There was also the siege of the Foreign Legations in Peking. All the foreign embassies of the European powers were housed with in a single semi-walled area a very short distance from the Forbidden City. The concept was that the Mandarins, the eunuch administrative class that served the Dowager Empress, could then visit the Europeans in a single location and keep track of their movements and minimize their influence. The mandarins controlled access to the Empress, the ambassadors controlled access to the West. The entire area was called the Foreign Legation. It was connected by telegraph to Shanghai.

At the start of the uprising, the telegraph lines were cut and the Boxers laid siege to the Legation. The Euros and Americans inside hastily enclosed the rest of the perimeter, to withstand an attack which would last some 8 weeks until the arrival of a multinational rescue force. During the beginning of the siege, the Boxers were helped by the Chinese army, sometimes openly.

There were a number of factors critical to the survival of the Legations. First, political maneuvering by the ambassadors inside kept the official uniformed forces of the Chinese off balance. Sometimes they would help the Boxers, at others, they would actually run them off. Second, the women inside the compound contributed openly in the survival efforts - rationing food, organizing medical brigades and hospitals, and on occasion fighting. Finally, the tenacity of the British "Blueshirts" (naval infantry) and the company of US Marines onsite made the conduct of the siege very costly for the Chinese.

In a related story, a commander of some of the Chinese Army forces was meeting with an American official after the siege. The Chinese officer pointed to a US Marine leaning against a distant wall and cleaning his rifle. "Who is that man there, in the floppy hat?" referring to the "smokey the bear" campaign hat the Marine was wearing.

"That is a United State Marine" replied the American.

"When one of those men fires, one of my men falls. They are to be feared."

There are a number of unanswered questions about the siege. At some 300 to 1 odds, why didn't the Boxers just charge the legations and kill everyone in a single stroke? Why didn't the Chinese Army train the Boxers to use their artillery more effectively? A concerted campaign of shelling, over 8 weeks, should have reduced the place to rubble, breaking the back of any effective foreign resistance. The answer seems to lie in the fact that Boxers were fighting what they considered to be a spiritual war, more than an actual military campaign. When the Chinese army failed to gel the resolve of the Boxer fighting spirit, objective-driven fighting was only spasmodic.

There are still valuable lessons for the West, in both the siege and the rebellion. Indiscriminate use of military and economic force created the wellspring of anti foreign sentiment that sparked the uprising - very similar to the uprisings in Somalia in 1993, or the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979 -when the US embassy was taken hostage. Failure to effective gauge indigenous sentiment and responsibly modulate cultural and economic impact have time and again resulted in being caught out in popular anti-western uprisings.

For a super introductory text, try Diana Preston's very readable The Boxer Rebellion: The Dramatic Story of China's War on Foreigners That Shook the World in the Summer of 1900 (hell of a title, isn't it?)