The Boxer Rebellion The Boxer Uprising China during the late nineteenth century was in turmoil from external and internal forces. The underlining internal pressures were exacerbated by the thrust of western imperialism and exploitation. Imperialism and the west were the catalyst for the Boxer Uprising. The ingredients of descent and conflict were always present in the late nineteenth century. China had its difficulties without the wests intrusion. The Boxer Uprising was a reaction against the West, not a rebellion against the Qing Dynasty.
The Boxer uprising differs from Taping rebellion in that regard. In this essay, I will illustrate the slow incremental effects of the Imperialist powers on China. This process gives insight into the origins of the Boxer Uprising. I will also argue, that the way the Chinese government choose to deal with the West compounded its problems. There were major decisions which led to the Boxer Uprising and the demise of an empire.
The first decision between gunboat and appeasement in dealing with the west. The second decision was between Chinese culture and western studies. The third major decision between managing western powers and ignoring them. The Chinese leadership made key decisions which led to the ultimate demise of Imperial China. So I will look at the impact of outside influence on China and how China reacted to the pressure. Finally, I will look at the impact of the Boxer Uprising. Chinas first major change in policy with regard to the west was set with the Portuguese. The Portuguese first attempted to trade with China, there was an awful precedent that the rest of the West would follow. The Portuguese used force to get what they wanted with regard to trade, port access, and settlement.
The Portuguese were considered like bandits, but the Chinese allowed for them to trade and eventually settle. The Chinese viewed themselves as superior and these foreigners as less than civilized. This was integral part of Chinese thinking and was a major factor in the reasoning in the way China dealt with the West. According to Wakeman, the Chinese viewed themselves as superior to all other societies, he states, The Chinese did not stereotype all barbarians in a single undifferentiated category. They were acutely of the differences between Mongols khans…and Dutch merchants. But all barbarians were placed beneath the Chinese in an ideal world order of which their empire was the Central Kingdom (pg.
111). This Chinese world order has an extreme consequence later when western powers flooded into China. This view of superiority sets the tone for the relationship between China and the West. As England moved in to the Trade picture, represented by the East India Company, it would eventually bring opium. Opium was illegal in China and England regardless, imported it to balance trade. Opium became toxic to the economy of China, to its addicts, and to the framework of Chinese agrarian society (Wakeman pg.
127-128). This drug bled the silver out of China and destroyed the value of copper and the ability of peasants to pay their rent. The illegal importation of opium and the war over it, illustrated the extent the west was going to act over profit, Chinas perception of the west as barbarians, I feel clouded their perception and affected their decision over what to do about some critical decisions. Granted, opium was a serious problem, but even the most simplest of life forms, barbarians, can cause major problems. After China losing the Opium Wars, they marked the entrance of western imperialism into China with Treaty of Nanking.
If China perceived the West as a real threat and not as a barbarian, why concede? The Treaty of Nanking was one of many known as unequal treaties (Wakeman, pg. 137). The treaty was based on a policy of appeasement that gave the west a strangle hold in China. China was now dealing with the west on its terms and those terms would be granted to all other countries, this was known as the most-favored nation principle. Chinas defense was to deal with the West, Divide and rule was breached (Wakeman 140).
The Treaty of Nanking set an era of concessions, appeasement, and marked a beginning for resentment against the west. The Treaty of Tiensen ratified the force of the west and the Chinese appeasement policy. This treaty forced the Chinese to legalize opium. As the west intruded into China, according to Esherick, the main disturbances to Chinese day to day life and that affected the Boxer activity came from the cotton trade and Christian missionaries. The affects of western mass production affected the Chinese competitiveness with hand woven cotton. Although, according Esherick, The Western and Japanese imperialism had no economic impact on this (Boxer) area.
