The Boxer uprising from 1896 to 1901 constitutes a crucial point in China's history. The power of the Qing-Dynasty eroded because of the interference of foreign powers. During this period China faced the challenge of its traditional society. The revolt of the boxers followed a conservative attitude which aimed at the restore of the power of the Qing-Dynasty. However, the specific reasons for the boxer rebellion are hard contested in the research community. Economic penetration, a ecological crisis and the religious socialization of the boxer movement take their part in the scientific debate about the factors in the boxer uprising (King 1998: p. 227-228.).
Ultimately, this essay comes to the conclusion that the religious beliefs were the superordinate factor in the uprisings, but correlated with other factors. Economic penetration and the ecological crisis on its peak from 1898 onwards deepened anti-foreign sentiments. These factors acted as additional motivating factors. Though, religious attitudes constituted the key driver for the uprising.
This essay proves this claim in two main parts. The first sections deals with the historical context of China in the 1890s with regard to the economic interference by foreign powers, the missionary expansion by Christians and the ecological crisis. This shall provide an overview about the potential explanatory factors of the boxer uprising. The second part examines the impact of religion and its correlation to the other factors. Following this approach, this essay will focus on the analysis of the “Big Sword Society” and the “Boxers United in Righteousness”. Thus, the analysis conforms with the chronological development of the boxer movement.
China of the late 19th century faced the following situation. The economic penetration by foreign powers came to a new climax. The cities on the north-east coast of Shandong grew up. Several treaty ports were established by foreign powers (King 1998: p. 226-228). The main treaty port was Yantai in the late 1890s.Yantai increased its cotton imports significantly from 1822 to 1899. The province of Zhenjiang, deeper in the south of the Chinese east coast and the province of Tianjin, northwards from Yantai at the Yellow Sea, counted to the biggest cotton-importing cities in this period (Esherick 1987: p. 69-71). Moreover, the foreign powers began to build several railways, most of them northwards from Shandong an southwards from Shandong (Scalapino et al. 1985: p. 64). Two further major events had an impact on Chinas political condition. First, the 100-Day Reforms, initiated in 1895, were finally cut down by Empress Dowager in order to preserve the traditional political power structure(King 1998: p. 229-230). Second, the Sino-Japansese war in 1895 ended in the defeat of the Qing troops and weakened China's military power over a long-term. As a result, it is argued that the Boxer movement acted as protective force of the Qing in order to preserve traditional power structures and to defeat the foreign threat (Jellicoe 1993: p. 9-10).
The missionary expansion of Christians counted also for foreign interference, but it makes sense to separate this aspect from economic interference. Nearly 721.000 Catholics existed 1898 in China, in 1911 the number increased to 2 Mio. (Zarrow 2005: p. 7) German missionary activities were centered in Jiaozhou, at the east coast of the Shandong area (Liu 1989: p. 103-106). The fundamental gap between Christianity and traditional belief system arose from the exclusivist character of the christian religion. Furthermore, their presence challenged the authority of the local gentry and Chinese officials. Both aspects, the tensions between religious belief systems and the eroding power structure in local areas play a part in the question about the reasons for the boxer rebellion (Esherick 1987: p. 112-113; Scalapino et al. 1985: p. 68).
The ecological crisis counts as further key factor in the uprisings. Droughts and floods were a recurrent challenge for the peasantry in the 19th century. In the years of 1899 to 1900 the peasantry had been heavily affected by an ecological crisis. The Yellow River flooded areas of the provinces Henan and Shandong (Esherick 1987: p. 177-178). Superstitious beliefs of the overwhelmingly peasantry population, which held the Christians as responsible for this crisis, led to tensions between them. Therefore, the ecological crisis in connection with superstitious beliefs can be valued as a further factor in uprisings against the foreign presence (Cohen 1997: p. 77-79).
Discussing the boxer movement concerns the area of Shandong, more specific the area in the south-east, bordering to the provinces of Henan and Jiangsu and the northern more rural area next to Zhili. First, light will be shed on the south-east area of Shandong.
It is important to mention that organizing in societies had a long history for large populations in the 19th century in this area. Political power vacuums made it possible to organize in societies. When poverty increased significantly, it became necessary for the societies to protect themselves of bandit bands. The Big Sword Society had its origin in 1890s and consisted by members of the gentry. Initially, they intended to protect their property.
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- Julian Ostendorf (Author), 2010, Religion was the most important factor in the Boxers uprising. Discuss. , Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/174423