Treaty ports 1900-1920
Treaty ports and concessions,

After First Opium War China was highly destabilized. Qing court did not want to feel big consequences of war and increased taxes drastically on peasants. So peasants started to be poorer and were even more hateful towards government. People instead on food production found more profitable to work with silk or tea and sell it in foreign market thanks to open ports but food price increased drastically what caused large famine as 80% of population could hardly afford such prices. In areas of open town some Chinese were employed by foreigners in warehouses and were also granted extraterritoriality what was a great chance for crime, robbery and smuggle. Opium was destroying families when at least one member would get addicted whole income and house property could be sold by few years for more and more opium. While some were cooperating with foreigners and working for them others were xenophobic and saw foreigners as main reason for all problems Qing court was ignorant about ideas to change something. For emperors was important to spend time in their palaces, gardens and luxury. Among people was raising not only anti Qing but anti Manchu feeling. They were feeling that court loses „Mandate of Heaven“ but also they started to blame Manchu people as it was more and more obvious that it is foreign dynasty and foreigners are always seen as main problem when country is in crisis. Identifying as us vs them was becoming more dominant in various circles of society.

Taiping Rebellion

First  large scale reaction to such situation was Taiping Rebellion. It was one of largest civil wars in Chinese history which lasted for 14 years between 1850-1864 and was present in 17 provinces. Estimates are that between 20 and 30mln people were killed in this war. Hong Xiuquan a dissapointed civil servant organized rebellion. By end of 1840ies he was studying Bible in Guangzhou and started to spread salvationist ideas among people in Guangxi. Mostly seen as political tool he declared that he is brother of Jesus Christ and that Jesus came to his dream to tell him that Manchu dynasty is devil and that China must be saved by him. Hong Xiuquan and Feng Yunshan formed secred society known as God Worshipers Society. Society rejected Chinese tradition and wanted to build completely new post apocaliptic society and ideas. In 1850 with 10 000 followers they started to rebel in Guangxi. In 1851 Hong declared himself as Heavenly King and his state of Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace. A lot of desperate masses joined them while those who did not join were murdered by his rebels. As he was successful in fighting Qing forces his army was massacring Manchus, burning Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian temples. In 1853 rebels captured Nanjing and renamed it to Tianjing what means Heavenly Capital. It became capital of Heavenly Kingdom. Actually rebellious forces  controlled mostly capital and some areas around while other captured territories were not firmly controlled. This Heavenly Kingdom was a very controversial concept.It was against Confucianism and existing system but also adopted some of its methods of governance. In Heavenly Kingdoms examination system instead of Confucian classics Bible was taught. Foot binding, wearing queques was banned. Solar calendar was put instead of lunar one. Opium, gambling, prostitution and concubinage were strictly banned and punished by death.  Heavenly King and many officials were actually Hakka people a regional subgroup of Han Chinese which speak local dialect spoken in Southeastern and Southern China. By law women and men were strictly equalized and women were allowed to take royal examinations. But were also divided as men and women were prohibited to live together even when they were married. Private property was abolished and all land was controlled and distributed by state. Administratively state was divided on several provinces governed by kings of cardinal directions and flank king who were below Heavenly King.  Despite some innovative ideas Heavenly Kingdom was very corrupt and disorganized.

Hong Xiuquan himself behaved and lived as an emperor in a large palace in Nanjing with concubines and luxury. So his idea seems to be just a tool to manipulate masses and govern. He even mostly stayed out of politics since 1853 while his high ranking officials often fought about policies. They tried to gain some foreign support and support of larger number of masses but unsuccessfully. Famine soon occurred in Heavenly Kingdom and there were too peasant rebellions and traditionalist uprisings which disliked ruling ideology. Aiming to strengthen position Taipings tried to capture Shanghai in 1860 but it finished with failure. After 1860 Chinese army and two Chinese divisions commanded by British and American officers launched offensive on Heavenly Kingdom. Foreigners initially stayed neutral but decided to aid Qing court after Beijing Convention of 1860. They surrounded Nanjing in 1864 and demanded from Hong to surrender. He committed suicide but before that he nominated his 15 years old son Tianwang as new Heavenly King. Nanjing fell already in 1864 and most of kings and princes were executed by Chinese forces. Soon other territories were captured and Taiping Rebellion ended but guerrila warfare continued until 1870 when Chinese forces often massacred Hakka population.

