Saturday, August 14, 2010

August 14, 1900 – Boxers Defeat Foreigners in Peking

A grassroots movement had been building for years among the Chinese to throw off the chains of imperialism that had been eating away at their country. The Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists (or “Boxers”) served as a secret society training in martial arts around the laws of commoners not being allowed weapons. Spurred by economic turmoil, flooding, opium abuse, and weak central government bowing to foreign powers, the Boxer Rebellion began after the attempts made in the Hundred Days' Reform fell under the coup of Empress Dowager Cixi.

As early as 1898 but primarily in 1900, Boxers from the north spread their wake of destruction, burning Christian homes and killing foreigners. Fleeing in distress, foreigners of all kinds gathered in protected compounds in the Legation Quarter of Peking (Beijing). Boxers, now joined by Cixi's troops upon her declaration of war against all powers, took up siege of embassies and cathedrals, attacking wherever a weak spot was shown.

The international community balked. Eight nations formed an alliance to put forth nearly 50,000 troops from Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Marching from Tianjin (where a previous army had been bogged down, also awaiting rescue) 75 miles away under 110 degree weather and minor military harassment, the force arrived in Peking on August 14. There was minimal resistance, and the international forces began to wonder if the stories were blown out of proportion. They raced into the city to be the first to liberate the Legation Quarter, falling out of rank and order.

Then, the Qing army and Boxers began a counterattack. Boxers emerged from hidden sites all over the city, sweeping into the disarrayed soldiers, killing and stealing weapons. Initial casualties were massive on both sides, but the Boxers had vast superiority in numbers. Qing soldiers formed up a siege of their own city and progressed inward, crushing any foreigner the Boxers had left behind. After two days of cacophony, only a few foreign soldiers had survived, ones who had managed to escape into the compound inside the Legation Quarter with the other holdouts. Using foreign field guns, the Qing were able to smash their way inside on August 16, and the killing was completed.

Shock spread over the world. Many called for an end to imperialism in China as too dangerous, but most agreed that the civilized world could not stand for such barbarism (or such defeat). The Eight-Nation Alliance regrouped with more formal declarations of war, and the Chinese World War lasted until 1909. The nations carved up China into occupied zones, Russia gaining much of the northwest and Japan the northeast, while the others had smaller spheres of influence to the south. Five years later, the Great War would break out, and Japan would make great strides in conquest of German colonies as well as Russian territories yielded by the new government after the Russian Civil War.

Now supplied with oil, coal, and metal resources from China and Siberia, Japan grew into a powerful force in the western Pacific. They became increasingly expansionist, but also wary of what an alliance of European powers could do. As Nazi Germany began its assaults in the Second Great War, Japan sat out the war, watching as the Germans, Italians, French, British, and later Russians and Americans (who entered upon the sinking of a US-flagged cargo ship in 1942) tore themselves apart.

When the Soviet War began in the mid-1950s, Japan felt ready to join with the Allies against the Communist threat that had already given signs among the less fortunate in their militaristic imperial regime. American atomic bombs ended the war in 1960, and Japan collected more holdings in a new occupation of Siberia. Since then, they have worked to increase their ability harvesting resources in the frozen wastelands, using technology that many accuse of raising carbon dioxide levels worldwide. After a great deal of international political pressure including suggestions of embargo, Japan yielded to the Kyoto Accord limiting pollution.

Even under restrictions, Japan continues to be the world's second largest economy (just $5 trillion behind the United States) with many of its factories in Japanese China.

In reality, there was no counterattack by Chinese forces. By the time the army of the Eight-Nation Alliance had arrived in Beijing, the rebels and soldiers alike had seen that they were outgunned. When the international army took the city, weeks of looting followed that disgusted the world. Empress Dowager Cixi was pressured into signing the Boxer Protocol, punishing the rebels, and paying billions in reparations. The weakened monarchy would continue to weaken, eventually falling to revolution in 1911.

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