War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression
(1931-1945)
Civil War and Founding of the PRC
(1945-1949)
Tales of Hong Kong
(1840-1949)
Tales of Macao
(1840-1949)

(4) The Boxer Protocol and its Aftermath

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mainsite_psd_baguo04_3

Empress Dowager Cixi (慈禧太后) fled to Xi’an (西安) when the Eight-Nation Alliance captured Beijing (北京). While on the run, she ordered Yikuang (奕劻, also known as Prince Qing﹝慶親王﹞) and Li Hongzhang (李鴻章) to negotiate a peace treaty. On 7 September 1901, also known as the year of Xinchou (辛丑) in the Chinese lunar calendar, the Boxer Protocol (《辛丑條約》) was signed between China and 11 countries, namely Britain, the United States, Japan, Russia, Germany, France, Austria-Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Spain.

The treaty clauses are summarised as follows: Government officials who had supported the Boxers were to be punished by the Qing government. Princes and high-ranking officials were to be dispatched to Germany and Japan to convey the emperor’s regrets for the killing of their diplomates. China was to pay an indemnity (later called the “Boxer Indemnity”) of 450 million taels of silver with its tariff income and salt tax as collateral in the next 39 years. This would amount to a total of around 980 million taels in principal and a four per cent annual interest rate. In addition, the Beijing Legation Quarter was to be guarded by foreign troops, reserved for foreign residents, and managed exclusively by foreigners. The defences of the Dagu Forts (大沽炮台), and the cannon batteries from Beijing to Shanhai Pass (山海關) were to be dismantled. The railway lines connecting Beijing, Dagu, and Shanhai Pass were to be guarded by foreign troops. The General Management of Affairs Concerning the Various Countries (總理各國事務衙門) was to be transformed into a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (外務部) that would rank above the other Six Boards (六部) in the Qing government.

The treaty further violated China’s sovereignty. The presence of foreign troops in the Beijing Legation Quarter made it a “state within a state” in China. The right to station troops from Beijing to Shanhai Pass heavily weakened the defence and security of the capital. The total loss of control over its customs tariff and salt tax was tantamount to surrendering the national economic lifeline into foreign hands. Besides reducing China to a semi-colony, the invasion of the Eight-Nation Alliance also paved the way for China’s later descent into warlordism due to the local governors’ attempts to stave off war by supporting the “Mutual Protection of Southeast China (東南互保)”. Lastly, the war further fuelled the Chinese people’s hatred towards both the foreign invaders and the government that betrayed China. While it prompted the Qing government to launch the Late Qing Reform as a last effort to save itself, it also generated the growing and broad-based support for the revolutionary movement spearheaded by Sun Yat-sen (孫中山).

From the Boxers’ rise at the end of the 19th century, the movement has been alternately praised and denounced. How can it be reasonably assessed?

See answer below.

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mainsite_psd_baguo04_1

After the Eight-Nation Alliance occupied Beijing, Yikuang and Li Hongzhang represented the Qing government to negotiate with the powers. The photo shows the 78-year-old Li arriving at the British legation with his walking stick.

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mainsite_psd_baguo04_2

On 7 September 1901, Yikuang (first seated figure from the right) and Li Hongzhang (second seated figure from the right) signed the Boxer Protocol with the representatives of 11 nations: Britain, Russia, the United States, Germany, Japan, France, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, and Belgium in Beijing. Li died of illness two months after signing the treaty.

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mainsite_psd_baguo04_3

Pictured is the Boxer Protocol, also known as the Peace Agreement between the Great Powers and China (《辛丑各國和約》) and the page featuring the foreign plenipotentiaries’ signatures. Under the treaty terms, China was to pay the countries concerned an indemnity of 450 million taels of silver, which repesented the total Chinese population at that time. It in effect charged China one tael for each person.

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mainsite_psd_baguo04_4

Pictured are the Dagu Forts in Tianjin (天津) during the Eight-Nation Alliance’s occupation. The forts were a vital fortification defending the capital and Tianjin. According to the Boxer Protocol, the Dagu Forts and the cannon batteries from Beijing to Shanhai Pass were to be dismantled.

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mainsite_psd_baguo04_5

The barracks of Japan’s China Garrison Army in Tianjin, established in 1901. The Boxer Protocol permitted foreign troops to station along the railway lines connecting Tianjin, Beijing, and Shanhai Pass. The stipulation to dismantle the cannon batteries and permit foreign military presence was tantamount to breaking down China’s national defences.

