hundred
bullets per man, and the best equipped defenders not more than three-hundred. As Cixi’s ultimatum expired, the Boxers
opened fire. The siege of the legation had begun. The next day, on the twenty-first of June,
The Qing Imperial Government officially declared war on the European powers after receiving
news about the Dagu fortresses. Boxers, now a “loyal militia”, took the
opportunity to launch a series of attacks on mission compounds around Shanxi, Hebei
and Henan. A little bit further down the road the roman-catholic
cathedral was in even more trouble. Bishop Favier and his three-thousand followers,
among which eight-hundred converted Chinese schoolgirls were protected by merely forty-three
French and Italian marines. Boxers started setting fire to the surrounding
buildings. The famous National Academy with her irreplaceable
library was torched. A while back the Chinese government had bought
new Krupp guns. Ideal for a situation such as this one, though
general Ronglu refused to use them. Instead, he ordered his troops to fire empty
shells. Ronglu wasn’t the only Qing official refusing
official orders from court, however… Boxer War? Cixi didn’t have much support from other
Chinese governors and many provinces refused to send troops towards Beijing, declaring
themselves neutral. China’s political system of a relatively
decentralized government had proven of some practical use, Fairbank and Reischauer write. I’ll give you an example: Li Hung-Chang,
together with the Kanton governor-general and Imperial Commissioner Liu K’un-i, ignored
Cixi’s declaration of war. And as such, China, except for the Northern
provinces, remained neutral. The convenient fiction was accepted and the
Boxer outbreak was a “rebellion” instead of a war supported by the Qing dynasty. After a month of siege the casualties in the
legation were heavy, and the amount of Boxers and Qing forces were even heavier. It was a dire situation, but on the seventeenth
of July, much to the surprise of the legation, the Chinese declared an armistice. Thing is, communication was obviously rather
slow. As a wink to contemporary times – what happened
in newspapers all over the world can be considered a historic example of fake news. The Daily Mail published an article stating
the legation had fallen and all those inside it had been slaughtered. The Times published the obituary of MacDonald. Around the twenty-third of July a memorial
was organized in the United Kingdom in order to commemorate the fallen legation… The memorial was promptly canceled once news
reached Europe that the legation hadn’t fallen… Foreign intervention The article in the Daily Mail did have its
consequences however. The German Emperor, Wilhelm II told his fleet
that was preparing to sail towards China: no mercy! No prisoners! Kill all those you capture and make them remember
the German name. Eventually the German soldiers made sure many
would remember their name indeed. Nearby Tientsin a new international military
force was congregating under Lieutenant-General Alfred Gaselee. The fact a foreign force numbering in the
thousands was gathering probably played a role in the Qing’s decision to proclaim
an armistice. Tientsin was swiftly captured… But instead of immediately advancing towards
Beijing the commanders decided to wait until they gathered over twenty-thousand troops. The military force wouldn’t leave Tientsin
for three more weeks. Meanwhile, the situation around the legation
turned sour again. Li Bingheng, the anti-foreign governor arrived
in Beijing at the end of July. The armistice was broken and the legation
was once again under siege. Two weeks later the relief force finally arrived
at the gates of Beijing. Gathering around the city walls, it was agreed
the European divisions would assault the city at dawn. International rivalry probably inspired the
decision by the Russians to attack that night, on their own, suffering heavy casualties. Not the most tactical decision, but they breached
the walls nevertheless. That morning others followed and it was the
Brits that managed to reach the legation first. Shortly thereafter the Japanese rescued the
Cathedral.. Boxer resistance crumbled and key Qing commanders
took their own life. The Europeans immediately started looting
the city. The Germans, arriving late, were exceptionally
zealous and torched the villages surrounding the city. They certainly followed Kaiser Wilhelm’s
orders. Mass executions took place, with hundreds
of Boxers beheaded on the streets. As the European troops entered Beijing, Cixi
and the Qing Imperial Court fled the city traveling on farmer’s carts. The Guangxu Emperor too was evacuated, but
in a last act of spite, Cixi refused to allow his favourite concubine to travel with him. The concubine’s life would end at the bottom
of a well in the Forbidden City. The Boxer Protocol Though the Boxers were defeated, over forty-five
thousand soldiers of foreign powers were standing in Northern China. Cixi and the Qing Imperial Court had fled
towards the remote Xián. Peace negotiations from the Chinese side were
conducted by Li Hongzhang and international rivalry between the European powers meant
they couldn’t gain too much ground and punish China too harshly. Installing a regime such as in British India
would have caused more chaos and as such, the European powers demanded that Pro-Boxer
civil servants were punished and large indemnities had to be paid. Because of this, the Qing dynasty, the Chinese
empire, and their own privileged positions were maintained. Empress Dowager Cixi could stay on as the
regent. On the seventeenth of september the Boxer
Protocol was signed. In it, the death penalty was demanded for
high-ranking civil servants such as Yuxian and many more boxers. In forty-five cities exams were canceled for
5 years, which meant high posts in the civil servant apparatus could not be attained anymore. All import of arms into China was prohibited
for 2 years and Western troops should be allowed to permanently reside within China. Three-hundred-thirty-three million dollars
had to be paid as indemnity, spread over a period of thirty-nine years with interest,
which meant the total amount paid would be more than double. The amount was staggering for it was nearly
four times the total annual Qing income. The UK and US thought it so severe they offered
to return some of the money as educational funds for Chinese students studying abroad. The siege of Beijing lasted for fifty-five
days. Fifty-five foreigners were murdered, whereas
during the entire rebellion over two-hundred missionaries, two-thousand foreign soldiers
and over thirty-thousand Chinese Christians were murdered. The official death toll among the Qing troops
and Boxers has never been released, though it must have numbered in the tens of thousands. And that’s how China entered the twentieth
century. A defeated nation that once again had to give
up land, wealth and lives for the sake of European powers. As Cixi could stay on as regent, the next
decade would be marked by an ambitious reform program by the Qing. It was too little, too late however. Consider checking out the playlist of the
Project Revolution collaboration on the screen to see the incredible work of many other history
Youtube channels. Thank you for watching this video and if you
want to know what transpired during the decades before the Boxer rebellion consider checking
out the playlist on the screen right now. Don’t forget to subscribe, see you next