Taiping Rebellion left big significance on Chinese 19th century history. It showed generally that China needs to change as extremist ideas and acts usually appear in poor governance bad economic conditions, corruption and mistrust. In Guizhou, Guangxi, Hunan and Jiangxi government control drastically fell and it created circumstances for banditry, robberies and sects. Various bandits were attacking peasants while sects were preaching various salvationist ideas which were often ranging between moderate and extremist. State control drastically fell in these provinces and decentralization occurs. Power in these provinces was in hands of local provincial armies which were emerging as consequence of Taiping Rebellion and Second Opium War. Qing dynasty realized that it cannot hold too much of absolute power since anti-Manchu feeling was rising among majority Han population. So it started to accept more of Han officials into the government service and allowed various irregular regional armies to operate on many Chinese territories. After these two wars Qing court never had full control over all China but large territories were mostly controlled by Han commanded armies. Shortly saying Taiping rebellion had power to attract desperate masses eager of reform and revival of Chinese nation, Idea of equalizing man and women was also positive but rebellions where leaders just use masses to pursue own aims and do not follow their own claims usually fail. Also such rebellion was inspired by fundamentalist misconception of Christianity including massacres and destroying Chinese culture. Without secular ideas, good organization and sincerity of leaders positive changes cannot occur.

Life of people worsened even more after these Second Opium War and Taiping Rebellion. Qing court realized that reforms are needed and a better approach to change conditions in country.  Corruption, unrests, disagreement among conservative and more open minded officials about reforms, aversion towards foreigners, poverty, opium addiction were everyday life of post 1860 China. Ceremonies of worshipping Heaven were not so confident like before and more and more people started suspecting in Mandate of Heaven not only for Qing dynasty but as a concept. Many questions about power of China appeared as in Second Opium War despite 200 000 soldiers China was defeated by 14 000 British and 7000 soldiers. They realized that quality is more important than quantity. Attempts of cooperation with foreigners, industrialization, restructuring of state institutions and modernization of army started in second half of 19th century.


Generally speaking after Taiping Rebellion and Opium Wars Qing court lost control over most of southern and a lot of central provinces. Qing court did not have standing army anymore but depended on support of regional and provincial armies mostly of north and east. Qing court had to balance often on favor of regional army commanders in order to gain their support to back Qing throne. Most loyal to Qing court were Beiyang Army and 8 Banners.

Most of elite was still conservative while there appeared few of them who wanted reforms. Before we speak about reforms we must mention political situation at the top of Qing court and government. In 1861 young Tongzhi Emperor came to power but instead of him regency under leadership of Dowager Empress Ci Xi ruled. Even when regency was abolished in 1873 she continued to be most powerful person in late Qing years. Ci Xi de facto was primary ruler of state affairs behind official Tongzhi Emperor and later Guangxu Emperor until her death in 1908. Together with Wu Zetian( Tang dynasty period 618-907) she is most famous Chinese empress. After Taiping Rebellion she was partially allowing reforms while another regent Prince Gong and „minister“ of foreign affairs promoted reforms more widely. She often perceived him as a threat and dismissed him once but returned him to government again. Ci Xi was too conservative and often took some funds determined for reforms for restoration of imperial Summer Palace what is seen as selfish step. Ci Xi was last Chinese imperial ruler with through executive power.

Ci Xi
Ci Xi, source:

Self-Strengthening Movement and other reforms

First steps of reforms were known as Self-Strengthening movement initiated in 1861. One of reformists was also Zeng Guofan a military general and Confucian scholar. First phase of Self-Strengthening movement was between 1861 and 1872. In 1861 first de facto Ministry of Foreign Affairs was established and it is seen as a step of China to communicate better with outside world. Presiding over this ministry was Prince Gong. It was known as Zongli Yamen and functioned until 1901 when was replaced with real name Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Also diplomatic college was established for preparing officials for diplomatic communication.Zongli Yamen had role of coordinating and keeping better relations with foreign powers. Except foreign relations reforms included trade and modernization of army during first phase. When it comes to army several modern arsenals were established and also some foreign experts were invited to give advices on modernizing military. Several armies were soon equipped with modern weapons and modern uniforms. Also several modern battleships were built. However program appeared to be too expensive for declining Chinese economy and additionally because of corrupt high officials. China also tried to adapt to newly imposed treaties by establishing Maritime Customs Service in 1861. Thanks to that China experienced some profit by earning from taxes of foreign commodities including opium. Horatio Nelson and later Sir Robert Hart were appointed as general inspectors of the Maritime Customs Service as they were considered as reliable and by some Qing officials foreign advisors were welcomed. Also Chinese imperial commissions were sent to supervise trade in open port cities.  In that phase was founded Tongwen Guan for learning foreign languages. It hired European proffessors to teach mathematics, astronomy and European languages.

