Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Boxer Rebellion

The Boxer Rebellion, more properly called the Boxer Uprising, or the "Righteous Harmony Society Movement" in Chinese, was a violent anti-foreign, anti-Christian movement by the "Righteous Fists of Harmony,” or Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists in China (known as "Boxers" in English), between 1898 and 1901. 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. At first, they were relentlessly suppressed by the Qing Dynasty (also known as the Manchu Dynasty). Later, the Qing dynasty tried to expel western influence from China. Under the slogan "Support the Qing, destroy the foreign", Boxers across North China attacked mission compounds. They killed missionaries and Chinese Christians.

In June 1900, Boxer fighters, lightly armed or unarmed, gathered in Beijing to besiege the foreign embassies. On June 21, the conservative faction of the Imperial Court induced the Empress Dowager, who ruled in the emperor’s name, to declare war on the foreign powers that had diplomatic representation in Beijing. Diplomats, foreign civilians, soldiers and some Chinese Christians retreated to the Legation Quarter where they held out for fifty-five days until the Eight-Nation Alliance brought 20,000 troops to their rescue.

The Boxer Protocol of September 7, 1901 ended the uprising and provided for severe punishments, including an indemnity of 67 million pounds.

The Qing Dynasty was greatly weakened, and was eventually overthrown by the 1911 revolution, which led to the establishment of the Chinese Republic. Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia

A film "55 Days at Peking" was made in 1962 with Charlton Heston, David Niven and Ava Gardner, it was the first united nations action.

The Boxer movement started to spiral out of control and massacres of Chinese Christians began, along with anti Western riots and destruction of foreign property. At the end of May a riot in Pao Ting Fu lead to the death of two British missionaries, the Western Diplomats in Peking gave the Chinese 24 hours to put down the Boxers or they would use force themselves calling up troops from the foreign enclaves on the coast. Riots and acts of sabotage cut the railway and telegraph lines and the Western powers ordered their troops to move up to Peking before the Chinese gave their answer. After some delay by the Chinese the Western troops finally advanced in-country on 31st May 1900, with 340 marines entering the foreign legation quarter that night with another 90 troops arriving 4 days later. These would be the last reinforcements the Western compounds would receive in Peking until the siege by the Boxer forces was lifted on 14th August.

On 9th June the Boxers burned down the Racecourse, the first attack on western property in Peking, The British minister Sir Claude MacDonald immediately requested a British relief force be sent. Telegraph lines were soon cut and mail stopped - it was clear that the Western delegations would be the next target, Chinese Imperial troops were seen openly aiding the Boxers and on the 11th the Japanese Chancellor of the legation was murdered. Chinese Christians and westerners now sought refuge in the two remaining western areas of Peking, the Legation quarter and the Pei T’ang Cathedral. On the 16th the Boxers set a fire and destroyed over 4,000 shops which dealt with westerners. On the 19th the ministers received an ultimatum for all foreigners to evacuate the city in 24 hours or their safety could not be guaranteed. The ministers refused to move and requested an audience with the Chinese foreign office. When no reply was forth coming the German foreign minister set out for the Chinese Foreign office, was stopped and murdered by Chinese Imperial troops. At 4pm on 20th June Chinese forces opened fire on the Legation and the Siege of Peking had begun. Within the Legation quarters were troops from Austria-Hungary, France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States, totaling about 400 men and officers, plus 75 ex military volunteers and 50 civilians who called themselves Thornhill’s Roughs armed with a variety of hunting weapons and nicknamed the Carving Knife Brigade because of the kitchen knives they used as bayonets. At the Cathedral there were just over 40 French and Italian troops. The defenders fought bravely and were highly organised with committees dealing with everything from food to sanitation - no one was without a job. Sporadic fighting took place including the Chinese use of mines to destroy some legations with the 7th Rajputs and British General Gaselee finally lifted the siege on 14th August. The Cathedral was also the site of fierce fighting but the skill of the defenders held out against almost 2000 Boxers including one volley of 58 rounds which killed 43 Boxers, although many children died in the Chinese mine attacks on the Cathedral including one group of 66 children in the care of the nuns.

The relief expedition under Admiral Seymour had expected to be in Peking within a day of leaving and only packed rations for 3 days despite having 100 miles of railway across hostile countryside to travel on. Boxer attacks and destruction of the tracks led to delay after delay and finally the Force decided to halt at Hsiku when they discovered they had captured a Chinese army depot with food and supplies. They were met by a force of Cossacks on the 26th June. Other allied operations were carried out against the forts at Taku with the Chinese laying siege to Tientsin. The Chinese officially declared war against the allies on 21st June. 10,000 Imperial troops surrounded Tientsin where they faced 2,400 western troops but the defenders had the advantage of good defences planned by a young American engineer, the future president Herbert Hoover. Various serious assaults on the Western positions were beaten back and finally aid was summoned by an Englishman James Watts and three Cossacks escaping the besiegers to get to Taku and the Western forces there. The Western forces then believed reports of a massacre in Peking so felt in no rush to liberate the city. It came as a surprise when a messenger made it through to the Allies in late July informing them that the Legations still held, meanwhile a huge International force under the command of General Albrecht Graf Von Waldersee was on its way but would arrive too late to see much action. www.historyofwar.org

A film on the taking of the Taku Forts, 1850’s, also in China, was made in the 70's by the BBC, and John Tunstill produced specially made 25mm Chinese warriors in his Lambeth workshop. The allied troops were a selection of standard castings which were in production at the time. The film was an "animated" record of hundreds of Chinese troops moving within the fort, and British red-coats advancing across the mud flats to attack. The film crew used stop motion, frame by frame, exposures to record the figures, who were then moved a centimetre, and re-photographed. When viewed at normal speed these individual frames gave the impression of movement. Cannons and crews were "blown-up" by using small explosive charges, and battlefield smoke was provided by Players cigarettes. A 35mm film exists of this programme.