You’ve certainly hear of the “Boxer Rebellion” (义和团运动）, and if you’ve lived in China you’ve heard of the “Eight-Nation Alliance (八国联军), but in history books the story of what unfolded can only be described as “cloudy” at best. Today I finally understand why:
Esherick comments that “confusion about the Boxer Uprising is not simply a matter of popular misconceptions,” for “there is no major incident in China’s modern history on which the range of professional interpretation is so great.”
In 1900, The “Boxers” were a sect that emerged in Northern China (near Shangdong) and were fervently anti-foreign. There were a series of floods in the region and local farmers became desperate. They focused blame for the misfortune on Christians in China (both local converts and missionaries).
Meanwhile, there was a power struggle in Beijing and the Empress Dowager Cixi seized power from the reformist Guangxu Emperor. Because Western governments would support the liberal Guangxu, Empress Cixi decided to use the Boxers to expel all western influences from China and consolidate power. On June 21, 1900 the Empress Cixi declared war
on all foreign powers that had diplomatic representatives in Beijing. The Boxers besieged foreign embassies. Additionally, the Boxers killed more than 32,000 Chinese Christians and several hundred foreign missionaries.
Eventually, the “Eight-Nation Alliance” (八国联军）brought 20,000 troops from Japan, Russia, UK, France, USA, Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary to counter-attack. After the Eight-Nation Alliance rescued the besieged foreign embassies in Beijing, they looted the capital and forced Cixi to sign the unequal “Boxer Protocol” (庚子赔款 ) of 1901 requiring payment of 450,000,000 taels of silver to the nations involved, with complete repayment to take 39 years. Equal to $335MM USD in 1901 (or $6.65B today). Additionally, the Taku Forts (大沽炮台) in Tianjin were decommissioned.
The portion of the payment given to American was more than the Americans had actually asked for, so President Theodore Roosevelt eventually agreed to return approximately half of the war reparations. Rather than simply returning the silver directly to the Gov’t in Beijing, Roosevelt established the “Boxer Rebellion Indemnity Scholarship Program ” (庚子賠款獎學金), a scholarship program that enabled Chinese students to study for free in the USA. Additionally, the funds were used to establish a “prep school” of sorts in Beijing that was called “留美预备学堂”. Eventually the “prep school” became 清华学堂 (Tsinghua College) and eventually 清华大学 (Tsinghua University) – the most prestigious University in China.