Prince Gong
Prince Gong,  source:

Second phase lasted between 1872 and 1885 and aimed at industrialization of economy in ship building, railways, mining and telegraphy. In some areas in Tianjin, Fuzhou and Guangzhou were privatized some of enterprises in order to ease them of bureaucratic control. Success was very partial and did not contribute much for boosting economic development. Some examples of successful privatization were Kaiping Mines, China Merchants Steam Navigation Company and Shanghai Cotton Mill. Many private owners created monopoly and thus demotivated others to compete or were closely linked to government and often bribed officials in order to avoid taxing. Also some entreprises   were too much controlled by government and thus were not freely allowed completely to search new businesses.  In 1876 first short rail line was established in Shanghai. Also in that period line between Tangshan and Xugezhuang ( 10km) was established in order to transport coal and was later extended to Tianjin Woosong road was built by Americans connecting their concession and Zhabei. Railway project was initiated by Li Hongzhang ( an influential viceroy of Zhili and diplomat) without consent of Ci Xi. Ci Xi believed that building of rails is against nature and principles of fengshui. Also many villagers were afraid of trains passing nearby their fields considering them as monsters.

Third phase started in 1885 and lasted until 1895. Focused on further privatization of businesses such as textile and iron. Government avoided to develop larger industries such as iron one as it was afraid of losing power if loses control over iron production. Successful iron enterprise was Guizhou Ironworks established in 1891. Textile industry flourished more and most famous was Hubei Textile Company established in 1894. However government was still not ready to let private sector participate in trade more actively. Many local authorities were hiding taxes and income from government thus reducing income for national economy. Another reason why government avoided too much privatization was dominance of regional commanders who often were becoming even stronger and even less accountable with gaining control of local industries and taxes over local private industries.  With lack of money, confidence and vulnerability to foreign influence and fear of foreign influence reforms were quite weak and ceased after defeat in Sino-Japanese war. Confidence after this severe defeat dropped even more severely and conservative faction strengthened even more. Between 1861 and 1874 also existed Tongzhi restoration which had aim to stop decline of dynasty and promoted economic reforms and cultural revival. In 1889 China got first modern flag picture below. Also unofficial anthems were proposed in order to look more less like a modern state.

Qing china

In 1898 there occurred last attempt to modernize empire peacefully. Scholar and politician Kang Yuowei promoted reforms known as 100 Day Reforms. He was supported by Emperor Guangxu. Kang Yuowei and his followers suggested reforms which included: establishment of constitutional monarchy, building modern educational system not just one based on Confucian classics, eliminating job positions which were not contributive but just a loss in terms of giving salaries, complete modernization of army and supporting further opening up, industrialization, manufacture and trade. But Prince Guan and Emperor Ci Xi were strictly against it as they saw it as foreign plot to destabilize China further and destroy imperial rule. Yuan Shikai and some other conservative generals performed coup and put the Emperor Guangxu into the house arrest in Summer Palace. Kang Yuowei escaped to Japan while some of his followers were arrested and executed in China.

Only in foreign concessions which were expanded after 1895 further modernization was possible under foreign interests. There were built several rails in British, French, German and Russian concessions determined for transportation of commoddities and people. Also many rails were connecting other parts of China on demand of foreigners such as between Beijing and Guangzhou, Tianjin and Nanjing. Germans built rails between Tianjin and Shandong province. They were needed for transport of exports, imports and people. British were building in areas of Hong Kong( Hong Kong –Guangzhou) but also further and French built between Vietnam and southern China 855km long rail. Russians built section  of TransSiberian rail between Port Arthur and Harbin. Also Russians built rail between Harbin and Manzhuoli as section of TransSiberian rail. By 1911 there was built 9000km of railways. Also in open cities and concessions European architecture started to appear. A lot of business and residential buildings and churches were built in British, French, German, Russian and Italian styles depending on whose control was area. In foreign controlled cities and free trade cities some more wealthy Chinese started to adopt Western clothing styles too. It was a new formed elite of intellectuals and merchants living in free trade cities and foreign concessions. They often tried to understand foreigners better and tried to find some compromise in preserving Chinese culture but adopting some foreign changes. Among them appeared first progressive, republican, liberal revolutionary and socialist ideas in China and they started to support reformist movements.

