Around 1900, after many years of succumbing to the superiormilitary of the West, the Chinese stood up for their country. Chinawas a weak, backwards, country, exploited by the West. They felt thatthey could counter the foreign domination, but reforms were uselessbecause they needed the West to help with the reforms. But somethingsparked their confidence, and they believed themselves to be able toconquer any foreign power. This spark was the Society of HarmoniousFists, commonly known as “Boxers.
” Combined with unhappy people, andnew weapons technology, the Chinese rebelled against the foreignpowers. The first reason of this confidence was the Boxer Society, whichformed in North China after the Sino-Japanese war, but wasn’t wellknown until 1898 in Shantung. This organization was actually a cult,following strange and absurd practices of defense. It had no centralleaders, and the practices varied in different locations. Their goalwas to rid China of the foreign menace.
The boxers were different frommost other rebels of their time. They would conduct public physicalexercises that were supposed to make a magical shield to protect oneagainst foreign bullets and shells. These looked similar to a boxerstraining exercises so the westerners nicknamed the members of theSociety of Harmonious Fists “Boxers. ” Rather then using foreignweapons, they relied on magical spirits and swords, knives, staves,and polearms to drive the foreign devils from their precious homecountry.
The membership of this group consisted of mostly thecriminals, poor, and illiterate of China who wore a simple uniformconsisting of a red armband, sash, or waistcloth. These people trulybelieved that magic would protect them, and help remove the foreignersfrom China. That gave them enough confidence to try to destroy theforeigners. Missionaries were killed, railroads were destroyed, andchurches were burned all in the name of independence from foreignrule. Another key aspect in the rebellions against the west was aseries of natural disasters that swept China during the last decade ofthe nineteenth century. Famine struck, droughts prevented the plantingof crops, and to top it all, the Yellow river flooded, causing thedestruction of 1,500 villages and 2,500 square miles of countryside.
These disaster lead to unhappiness of the people. In order to keepthem from turning on the government, the Dowager Empress, Tsu Hsi,encouraged the peasants to rebel against the foreigners. Some of theseangry people joined the Boxers, and others rebelled alone, but theyhad the Empress behind them, giving them encouragement, and makingthem feel ready to take on the demons from the West. The third reason that the Chinese felt ready to face the West,was a new weapons technology. This was the machine gun, which had bothphysical and symbolic power.
It could physically kill many more peoplethen a regular rifle, because of its ability to spray bullets and firemore then one round per pulling of the trigger. Symbolically, itrepresented a method which the west had used to subdue the Chinese,and now the Chinese were going to use it against the west. Thisinspired confidence and made the people ready to fight, knowing thatthey could fight machine gun with machine gun. The Chinese were tired of being looked down at by the west.
Thepeople were unhappy, armed, or bullet proof, and the Queen encouragedthem to fight the west. With all this support how could one not feelready to fight the West?