History of South East Asia – BOXER REBELLION Part 1

After the failure of the Hundred Days of Reform, there was a violent reaction in China against foreigners.  The reaction took the form of an uprising known as the Boxer Uprising.  It was an effort to drive the foreigners out of the country.  The defeat of China in war and the consequent humiliation, the haughtiness of the foreigners in the treaty ports, the scramble of the Western Powers to carve China into so many spheres of influence and the irritating activities of the missionaries roused bitter feelings among the Chinese.  The popular and spontaneous resentment was the Boxer Uprising.  In the words of Immanuel Hsu “It was a foolish and unreasoned outburst of emotion and anger against foreign imperialism.  Yet one cannot overlook the patriotic element inherent in it.”


  1. Activities of missionaries
  2. Though the Christian Missionaries did some useful social and educational work, the Chinese distrusted them and looked upon them and the advance guard of Western imperialist powers. They were considered as ‘the running dogs of imperialism’ and ‘the Trojan horse of imperialism’.  Because Christianity entered into China with the protection or gunboats and imposed treaties.
  3. The local converts to Christianity considered themselves as superior persons and as a privileged class. They claimed preferential treatment in service and courts.  They did not respect the traditional Chinese practices.  They refused to Kow-tow to idols and to worship Confucious and ancestors.  The behaviors of Chinese Christians irritated the country gentry.
  • There were a number of popular believes in the interior part of China. The Christians were believed to indulge in strange inhuman practices such as plucking out the eyes, and extracting the hearts of children to make medicine out of them.  These believe though baseless, aroused hostility towards Christians.
  1. The missionaries often intervened in litigation on behalf of the converts and interceded with the magistrates on their behalf. The converts took advantage of their association with missionaries and tried to bully their fellow countrymen and to evade the law.
  2. The priests also demanded magisterial honors in their dealings with officials. This added to the hostility of many officials and to induce them to indulge in violence against the missionaries.
  3. Anger over imperialism
  4. The defeat of China at the hands of Japan and the scramble for concession made the partition of China imminent. Almost every Western power had got some territory from China over which it had created a sphere of influence.  The situation was grave enough to threaten the integrity of China.  Naturally patriotic Chinese were roused to action.
  5. When the Chinese realized the fact that their ‘powerful Middle Kingdom’ and the ‘proud Celestial Empire’ had degenerated into a semi-colony, their anger towards Western imperialist knew no bounds that resulted in the outburst of a popular uprising.
  6. Feeling of national humiliation

Half a century of foreign humiliation, in war as well as in peace had deeply wounded their national pride and self-respect.  The presence of haughty foreign ministers, fire-eating consuls, aggressive missionaries and self-seeking traders constantly reminded them of China’s misfortune.  This sense of injustice generated a burning desire of revenge.

  1. Antipathy towards West

The Westernising policy of Emperor Kuang Hsu was one of the important causes of the uprising.  The establishment of foreign institutions and the far-reaching changes proposed by the reform measures supplied fuel to the already existing anti-foreign sentiment and precipitated the crisis.

  1. Foreign economic domination

The influx of foreign imports after Opium Wars caused a disastrous effect on the native economy.  The fixed 5 percent ad valorem customs duty ruined China’s protective tariff.  Foreign cotton cloth sold for only one-third of the price of the Chinese cloth, driving the native weavers and textile manufacturers into bankrupty.  Handicraft, household industries fared badly in the fare of foreign competition, throwing many workers into unemployment.  Further expansion of foreign trade resulted in an ever increasing foreign domination of the Chinese markets.

  1. Increase of tax burden

In 1899 China suffered a trade deficit of 69 million tales.  To meet the deficit the court increased taxes and solicited provincial contributions, the burden of which ultimately fell on the people.

  1. Natural calamities

Added to the economic hardship a series of natural disasters intensified further the difficulty of life.  The Yellow River, which shifted its course from Honan to Shantung in 1852, and flooded frequently after 1882, broke again in 1898.  It flooded hundreds of villages in Shantung, affecting more than a million people.  More over a severe draught followed in 1900 in most of North China including Peking.  The victims blamed the misfortune foreigners who, they thought, had offended the spirits by propagating a new religion.

  1. The activities of the secret societies

There were many secret societies in China such as the Eight Diagram Society, White Lotus Society.  These Societies were fiercely nationalistic and anti-foreign in their attitude.  They raised slogans against the foreigners and declared that power and strength was in their fists.  They secretly practiced gymnastic exercises.