Generally saying one of reasons why reforms were inefficient was because of lack of state control and executive power over many provinces due to control of regional armies.

Situation in 1890ies

Poverty, corruption, crime and sects were dominant aspects of Chinese society during 1890ies. Large portion of population lived in poverty and starved. It happened because of high taxes, high food prices, drought and lack of food caused by focus on silk and tea production.  In open trade cities a lot of  Chinese workers often were hired to work for foreign companies or railway constructions, building constructions and mining. Also some Chinese merchants were successful and rich thanks to trade with foreigners in trade free cities. Many Chinese in open cities worked as cheap labor for foreigners and really hardly. Many of them were servants at foreign legations or households. Thus high social inequalities were present and were burdening even more Chinese society. Addiction from opium was ruining richer families and destroying those poorer. Crime was blooming in all areas and secret gangster sects were operating. Crimes and smuggles were committed both by foreign and Chinese gangs. Various religious sects were operating some were promoting salvation as exchange for membership, others were attracting members for money and some were active in illegal activities such as robbing governmental buildings and rich people and giving it to the poor. Sects were inspired either by Taoist, Buddhist or Christian beliefs or sometimes by misconceptions of these teachings. Most sects practiced martial arts too in order to easier combat Chinese or foreign convoys when they wanted to take money and distribute it to the poor. Aversion towards Christians was common since missionaries were often criticizing indigenous Chinese beliefs and Buddhism. Often they tried by force to convert people and often considered themselves as civilized while Chinese Taoist and Buddhist beliefs as primitive or barbaric. Missionaries were often even preaching in local communities how to behave and use to punish those who were rejecting to accept Christianity. Christian missionaries tried to convince them and attacked Chinese culture and beliefs as primitive and barbaric. Aversion and xenophobia towards foreigners and Manchu dynasty was rising. People could not stand to feel like second order citizens in their own country when foreigners had all privileges.

Chinese women in Shanghai
Chinese women in Shanghai, 1900, source:

Nationalism and feeling of patriotism among Han people was rising as they blamed foreign Qing dynasty and wanted to restore former glory of China. Epidemics were also part of everyday life such as epidemics of cholera. In 1855 plague outbreak started in Yunnan province. Later it was spread to other parts of China and most intense was between 1905 and 1911. It took 10 million lives and most of them in Manchuria. Plague was already „indicator“ for end of Yuan and Ming dynasties so it seems that it showed that Qing dynasty lost Mandate of Heaven too.  Also various preachings were appearing about guilt of Qing dynasty as a foreign one which some people found guilty at this moment for destroying China and for foreign invasion and unequal treaties. Now mistakes which Qing dynasty made- persecution of Han at beginning of their rule,  closing and disagreeing to cooperate with foreigners and decline of trade were remembered and anti sentiment towards Qing dynasty rises even more. Chinese nationalists blamed Qing dynasty for destroying China and making a poor, underdeveloped and semi-colonized country from rich, developed and strong and prosperous country in all terms. They also felt aversion towards foreign countries which did very big humiliation to China from selling opium, imposing treaties, destroying palaces, seeing Chinese people and Chinese culture as barbaric, preaching Christianity and presenting it as superior faith and taking territories.