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mainsite_psd_baguo04_6

The Boxer Protocol listed a number of nobles and high-ranking officials who had to be punished for playing a role in the turmoil. Pictured are three of those named. From left to right, they are: Zaixun (載勳), also known as Prince Zhuang (莊親王), who was forced to hang himself; Zailan (載瀾), who held the imperial title of Fuguogong (輔國公), was exiled to Xinjiang (新疆); Dong Fuxiang (董福祥), the Commander of Gansu Province(甘肅), was dismissed from his post. Yuxian (毓賢), who had been a staunch supporter of the Boxers while serving as the Governor of Shandong, was beheaded.

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mainsite_psd_baguo04_7

Concerning the killing of Sugiyama Akira, the secretary of the Japanese legation, and Baron Klemens von Ketteler, the German ambassador to China, the Boxer Protocol required China to dispatch envoys to the two countries to convey its apologies. Zaifeng (載灃), also known as Prince Chun (醇親王), and Natong (那桐), the Vice Minister of Revenue (戶部侍郎), were sent to Germany and Japan respectively as China’s representatives. On the left is the photo of the archway erected in Beijing to commemorate Klemens von Kettler; on the right is a photo of Zaifeng (figure seated in the centre) on a ship bound for Germany.

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mainsite_psd_baguo04_8

A photo of the main entrance to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs taken in the late Qing dynasty. The Boxer Protocol stipulated that the General Management of Affairs Concerning the Various Countries was to be transformed into a Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It would take precedence over the Ministry of Personnel, the Ministry of Revenue, the Ministry of Rites, the Ministry of War, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Works in the Qing government.

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mainsite_psd_baguo04_9

In January 1902, after the signing of the Boxer Protocol, and assured of retaining her power, Empress Dowager Cixi returned from Xi’an to Beijing with Emperor Guangxu. The photo shows the train they took and the full assembly of officials waiting at the Beijing station to welcome their return. After the Boxer Rebellion and the Eight-Nation Alliance, the Qing government finally recognised that it must undertake comprehensive reform to save itself.

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mainsite_psd_baguo04_10

In August 1900, as northern China was consumed by chaos, Sun Yat-sen took the opportunity to engineer the Huizhou Uprising (惠州起義) in Taiwan (台灣). Pictured is a photo of Sun in 1900 and the headquarter in Taipei (台北) where he masterminded the uprising. The Boxer Rebellion and the Eight-Nation Alliance opened the eyes of a growing number of Chinese people to the fact that the Qing rule would ultimately doom China. It prompted them to support anti-Qing revolutionary movements instead.

From the Boxers’ rise at the end of the 19th century, the movement has been alternately praised and denounced. How can it be reasonably assessed?

Domestic and foreign views about the Boxer Rebellion vary widely. Some commend it as a patriotic group committed to resisting foreign invasions. Others denounce it for submitting to the Qing government, or for its blind rejection of all things foreign, which led to the foreign powers’ intervention. However, for a reasonable assessment, one must consider the circumstances within and outside China during that time as well as the objective historical facts.

The Boxers adopted extreme populist measures in their campaign to expel the foreigners. Yet, despite the slogan of “destroy the foreigners”, their indiscriminate massacres ended up killing more innocent Chinese civilians than foreigners. They also blindly rejected advanced technology, as attested by the lines of a ballad: “[let’s] dismantle railways, pull out cables and poles, and wreck steamships with haste.” They harboured the dangerous superstition that flesh-and-blood bodies could withstand bullets and cannon fire simply by possessing certain talismans and chanting incantations. Ultimately, they were no more than the tools and scapegoats of the Qing government. Not only did the Boxers fail to help China progress, but they also led the country down a blind alley and cast the Chinese as ignorant savages in the eyes of foreigners.

To some extent, the rebellion hampered the foreign countries’ ploy to partition China. Nevertheless, history has shown that only by pursuing a rational and civilised course could a country become prosperous, strong, and safe from invasions and bring a wellspring of happiness to its people. In the last analysis, blind fanaticism and ignorance will only ever do harm rather than good to a country and its people.

Source of most photos used in this feature piece: Fotoe

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