5/11/10 - the boxer rebellion

In today's excerpt - the Boxer Rebellion, in which peasants in China rose up in 1899 against the encroachment and oppression of the West—against the waves of merchants, soldiers, and missionaries from Britain, American and other Western countries. The parents of Henry Luce, the founder of Time Magazine, were among these missionaries:

"The Luce family's arrival in Shantung had roughly coincided not only with the crumbling of the Qing dynasty and the collapse of local political authority, but also with the rise in northern China of a large, secret, paramilitary society that (not without reason) blamed China's troubles on Westerners and pledged itself to purge the nation of 'foreign devils.' It called itself the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists, but it was known to Westerners as the 'Boxers' (because of its emphasis on martial arts). Its members were mostly poor peasants, coolies, and destitute former soldiers.

"They had no strong leaders, few weapons, and modest resources, but they did have a fervent commitment to their cause and a fanatical belief that they were invulnerable to bullets. In 1899, less than two years after the Luces arrived in Shantung, the Boxers staged a murderous rebellion. They rampaged through towns and cities, killing whatever Westerners they could find (mostly missionaries, about 135 in all) as well as a much larger number of Chinese converts to Christianity—perhaps as many as thirty thousand, nearly a third of the total. One of their victims was [Luce family friend] Horace Pitkin. In the absence of his family, who were visiting relatives in America, he had refused to flee from Paotingfu with other missionaries. 'We must sit still, do our work—and then take whatever is sent us quietly,' he wrote a friend. He was captured and killed by the Boxers, who then paraded his corpse through the streets.

"The Luces were more prudent, and also more fortunate, than Horace Pitkin, since Tengchow was on the Shantung coast. The family stole away from the missionary compound after dark one night. Guided by their Chinese nurse, they raced through nearby fields and arrived (still in darkness) at the docks, where a ship was waiting to take them and other refugees first to the Chinese port city Chefoo (now Yangtai) and then to Korea, where they stayed until after the rebellion was finally and brutally suppressed. In the summer of 1900 a combined force of European, American, and Japanese troops descended on Beijing to rescue a group of Western diplomats under siege in their walled compound, crushed the Boxers, and—in a rampage of their own—killed many other Chinese in the process. They then extracted reparations and further concessions from the now permanently crippled imperial government, which survived for only another twelve years with minimal authority.

"Some of the missionaries who had survived the Boxers were, for a while, consumed with vengeance and indeed seemed at times as blood-thirsty as the Boxers themselves. They exhorted the Western troops to punish the Chinese even more ferociously than they already had; a few actually joined the soldiers and led them to people they believed had been instrumental in fomenting the rebellion. There were even reports of missionaries looting Chinese homes to compensate themselves for their own lost property. Although such incidents were probably rare, the American press made much of them and, in the process, tarnished the image of the missionaries in the United States and Britain. At the same time, however, the martyrdom of the murdered Christians aroused many American evangelicals, and a large new wave of missionaries began flowing into China in the first years after the rebellion."


Alan Brinkley


The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century


First Vintage Books a division of Random House, Inc


Copyright 2010 by Alan Brinkley


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