Shanghai 1900
Shanghai 1900, source:
rural china
Most of China was rural, source:

There appeared two types of secret societies those with modern ideas and those with traditional and somewhat supersitious ideas. In 1894 in Honolulu, Hawaii Chinese emigre under leadership of Sun Yatsen formed Revive China Society which was patriotic society which had aim to remove Qing dynasty and return old glory of China and establish governance under modern principles. It was active in Chinese diaspora and formed Tonmenghui society in 1905 from which Kuomingtang emerged. Revive China Society was ready to cooperate with foreigners on establishing better governance in China and successfully conduct reforms.  Such organization tried to use rational methods of cooperation with foreigners and overthrow Qing and return China under governance of Chinese people. It was secular movement with pro modern ideas which saw importance of preserving culture but also installing new reforms for better functioning of state and society and international respect. Their aim was to restore Chinese glory, keep tradition but also modernise political, educational  and economic system.  Such movements only attracted minority of educated population and were mostly operating from USA and Japan and did not have big influence. Members of elite with such ideas were often censored in Beijing. Sun Yatsen defined 3 Peoples Principles which included Peoples government, Peoples democracy( government responds to peoples will) and Peoples welfare. These principles were basis for later Chinese socialism which exists today.

Sun yatsen
A  Chinese proto socialist , Sun Yatsen, source:

But initially among majority of desperate population more popular was society of martial arts, spiritual ideas and magic which reminded on legends. Those traditionalist societies were not only anti Qing but anti foreign generally. Some of these sects were quite extremist and with no clear vision of change and concept of new society after they overthrow Qing and expel foreigners. Their ideas were often full of superstitions  and mystical ideas but were quite disorganized.


Boxer Rebellion

One of such sects was Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists. They were sect which practiced martial arts preached superstitions and attracted large number of poor peasants. This sect was most popular in Shandong province where famines and disease outbreaks and German oppression were occurring. Known as Boxers by Western powers they used to attack Qing troops but also German colonial troops and various foreign missionaries. They were mostly angry because of Christian missionaries which were preaching Christianity, attracting poor people and insulting traditional Chinese values and beliefs. Boxers found Christians as threat for Chinese values, traditions and concept of family. Often missionaries and new converts were coming to local rural ceremonies and interrupting them and used to buy temples and convert them to churches. Simply western missionaries felt as a „civilized“ representatives with a need to teach others how to live and need to impose own beliefs as best. So antiforeign sentiment is not surprising at all in such situations. Boxers were getting more supporters especially thanks to promoting excellent martial arts skills and special rituals according to which they were non vulnerable to bullets. Boxers used only swords and spears believing that only traditional weapons can save China ignoring fact that powder weapons were used in China almost for 1000 years. With their mystery, quite secret leadership, martial arts and claim to being immune on bullets they gathered uneducated peasant masses eager of better life. In 1899 tension in Shandong peaked when temple devoted to Jade Emperor was converted to church in one village. Boxers attacked there and killed all missionaries their security and new Chinese Christians. Simply desperateness,  humiliation and disrespect caused by missionaries and foreign presence caused such extremist actions. Initially Qing troops were against Boxers.

By May of 1900 Boxers were reaching outskirts of Beijing and were very active in Shandong.  Qing government was divided in whether to support or not Boxers. Some promodern officials were rejecting support for Boxers while conservative who were majority promoted support for them. Ci Xi promoted to side on Boxers also because she was afraid that they may continue to fight against Qing dynasty too. So in June 1900 she declared war on foreigners and let the Boxers enter the Beijing. Boxers burnt several churches and attacked foreigners and Chinese Christians. On 10th June under command of British officer Seymour 1500 soldiers from UK, Germany, France, USA, Japan, Italy, Russia and Austria Hungary went from Tianjin towards Beijing.  They launched so called Seymour Expedition which aimed to enter Beijing to rescue foreigners in Beijing legations( diplomats, and missionaries lived there) but at Battle of Langfang they were defeated by Boxers and Gansu Braves. Gansu Braves were Chinese Muslim militia loyal to Qing which used modern weapons. Many provincial governors such as Li Hongzhang and Yuan Shikai who controlled important modern regional armies rejected to join war against foreigners believing that it will cause even more damage to China.Yuan Shikai even battled against Boxers in Shandong. Thus only some troops of Beijing and 8 Banners were involved in war against foreigners. But practically Boxers and Gansu braves fought the most against foreign troops.  On June 20 1900 Boxers surrounded foreign legations together with Gansu Braves. Empress Ci Xi offered evacuation of foreign civilians to Tianjin by Chinese army but they rejected it since they did not trust Chinese army. German minister who was at that time in legations asked to visit Zongli Yamen to discuss this issue but on the road there despite Chinese escort he was killed by Manchu officer. Thus foreigners rejected to leave legations. About 1000 foreign diplomats and missionaries and 3000 Chinese Christians were sieged in legations together with several foreign security troops. They were sieged by Boxers and Gansu Braves until mid August. It is known as 55 day siege of Beijing legations. Some foreign soldiers, diplomats and priests were defending legations while others were waiting. Boxers were attacking and circulating around together with Gansu Braves. By swords, spears, guns and setting surrounding houses on fire Boxers and Gansu Braves were trying to get in legations but foreign guards were not giving up. When Boxers realized that they can be killed by bullets some of them started to use rifles too. Few times rebels almost entered legations but were pulled back. Sieged people were without enough food and medicines.


