Hey, Cypher here. Got another ‘Wars You’ve
Never Heard Of.’ This time, it’s the Boxer Rebellion in China. It’s pretty hard to find a country that the
US has not been to war with at some point in its history. China would be another country
that people mostly think that we haven’t fought in a war, but the Chinese definitely remember
it, and see the war as formative to their nation. Hell, look at that, those are US Cavalry
troops posing next to the Great Wall. Most historians talk about this event as though
it were just another intransigence upon the Chinese by the imperial powers of the West,
but that is a very mistaken point of view. Those who do study the Boxer Rebellion mostly
see it as a bunch tragic missteps on behalf of all those involved. The roots are certainly
founded in imperialism, but not the actual causes. War is never so simply explained.
Anti-Western sentiment had been building up in China for decades. Europe had walked all
over the Chinese officialdom in securing trade relations and large enclaves of foreign territory
within China called legations. This had caused so much controversy that secret societies
had formed to promote anti-western rhetoric. Those groups would later be mistakenly called
Boxers, for their use of martial arts in battle. Empress Dowager initially tried to suppress
these groups, but eventually she became a secret supporter. By secret memorandum she
endorsed action by the militant Boxers. With the support of the court, the Boxers acted.
They started by protest marches within the city limits of Peking (now called Beijing).
Some forced their way into the legations. The German legation ended up executing one
of them by public hanging (the reason for which is unclear).
The angry boxers stormed the legations of all foreign countries, including Japan. A
persistent problem of the boxers was that many thought themselves impervious to bullets
due to some sort of magical martial art. This was proven wrong immediately and savagely
as all the legations defended themselves. The foreigner countries sent in troops to
barricade the legations. This turned into medieval style siege warfare.
President McKinley, in concert with seven other powers, began sending more troops the
rescue the Peking legations. This force would be called the Chinese Relief Expedition. There
were several other expeditionary forces, but they were all small in number. It took a while
for them to get there, and the other countries had forces all ready before America could
completely join in, though several marine and navy personnel were there ahead of time.
During the transit, things in China became worse. Another siege began in the city of
Tianjin. This time, the navies of the eight nations that had territory in China were within
reach. Several nations, though not America, began bombarding the siegers to help the newly
besieged legations. The Empress Dowager claimed this bombardment
to be an act of war. She ordered Chinese troops to attack foreign troops, while often fighting
Boxers at the same time. Things spiralled out of control quickly. By the time the expedition
had arrived, China was at war with everyone. The raving Empress was sending out kill orders
while the governors were trying to calm it down, though making things worse in the process.
Despite having the support of eight nations, the international expeditionary force was
too small. They had superior weapons and organization though. Tianjin became the initial focus.
After a long and drawn out fight against superior forces, the expeditions took back Tianjin.
The allied forces turned toward Peking, fighting along the railroads to get there. Arriving
in Peking, they fought an incredible battle to rescue the legations there. Part of the
reason for victory was that many of the boxers attacked with spears, thinking themselves
impervious to bullets. The outnumbered and beleaguered international expedition fought
all the way to the gates of the Forbidden City, blasting them wide open. Interestingly
enough, that is where it stopped. The City was not destroyed. In fact, the allies respected
the interior by using it for parade grounds, rather than barracks.
Angry with the incident, the 8 nations drafted up what is called the Boxer Protocol. This
document imposed a steep fine on the Chinese government and forced them to accept permanent
foreign troop presence throughout the empire. This would bankrupt the empire and drive its
citizens toward revolution, which happened in 1911.
Further problems resulted from the Russias involvement, since they took over Manchuria
leading to the Russo-Japanese war over disputed territory within China.
Several atrocities were committed, both by plundering foreign armies and local ones.
The worst, though, were caused by the Boxers, who killed Chinese christians in what may
be deemed as a genocide (though the term did not exist yet).
China was hurt badly by these events and would not recover until the late 1920’s. Until then
this is what earned them the title “old man of asia.”
You see, this all seems like it would inevitably happened now, but it things could have been
very different. The Empress could have supported the foreigners, as she was obligated to by
prior treaty. The Germans could have spared that Boxer from execution as an act of mercy.
The navies around Tianjin could have sent blue jackets to support the garrisoned soldiers
rather than simply bombarding the city. War is messy, and mistakes are always made,
interventions especially. I haven’t found an intervention in US history that did not
end in disaster. Look at the Pershing punitive expedition as an example (I did an episode
on the Border Wars a while back). People cannot know how their actions determine the future,
we only live in the present, and that is why interventions end in quagmires and disgrace. Hey guys, hoped you liked this episode. Hit
the like button if you did. I plan on doing something like this episode next month. If
you want to see it, and more, subscribe to the channel. Tell me what you want me to cover
in the comments. I’ll see you next time.