Rather it seems that these regions lost crucial markets to foreign imports of yarn and cotton, yet …too lacking in alternative resources to enjoy and stimulate effects. The Chinese could not replace their cotton industry, kind of like California with its aerospace industry, thus they lost their competitive edge in a global market. This added one type of underlining antagonism against the west and an essential part of the undermining of the Chinese economic competiveness. The next and more profound direct affect on China and the Boxers perception of the west and added to internal pressures was through Catholic missionaries. One major element of discontent produced by these missionaries is their use and abuse of political power for their converts. Esherick states that, Christian duty required foreign missionaries to intervene to defend their converts in all manner of disputes..occasionally dishonest persons will try to misuse the kindness of the missionary, and these converts had, The unfair advantage Christian gained from their foreign connection- especially in lawsuits..
(pg. 82 -83). This helped undermine the confidence of the Chinese people in their own government. This also alienated another group of people in a society plagued with inequalities: from peasant to gentry. The two elements described here are not reasons for revolution, but are elements that polarize an already difficult situation. The West became a catalyst for a formula with volatile ingredients.
The Chinese economy already had economic and political inequalities, but adding the West into mix complicated the situation. The foreigners were gaining influence and power over the Chinas government, which gave its citizens reasons to unite around. I would argue that the West set the wheels moving faster, may be Im a little deterministic, but I feel that the people of China were discontented and desired change. I also feel that extremism breeds extremism. That during extreme times of economic decline or the use of extreme abuses of power can bring about, an opposite and equal extreme reaction.
All also feel that politics starts at the local level. The origins of the Boxer movement is a reaction to the extreme actions taken by the West and the extreme economic hardship endured by the people. The difficulty with calling these problems extreme is because the change was incremental, long-term, and affected all levels of its society. The West pressured China internally and externally. The reaction by the Chinese government compounded its problem.
There were two options for the government, adapt and replicate or keep them at arms length and control the barbarians (Wakeman pg. 139). The progressive argument, was to master the Wests technology and use it against them. The conservatives argued, that threatened China values and way of life (Wakeman pg. 139).
They went down the path of the conservatives and paid for it. I would argue, that China started using Western values when they signed the Treaty of Nanking. They became apart of the West and its values: most-favored nation, extra-territorial rights of foreigners and free-trade by opening up ports. These are the values Western powers today still fight for, whats more Western? As China viewed the West as sub-human, they didnt adapt until it was too late. The success of Japan can be measured on their ability to adapt, at the same time, keep certain cultural values. China is a different circumstance than Japan, but the decision and perception of China definitely changed its course, once again deterministic. The Boxers were the reaction to the helplessness of Chinas government and actions by foreigners.
In a state of chaos and anarchy, like in the streets of Los Angeles, one searches for away to survive and find security. The Boxers were founded on quasi-religious/entertainment movement. As the need for protection came about, so did the need for Boxers. The Boxers belief in magical power element seems self-serving for those looking for a feeling of security, especially when faced against all odds. The Boxer movement was became more and more powerful by filling the gap left by the governments inability to respond to change. Change that was stimulated by the concessions to the West and the inability to adapt to those changes.
As major problems to tend to divide, it also can unite, as the United States united against the Soviet Union in the Cold War. With a history of xenophobia, it was easy for the Boxers to unite against a common enemy, those foreigners. Everything about the West was foreign, from its religion to its goods. As it adopted the motto, Support the Qing, destroy the foreign, the goal was simple (Esherick pg. 68). The interesting thing, to me, is the fact the Boxer Uprising didnt blame the Qing Dynasty for not keeping the Mandate of Heaven.
This seems to reflect the non-traditional origins of the Boxer Movement and illustrate more of a reaction to a current circumstance than a long-term political movement. The impact of the West was a slow long-term process, as the Boxer movement was. As the West slowly undermined the power of the Chinese government, the Boxer usurped the power by default. The difficulty in finding the trigger to the Boxer Movement was in the slow process of Western Imperialism. The face of Western Imperialism came with opium, unequal treaties, and Catholic Missionaries. The internal pressure of social and political inequalities had always been apart of Chinese society.
But with the West, the Boxers put a face on inequality and found a common enemy. History Essays.