Meanville 8 Nation Alliance was formed by Britain, USA, Russia, Germany, France, Austria-Hungary, Japan and Italy. Most of them rivals in Europe now united in securing own interests in China. They prepared about 50 000 soldiers. Netherlands officially didnt join Alliance but sent its troops too. British engaged a lot of Sikhs, Punjabis and Gurkhas from colonial India. From Tianjin they started offensive towards Beijing. It is known as Guslee expedition as commanded by British officer Guslee. At Beicang and Yangcun a settlements between Beijing and Tianjin they defeated Boxers at beginning of August 1900. Despite stubborn fight of Boxers foreigners won thanks to better tactics and modern weapons. Now they approached Beijing. Battle of Beijing occurred between 14-15th August. About 20 000 foreign troops and 80 000 Boxers and Gansu Braves clashed. Boxers and Gansus were not giving up easily and were bitterly fighting and foreigners too. But 8 Nation Alliance troops managed to break through defence walls. Several hours before arrival of foreign troops on 15th August Empress Ci Xi and other top officials escaped the city undercover. She dressed up as a peasant women. They escaped to the Xian and officially claimed they are on tour there.

battle boxers
Russian troops storm Beijing

Meanville foreign troops reached central Beijing and met big resistance nearby todays Qianmen ( nearby were legations). Gansus used artillery trying to make most of damage to legations and approaching troops. Same day siege was broken and foreign troops entered legations and rescued sieged people.


American soldiers storming Beijing, source:

Retreating Boxers and Gansus were bitterly fighting on the streets  until they were completely expelled from city. Foreign troops marched into Forbidden City in order to demonstratively show their power and humiliate Chinese. Now Beijing experienced one of biggest lootings in its history and one US journalist compared it to Pizzaros behavior in conquest of Inca empire. All troops were bitterly looting, burning,  stealing valuables, killing civilians and raping women for the whole day. They made damage to Yuanmingyuan again, Summer Palace and several temples and villas at Xiangshan. Boxers at least did not loot and rape. Mentioned Zhao Miao Temple ( dating from 18th century) on Xiangshan was looted and burnt as well as Fragrant Hills Temple( dating from 12th century).  Also Anglo-French troops destroyed several imperial villas on Xiangshan ( Fragrant Hills). They also captured Temple of Heaven and did some damage there. They made of the temple store for ammunition. By doing this to one of core temples they showed even more humiliation. If they deployed more troops they could probably conquer  more of China and destroy dynasty at that time but they did not want to usurp existing treaties and secured interests but they focused on cleaning countryside from remaining Boxers. Hostilities lasted until September 1901 when they imposed Boxer Protocol. Until that time most of Boxers were killed, captured and executed. Real hunting of them occurred during 1900 and 1901 and Germans, Japanese and French were most brutal in their executions.

Beijing 1900 1
Beijing, 1900, source:

Boxer Protocol included- 1) legations quarter remain under full control of  8 Nation Alliance and no Chinese law applies there and Chinese have no right to enter it, 2) China must pay reparations to all 8 powers about todays 4 billions of US dollars, 3) Destruction of Dagu Forts, 4) China must express regrets for all killed foreigners, 5) China must execute or send to exile all responsible officials and remaining Boxer commanders, 6) China must give under full control to foreign troops Tianjin, ShanghaiQinhuangdao, Langfang, Tangshan and some more important territories in North-Eastern China, 7) China must abolish imperial exams in next 5 years and replace them with modern educational system. 8) Zongli Yamen must be abolished and real Ministry of Foreign Affairs must be established with proper name.  After that most of Western, Russian and Japanese troops left Beijing.

