The Boxer Rebellion
The Dramatic Story of China's War on Foreigners That Shook the World in the Summer of 1900
By Diana Preston
Walker & Company, Hardcover, 9780802713612, 464pp.
Publication Date: June 1, 2000
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In the final years of the 19th century, China was in grave danger of becoming a colony of the West. While various powers bickered over how to slice the pie, their very presence in China, like their new technologies and Christian missions, undermined the people's traditional ways. A strange, reactionary movement--mystical, nationalistic and virulently anti Christian--began to spread like wildfire among the Chinese peasants. The contemptuous foreigners, snickering at their martial-arts routines, nicknamed them "The Boxers." Few could imagine that the Boxers would receive backing from China's Empress Dowager, herself eager for a showdown with the foreigners, and would soon terrorize them and the world.
"The Boxer Rebellion" is a panoramic chronicle of the uprising and ensuing two-month siege of the 11 foreign ministries in Peking (now Beijing), and of the foreign community in Tientsin (now Tianjin) during the summer of 1900--an event whose repercussions have echoed throughout the intervening century. It left tens of thousands of Chinese dead, precipitated the end of dynastic rule in China, and has tainted China's relationship with the wider world to this day. It is also a richly human story.
Relying on the diaries, letters, and memoirs of the defenders, and on her own extensive research from both Chinese and western perspectives, Diana Preston portrays the dramatic human experience of the Boxer rising: in the diplomatic district of Peking, cut off from the outside world during the desperate weeks of the siege; behind the high, byzantine walls of Peking's Inner City, where decisions were made that forever changed Chinese society; among the allied relief forces struggling to lift the siege; in the aftermath when the great city was savagely looted and despoiled. Here is young Herbert Hoover, then a mining engineer, patrolling the barricades of Tientsin at night on bicycle; British admiral Sir Edward Seymour, whose aborted rescue mission became itself a survival story; Polly Condit Smith, the observant young Boston guest of American first secretary Herbert Squiers, who was besieged in Peking; the French Bishop Auguste Favier, whose successful defense of Peking's Peitang Cathedral was nothing short of a Christian miracle; and Tzu Hsi, the fabled Empress Dowager who had held power for nearly forty years, fighting to preserve her own throne and a dynastic way of life that had lasted for centuries.
Placing readers squarely in the middle of events as they unfolded, Diana Preston proves herself a master of narrative history, a writer who brings the past alive with style and freshness. Offering a view through the lens of the rapid changes in society and culture at the time, "The Boxer Rebellion "broadens our knowledge of the 20th century.
"An enthralling history." –The New Yorker
"Diana Preston succeeds in conveying both the human drama of the besieged community of foreigners and their terrified Christian converts and the effect of the rebellion on the larger national drama of 20th-century China…a highly readable history." –Wall Street Journal