The Boxer Rebellion of 1899 and 1900 was a key event in the downfall of the Chinese Manchu empire. This writeup will look at the background to the rebellion, the rebellion itself, and its consequences for China.


Ever since the Opium War had ended with the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 and the loss of Hong Kong and other important cities to the British, foreign powers had exerted considerable influence over China. The Russians, French, German, and British, among others, all developed spheres of influence in the country. In 1895, the Japanese navy defeated the Chinese and gained the island of Formosa, now known as Taiwan.

Chinese organisations such as the Big Sword Society began to emerge in opposition to Christian missions in the country. The Yi he quan (Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists) were another movement opposing the spread of Christianity. They wore red clothing and practiced ritual boxing, leading to their nickname of Boxers.

In 1898, the Chinese emperor Guangxu tried to counter the unrest in the country following the defeat by Japan and the scramble for concessions by the other powers in the area. He introduced decrees characterised as the "Hundred Days of Reform". These attempts at reform of the old Manchu empire were stamped out by the Empress Dowager Ci Xi, who assumed power in September. The European powers thought they scented blood, and moved in for the kill, trying to take over Chinese land.


In 1899, the Boxers rose up, targeting foreign missionaries and legations, and Chinese traders who worked with the Westerners. By June 1900, after atrocities against Chinese Christians, the Boxers captured the key cities of Tientsin and Beijing. Foreign legations were placed under siege, and Western forces retaliated. The Boxers held Beijing for 55 days before 16,000 foreign troops lifted the siege on 14 August. 76 foreign soldiers and six children were killed, but thousands of Chinese men were massacred, and the already poor regime had to pay huge reparations. Ci Xi was forced to accept peace terms, and Allied soldiers looted the city.


The long-term consequences for the imperial court were to lead to its downfall. Its failure to defend the country from foreign powers increased republican feeling, and revolution followed in 1911, leading to the Republic of China being proclaimed.

Chronicle of the World, Jacques Legrand S.A.International Publishing, 1989
The Times History of the 20th Century, Times Books, 2003