Chinese accepted all demands except to execute Dong Fuxiang( a non-Muslim commander of Muslim Gansu Braves) but they sent him to luxurious exile in Gansu. China was once again humiliated and almost fully colonized. Qing dynasty lost even more power and even more support among people. Ceremonies of worshipping heaven were abolished as they lost all sense and meaning among people who lost any trust to Qing dynasty.  Boxers are modernly seen with dual views on one side positive on another negative. Often they are seen as patriots who assembled desperate and impoverished peasants who wanted change. They are seen often as kind of reaction to foreign occupation, humiliation, privileges of foreign nationals, unequal treaties, poor life standard and against imperial rule. From this point of view Boxers can be seen as kind of revival of Chinese national identity and Chinese national revolution. Their cause of fighting foreign imperialism and their brutal behavior towards China is definitely just. Even  Mark Twain famous American writer of that time expressed favoring Boxers considering them patriots who have right to expell powers which came and imposed dominance of China. Thus from that side they can be seen as revolutionaries who wanted to restore independence and sovereignty of China. On another hand they are often seen as irrational and extremist. Irrational can be their belief that they cant be killed by bullets and that they  used to fight only with swords and spears. Also as irrational can be seen that they did not have clear vision what they want after they overthrow Qing or expel foreigners. They did not have clear alternative what they would change and how.Such quite disorganized behavior is always paradise for extremism and misuse of movement. Extremism causes another extremism. Foreign pressure, corruption, imposing of treaties, foreign preaching of Christianity and seeing China as barbaric causes another extreme behavior. Thus Boxers were quite extreme as they targeted foreign  officials and missionaries and Chinese Christians who were mostly civilians. Their massacring of Chinese Christians and foreign diplomats and priests  can be seen as extremist way towards changes but definitely caused by foreign oppression and their privileges which they had in China and authoritative behavior. Definitely can be said that they showed that China needs reforms, overthrow dynasty and restore independence. Maybe Boxers were brutal but it is hypocritic to blame only them as we know very well how foreign troops burnt Chinese palaces in 1860, humiliated Chinese peasants and how they looted Beijing, raped  and killed civilians and burnt temples and houses in 1900.Except Boxers there was female sect known as Red Lanterns. They were wearing completely red clothes with hidden face and fighting on several places very actively.

zhao before
Damaged Zhao Miao Temple at Xiangshan before reconstruction, it was burnt by British and French troops

During Boxer rebellion there occurred significant events in Manchuria which were separate front than that of Tianjin and Beijing. Boxers entered Manchuria in in July 1900. Together with 8 Banner Qing Army composed of Manchus mostly they started attacking railway between Harbin and Port Arthur. They attacked Russian soldiers which were guarding construction and they attacked coal mines. Russian Empire in order to protect its interests in Manchuria sent 100 000 soldiers.  3 biggest battles occurred between Russian army and 8 Banners and Boxers at Yingkou, Baitouzi and Amur river.  Despite that 8 Banners used cannons and rifles they were defeated by Russians. Russian soldiers committed a lot of atrocities during conquering Manchuria they killed many Manchu and Han civilians, raped women, looted villages and towns and burnt houses. At the end despite Russian promise that they will not occupy Manchuria they took full large scale control which is equal to occupation. Despite their promise in Boxer Protocol to withdraw combat troops from Manchuria they kept them what led to Russo-Japanese war of 1905.



