The Boxer Rebellion: The Dramatic Story of
China’s War on Foreigners that Shook the World in the Summer of 1900
By Diane Preston
About the Author
Diane Preston is a well-known historian and novelist. In the book The Boxer Rebellion, she was able to use both senses of constructive writing that she is best at to make a historical account of China come to real life in the minds of her readers. Through a novelist’s style, Preston was able to bring in the different issues that lead to the wars that China has fought against the foreigners during the summer of the 1900’s. It could not be denied that Preston pointed put the need to recognize this particular fact as a huge part of the historical development of the human civilization. It could be rated that this particular fact is indeed a matter of consideration for most people today who give importance both to culture and regional identity in place of the modern colonization of human culture from other foreign countries.
Summary and Content of the Book
The book of Preston identifies the different elements of the past decades of the Chinese history that lead to this rebellious act against the foreigners of the land. China is an example of how foreign domination has soured various nations against Christendom. For thousands of years, China had its own culture. It developed its own economic and political systems. At times China reached a degree of civilization unsurpassed by any other nation during the same period.
The rule of China’s imperial dynasties lasted for centuries. At times their rule became ironfisted and corrupt, causing great suffering. In any event, the Chinese largely kept to themselves. Thus, until the last two centuries China had very little contact with the outside world, and almost none with Western nations.
But then, about two hundred years ago, Western powers began their penetration of China. These countries, principally those of Europe, exerted growing pressure to try to gain a foothold in China during the 1700’s. They gained that foothold, so that by the 1800’s their influence was a serious problem to the Chinese. At first, Western penetration amounted to only a trading post established by Great Britain in Canton in 1715. Later, Britain was joined there by French, Dutch and American traders. Western merchants wanted the riches of China. They also wanted to sell European products to the Chinese. In this way, the traders would have the money to purchase China’s goods. But, generally, China expressed little interest in Western goods. But then the Western traders found something they could sell to the Chinese: opium, a narcotic drug. It soon came to be one of the chief articles sent into China. Seeing the bad effect that opium had on her people, China’s government banned its importation. While this made the drug illegal, it did not stop the traffic. Many traders began smuggling the opium into China, since they found it very profitable.
By 1839 the volume of opium being smuggled into China had increased vastly. What had once been a volume of only a few tons of opium a year now became a flood of several thousand tons a year. Who was doing this illegal importing? It is not difficult to see why the Chinese regarded Westerners as barbarians. While the Europeans claimed that they were introducing a superior culture into China, along with missionaries of their churches, the Chinese viewed such as foreign conquerors. All the events that had already taken place were enough to sour their Oriental mind against the nations of Christendom and their systems of culture, economics, politics and religion. Yet, there was more to come—much more. The Chinese government now took further steps to try to halt this illegal opium traffic. They dispatched troops against the foreign merchants. Millions of dollars’ worth of opium was seized from British and other traders, and various restrictive measures were imposed on the foreigners.
These steps angered the traders, especially the British. They could see their very profitable opium trade, and others, being lost. Hence, in 1839 one of history’s most bizarre wars began. Britain declared war on China, demanding the right to sell opium to the Chinese people. Other privileges were demanded as well.
The war went badly for China. She was not equipped to defend herself against the weapons of the British. Hence, Britain easily won the “Opium War.” It ended in 1842 with the signing of the Treaty of Nanking.
The treaty was the first one to be imposed by force on China. But it was not the last. It started a chain of what the Chinese call the “unequal treaties.” The Treaty of Nanking gave Britain trading rights at various Chinese ports. It gave to Britain the territory of Hong Kong, which became a British colony. China was also forced to pay Britain the cost of fighting the war. It even had to pay back the value of opium seized from the British. Other European nations, and the United States, soon demanded concessions. The Chinese were powerless to resist. More warfare against China by outside nations led to new treaties. More ports and more privileges were given up: Britain added Kowloon to Hong Kong; Russia received territory to the north; other nations carved out their own areas of privilege. Thus, Chinese sovereignty over its own land, cities and peoples was diminished. One treaty provided that the taxes that China could collect from foreigners on their trade would be very small, and could not be increased except by the consent of the foreign power involved, which was not very likely to be given. Also, there was a loss of judicial authority. For instance, if an American citizen committed a crime against a Chinese, he could be punished only by American authorities.
In all of this, what was the attitude of the missionaries and other representatives of Christendom’s churches? Yes, the churches often had dealt arrogantly with China, and had supported the abuses of Western power.
In 1899 these societies began a violent campaign against Westerners. This campaign also was directed against Chinese who had been converted to the churches of Christendom. It was known as the “Boxer Rebellion,” since, it is said, one of the leading secret societies, the Boxers, practiced ceremonial exercise that resembled shadowboxing.
However, the next year an international army, including American troops, moved in and crushed the “rebellion.” Heavy penalties were imposed on China. For example, in the heart of Peking a huge section was confiscated for use by foreign legations. No Chinese had the right to live there. The area was to be permanently garrisoned by foreign troops. In addition, China had to pay thirteen foreign countries hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties.
Critique and Reflection
To a large degree, what happened to China as a result of the “Opium War” and related events shaped the direction that China has taken in modern times. The Chinese hostility against the West today is directly related to the way Christendom behaved toward her in past times. Also, the moral and religious values coming from the West and its churches are largely rejected, linked inseparably in the minds of many people in those nations with the bitter experience of colonialism.
Christendom has indeed alienated hundreds of millions of people. Sadly, this has caused them to turn away from Christianity. They do not realize that what Christendom represents is not true Christianity at all but is hypocritical, detestable to God. In the case of China, this alienation has caused a nation of 800,000,000 people to turn against Christianity. Certainly, the book of Preston is a perfect description as to how and why history should be remembered especially for the sake of keeping one’s sense of identity, culture and traditional morale.
Diane Preston. The Boxer Rebellion: The Dramatic Story of China’s War on Foreigners that Shook the World in the Summer of 1900. (2001). Berkley Books.