Boxer Rebellion:

In Depth

Boxer Rebellion

Chinese and Boxer forces attacking a position held by British and Japanese troops.




Eight-Nation Alliance:

Empire of JapanEmpire of Japan

Russian Empire Russian Empire

Image:Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom

French Empire French Third Republic

United States of America United States

German Empire German Empire

Kingdom of Italy Kingdom of Italy

Austria-Hungary Austria-Hungary

Qing ChinaRighteous Harmony Society

Qing ChinaQing China












  • 20,840 Japanese
  • 13,150 Russians
  • 12,020 British
  • 3,520 French
  • 3,420 Americans
  • 900 Germans
  • 80 Italians
  • 75 Austrian-Hungarians
  • 100,000+ Boxers and Qing Chinese government forces





















Following the Opium Wars, the Empire of China was forced to sign numerous treaties with foreign powers. Under these treaties, China was forced to give up several territories (including Hong Kong), open ports for trade, pay reparations, and grant extra-territorial rights to foreigners. Over time, these numerous treaties came to be known as the Unequal Treaties, for the disproportional rights and privileges granted to western powers. China, like most East Asia states at this time, was unable to resist the military and economic pressures held over them by the western powers, and thus were forced to submit to them.

By the late 19th century, many European states had established large spheres of influence within China. These spheres of influence were treated more like colonies, and many Chinese were upset at seeing their country seeming divided up by “foreign devils.” This anger only increased when realized that, within these spheres of influence, foreigners seemingly held more rights and privileges than did native Chinese. The native Chinese anger was directed not only toward foreigners, but against Chinese who had converted to Christianity as well. These Chinese were seen as traitors to their native land and people, having converted to a foreign faith unfamiliar to many Chinese.

In response to these foreign influences, the Righteous Harmony Society (mistranslated as Fists of Righteous Society, hence the name “Boxers”) began to conduct attacks against foreign missionaries and Chinese Christians. The Chinese empress dowager Tz’u His openly supported the Boxers and called for all foreigners to be killed or driven from the country. The conflict came to a head in June 1900 when Boxer forces, as well as elements of the Imperial army, attacked foreign embassies and compounds in several Chinese cities. In the capital Peking, most of the foreign embassies were able to link their diplomatic buildings into a large, fortified compound, offering refuge to foreign citizens in the city. However, after the Germany envoy was killed by government and Boxer troops, open war was declared by several western powers.

As the hostilities escalated and the siege of the foreign diplomatic compounds continued, an Eight-Nation Alliance was formed between the countries of Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary. Military expeditions from these nations embarked to relieve the embassies and subdue the Boxer forces. By August, only two months after the start of the Boxer siege of the embassies, an international force was able to seize the Imperial City in Peking, relieving the battered diplomats. The empress dowager fled to northern China with much of her court, while a large international force arrived too late for much of the major fighting. Nevertheless, this force undertook several punitive expeditions against suspected Boxer forces and strongholds, resulting much reported plundering and looting. In deed, German troops were noted for their enthusiasm in carrying out the order of the Kaiser “to make the name German remembered in China for a thousand years.” The Kaiser’s speech, which invoked the memory of Attila and the Huns from the 5th Century, later led rise to the use of the term “Hun” as a derogatory term during World War I.

However, the back of the Boxer and Chinese government forces had been broken, and much of the fighting ended, especially after the Russian occupation of southern Manchuria. In September 1901, the Boxer Protocol was signed, officially bringing peace between China and the Eight-Nation Alliance. China was forced to pay reparations for the fighting and also to permit foreign interests and trade in China. In the end, over 250 foreign missionaries and diplomats were killed during the uprising, along with an estimated 18,000 Chinese Christians. Boxer losses were at least in the thousands, but an accurate count is unknowable.

The Boxer Rebellion remains significant for several important reasons. Within China, the humiliating defeat of the Boxers renewed nationalist calls against the Qing Dynasty and increased interest in modernization, much like Japan had done after the Meiji Restoration. These calls were to culminate in the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty a little over a decade later and the establishment of the Chinese Republic. Russia’s actions in occupying Manchuria would lead directly to its humiliating defeat in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. In addition, the prestige of both Japan and the United States, two powers with growing imperialistic tendencies, grew as a result of their actions and involvement during the Boxer Rebellion.

Beck, Roger B., et al. “China Resists Outside Influence.” Modern World History: Patterns of Interaction. Evanston, IL: McDougal Littell, 2007. 374-375.
Danzer, Gerald A., et al. “Acquiring New Lands.” The Americans. Evanston, IL: McDougal Littell, 2007. 562-563.
Kohn, George Childs. “Boxer Uprising.” Dictionary of Wars: Revised Edition. New York: Facts on File, Inc, 1999. 67.


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