Revolts in Western and Southern China

In order to understand fully situation of 19th century China we need to take a look at revolts which caused big destabilization of China and took many casualties. One of such revolts is Dungan Revolt( 1862-1877). It started as an ethnic tension between Han Chinese and Hui minority. Rebellion occurred in Gansu, Ningxia, Shaanxi and Xinjiang. Everything started in Shaanxi when Taiping troops approached there and Han people residing there they started to arm themselves under support of Qing. Hui people felt unsafe and started to arm too. Ethnic tensions led to uprising in Shaanxi in 1862. Hui Muslim warriors were divided into 18 battalions without clear aim but to revolt and even did not have clear aim to overthrow Qing dynasty.  Green standard army and Hunan armies were major pro Qing forces there and also some Hui militants fought on side of Qing. At beginning most of battles occurred in Shaanxi when Xian was under siege of Dungan troops. In 1864 Hui general Ma Hualong massacred 100 000 Han civilians in Gansu. He took almost entire control of province. In other areas Han troops were massacring Hui civilians. Because of disagreement in Islamic sects among Hui their militias often fought against each other. Among most notable Chinese commanders was Zuo Zongtang famous for bravery and for good  military strategies. By 1873 Zuo defeated numerous Hui armies in Gansu and Shaanxi and restored large control over them. He executed there many captives including Ma Hualong. In 1864 rebellion even spread to Xinjiang when Hui militias entered Xinjiang with Hui refugees and they joined there Uighurs who together started to attack Chinese troops in Kashgar and Urumqi. Here in 1865 Yakub beg a Tajik warrior from Kokand took control of some Uighur factions who defeated Chinese troops largely and were joined by Hui. Yakub was also massacring Han civilians in Xinjiang.  Kashgar, Turpan and Urumqi were under Yakug begs control. Yakub begs army included Uighur, Hui, Tajik, Kyrgiz, Afghani, Kazakh and Uzbek people. Many of them were brought from Kokand. His control of Kashgar and Tarim Basin started to fall down when in Kokand itself war started as Russian Empire invaded it. Many local Uighurs disliked appearance of Yakub beg and war and claimed that it was better under Chinese rule. In 1870 Yakug beg declared jihad against Hui people because of religious disagreements. His troops defeated Hui militia at Urumqi in 1870. Now some Han militias( which were not related to Beijing) joined Hui militias to fight Yakug beg.  Yakug beg was in some periods in good relations with Russian Empire and except support from them he was getting support from Britain and Ottoman Empire. Later his relations with Russia deteriorated and he fought them. In 1877 talented general Zuo Zongtang captured whole Xinjiang step by step defeating rebelious militias. Some western areas of Xinjiang were held by Russian Empire since they captured them while conquering Kazakhstan. Russian Empire wanted to get extraterritorial rights in Xinjiang and open trade but under threat of war by Beijing they had to sign treaty in 1881 St.Petersburg under which they returned taken parts of Xinjiang. Several thousand of Hui refugees went to live in Russian Empire and their descendants still live in Kyrgyzstan. It is estimated that in Dungan revolt at least 10 million people died. Despite victory of Qing their power was in decline because of exhaustion.

Other important rebellion was Nian rebellion between 1851 and 1868 in valley of Yellow River. Aim of rebels was to fight Qing but due to lack of strategy and lack of cooperation with Taiping forces they were defeated. Reason for rebellion were poor economic conditions, famine and droughts. Zeng Guofan a was one of core commanders against rebellion.

Another rebellion was in Yunnan known as Panthay rebellion which occurred between 1856 and 1873. It was initiated by Muslim minority in Yunnan but was not driven by religious and ethnic nature but with dissatisfaction with existing situation. Muslim militias were joined by Han militias to which fought Qing armies and Muslim and Manchu loyalist militias. Du Wenxiu declared himself as Sultan of Pacified Southern Kingdom which claimed separation from Qing dynasty and was seated in Dali.  Main idea of sultan was to unite with Han people and overthrow Qing dynasty since he considered that it lost Mandate of Heaven. Sultan Du Wenxiu tried to gain British recognition but was defeated until 1873. Despite Qing victory power of Qing was decreased again.

Between 1895 and 1896 occurred Second Dungan Revolt. It occurred in Qinghai province and Gansu and appeared as a result of dispute between two Islamic sects. When Qing local  court in Qinghai rejected to solve their dispute they started to fight against Qing troops. On side of Qing except regular Han troops were fighting Muslim militias too among most famous and strongest were Gansu braves. Qing troops and Muslim loyalists won again but massacred a lot of civilians.

Gansu braves


We must shortly mention arts which of course existed during this period. In painting by end of 19th century popular becomes colorful woodblock painting. In 1877 Six Chapters of Floating Life was published by Shen Fu. It became popular book. In free trade zones Western influence in music, literature and architecture appears. Few Chinese books were translated to English.



Religion in terms of missionary and revolts was covered mostly. During this time in Taoism and Buddhism there were not significant changes. In Islam Sufism appears.

"Selfies" 100 Years Ago
In temple in Beijing, 1900,



source of cover photo


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