What was the Boxer Rebellion?

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The Boxer Rebellion was, in essence, a violent reaction to foreign influences in China that occurred in the summer of 1900 in northern China. In June, a secret society called the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists began attacking foreign entities and Chinese Christians in Beijing. The group was referred to as Boxers by Westerners in reference to their martial arts practices, which resembled shadow-boxing. For several months, the Boxers besieged the city with the goal of driving out non-Chinese elements.

For the past century, China had been struggling with its resistance to foreign influences. After the embarrassing and costly Opium Wars, the Sino-Japanese War, and the establishment of foreign spheres of influence and trade cities (which infringed on Chinese sovereignty), there was real resentment in China against the West, as well as against Japan. The Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists formed with the goal of restoring Chinese domestic power and safeguarding their cultural heritage.

Beginning in the 1890s, the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists began carrying out attacks in China against Westerners and Chinese Christians. In 1900, the Boxers moved into Beijing, where they strengthened their attacks. The matter further intensified when the Empress Dowager Tzu’u Hzi joined the cause by declaring war on the foreign nations operating in the country. Her hope was to restore the full power of the Qing Dynasty.

Japan, the United States, Austria-Hungary, Germany, Italy, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom formed a multi-national military force about 20,000 strong to regain control. In August, this force was able to retake the capital.

The following month, China was forced to yet again sign a humiliating treaty with foreigners, known as the Boxer Protocol. The agreement required the destruction of Chinese military installations, the punishment of the rebellion's leaders, the establishment of foreign garrisons, and payments of about $330 million in reparations.

The Boxer Rebellion backfired. Instead of restoring full Chinese sovereignty and pride, it ended in an embarrassment that led to further outside influence in the country. The Empress Dowager had hoped that the rebellion would restore the monarchy to glory, but it ended up leading to its further weakening, from which it never recovered. Just over a decade later, the monarchy would be permanently overthrown in the Chinese Revolution.

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