41 thoughts on “The Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901) | Project Revolution | History of China

  1. As usual, incredible research man. I just wish I had the skill and patience to go into the depths you go to in your videos. Really enjoyed collaborating with you on this project.

    But a bit disappointed that the Boxer Rebellion in no way involves underwear.

  2. Nice Useful Chart behind you! A great, thorough examination of a topic that often gets glossed over in classrooms in America.

  3. Been telling myself to jump into Chinese History for a while – your End of Empire playlist gives me the perfect start point!

  4. There are many more great videos about revolutions in the Project Revolution collab playlist:


    1:05 China's suffering (Historical Background)
    3:26 The Boxers
    5:46 An unlikely alliance
    7:47 The European Corps Diplomatique
    10:15 The Legation under siege
    12:49 Boxer War and Fake News
    14:13 Foreign Intervention
    16:21 The Boxer Protocol

    Sources used

    Baum, R. (2010). The Fall and Rise of China. The Great Courses: Modern History.
    Fairbank, J. K., & Reischauer, E. O. (1989). China: tradition & transformation (Vol. 57). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
    Horst, D. (1977). Geschiedenis van China. Het Spectrum.
    Maddison, A. (2007). Contours of the world economy 1-2030 AD: Essays in macro-economic history. Oxford University Press.
    Spence, J. D. (1990). The search for modern China. WW Norton & Company.

    Check out the entire End of Empire playlist, detailing the collapse of the Qing Dynasty :

  5. COOL VID man. thank to you i am now very interest in the other Imperial China dynastys are you going to make vids on them too or make vids of china in the 20th century! ?

  6. 16:08 The man with the flag is Iowa born Calvin P Titus, who was awarded the Medal of Honor. As a musician, he was the first to scale the walls.

  7. Great job! This is the 1st video in the 'Project Revolution' series that I've watched. My plan is to watch them all this weekend. 🤓 Thx

  8. China has historically had such a massive population that even after more than an entire century of constant rebellions, civil wars and wars with millions of casualties each they were still able to soar to Super power status. That is incredible to me and speaks to the resilience of China’s society and culture

  9. Imagine how much history would be changed if China modernized like Japan did in the Late 19th Century. They would’ve likely been able to easily cast out the Western powers and later on would’ve likely been able to stand up to Japan, just because of their massive manpower pool.

  10. Great video. Qing China was perhaps the only nation in the world at that time that was more backwards, barbaric, despotic and regressive than Russia.

  11. China as a whole didn't embrace the Self-strengthening movement. It was one faction that was suppressed by the empress and the bureaucracy.

  12. What do you mean it has nothing to do with underwear?


  13. I Have To Sympathize With The Chinese Having Been Enslaved By The Evil British
    Exploiting The Weakness Of
    Their Population To Opium
    Addiction A Rothschild Bankster/Gangster Alliance With The British Crown To Fatten The Treasury Of Bank Of England // MORE WICKEDNESS deserving of Guillotine, IMHO// A Scourge of Humanity That Repeats Itself In Afghanistan// USA plays as Sorcerer’s Apprentice to Britain’s “Bad/Evil Instructor’s Example” WHY? WTH? SMHID!! Thanks For Sharing!!

  14. The consequence of the boxer rebellion is that it avoided the partition of China by the westerners. Because the western countries realized that unlike the Indians, it is too challenging to tame Chinese and rule China directly as a foreign entity. Therefore it is better to rule China indirectly with the Chinese rulers as the middle man. That is why they preserved Cixi. China avoided the fate of the Ottoman Empire and the Roma Empire. 13 years later, the 1st world war started, and this gave China another chance to take a breath to avoid being partitioned completely. Almost all the great empires fell into pieces after they were weakened including the British Empire. China survived as a unified country only by chance thanks to the boxer rebellion.

  15. Cixi won many internal political battles, but ultimately laid the groundwork for the lose of the war. I think it is a result of her being of an older age and unwillingnesses/inability to adjust her thinking to meet the challenges of a modern age being forced upon China.

  16. I personally thinks that the action of the Boxer Rebel and all of this rebellion itself were useless, and had done nothing to help China. But still if you look at the perspective of the Chinese, all those unequal treaty that were imposing on China before the Boxer Rebellion are like a numerous list of Treaty of Versales blaming Germany after WW1.

    Still nice video.

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