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My new book, The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China, came out today.

Makes a great present for any occasion.


An interview with moi is in this month’s Military History magazine. Introductory paragraph:

Northern China in the summer of 1900 was the scene of the Boxer Rebellion, one of the most spontaneous, disorganized, violent and downright peculiar uprisings of that or any other century. Vividly described and detailed by Cornell University historian David J. Silbey in his new book, The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China, the rebellion was at once a peasants’ insurgency, an attack on modernism, a clash of cultures and a game changer in the nascent international struggle for power in the Pacific in the new century.

With pictures!

Arrived in the mail today:


[First post here]

But if laptops replaced paper as the main way of getting notes down, the difference in the actual physical process of research was not that much altered. Go to the archive, order the sources you needed, and spend days or weeks or months taking notes on them. Copying costs at most archives were much too high to consider wholesale reproduction, and so note-taking depended on how fast you could type. Portable scanners did not really work; either one had to put the document face down on the scanner or drag the scanner along the document. Neither of those things pleased most archivists. In addition, the scanners were slow and did not offer much storage. Thus, note taking remained resolutely textual, and resulted in the production of lots and lots of MS Word documents with notes on specific sources.Notetakingwindows

That changed dramatically with the advent of digital cameras with high resolution, storage, and battery life. Suddenly, I could buy, relatively cheaply, a lightweight camera able to take hundreds of shots at a resolution that, properly framed, could be read with relative ease on a monitor back home. This advance came too late for A War of Frontier and Empire, but I decided to convert entirely over to using a digital camera for The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China, 1900. This was encouraged by the birth of my daughter Madeline, whose arrival meant that long research trips, while restful, did not contribute to domestic harmony.

Powershot sd800 frontBut what kind of camera? I thought about getting a DSLR, but quickly discarded the idea. This was going to be an experiment, and paying over a thousand dollars for a camera to do it seemed excessive. Instead, I decided on a smaller camera, a “point and shoot.” After a fair amount of Internet research, I settled on the Canon SD800. It got good reviews, took a detailed picture (without being too large), and was reasonably priced. I equipped it with the largest memory card I could (512 MB at first; now up to 4 GB, which translates to about 3000 pictures), and set off.

From the first moment in the archive, I was ecstatic. Read the rest of this entry »

One of the most fascinating parts of researching the Boxer Rebellion was the discovery of just how obstreperous ordinary Chinese can be. “Bandit season” (the bandit groups usually included lots of ordinary folks) was well known, so much that in 1932 an English minister prayed “for our preservation during the approaching bandit season, which opens like grouse-shooting about the middle of August, when the millet (perfect cover for bandits) is full grown.”

The pugnacity continues:

Reached by phone on Wednesday, residents said throngs of people were staging noisy rallies by day outside Wukan’s village hall, while young men with walkie-talkies employed tree limbs to obstruct roads leading to the town. Not far away, heavily armed riot police were maintaining their own roadblocks. The siege has prevented deliveries from reaching the town of 20,000, but residents said they had no problem receiving food from adjoining villages.

Occupy Wukan?

H72273kIt’s December 7th, the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Tomorrow will be the 70th anniversary of FDR’s speech to Congress, in which the President said:

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

It is a “date which will live in infamy” as Roosevelt said, but not much longer in living memory:

The 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack will be the last one marked by the survivors’ association. With a concession to the reality of time — of age, of deteriorating health and death — the association will disband on Dec. 31…Harry R. Kerr, the director of the Southeast chapter, said there weren’t enough survivors left to keep the organization running. “We just ran out of gas, that’s what it amounted to,” he said from his home in Atlanta, after deciding not to come this year. “We felt we ran a good course for 70 years. Fought a good fight. We have no place to recruit people anymore: Dec. 7 only happened on one day in 1941.”

This is not unusual: wars, spectacular events, and catastrophes bring the survivors together to bond, frequently in organizations devoted to the memory of the event. Those survivors have finite lifespans, however, and when they pass, so too do the organizations. The Boxer Rebellion (obligatory self-aggrandizement) witnessed the creation of the Military Order of the Dragon, an association of those veterans–from a range of western countries–who had fought in China in 1900. They had reunions and a newsletter throughout the first half of the 20th century. The order published a book in 1912. But by the 1950s, the membership was dying off, and the newsletter put out the following in 1952:

Activity…has taken a drop the past few years. The average age of Mandarins [the title they gave veterans] is between 75-78 years….Before long, though, the Hereditary ‘Chinos’–sons, daughters, and down the line–will have to take over.[1]

They didn’t, not having the connection to the events that their spouses and parents did. Thus, too, with the Pearl Harbor veterans, and so December 7th, its memories fading, is handed finally over to history for care and safekeeping.

[A good article on a similar theme, sent in by my co-blogger Eric Rauchway, who must now recuse himself from discussing the UC-Davis pepper spray incident]

[1] Military History Institute, Spanish American War Veterans Survey 42/12, McKinney, Lewis.

9780809094776 jpgIn the spring and summer of 1900, bands of ordinary Chinese began to spread across northern China, protesting against and attacking the representatives of an imperial world that was remaking their country in the name of modernity and progress. The so-called “Boxers” were mostly leaderless and connected only by their shared desire to resist and rebel.

The empires fought back. Caught in the middle was the tottering Qing Dynasty of China, led uneasily by the Empress Dowager Cixi, who had dominated Chinese politics for half a century. Watching was the rest of the world, caught by the daily reports from journalists embedded with the western forces.

I wrote a book about that summer of 1900. Writing a book takes a while. There are numerous way stations. There’s the research and the writing, the research that results from the writing, the rewriting, the editing, the rewriting that results from the editing, and the re-editing. For most of that time, the project is essentially mine and mine alone, though I did share some of that process on this blog. Only towards the end of the project do I turn things over, to the editors, to the publisher, to Amazon, to the reviewers, and, most importantly, to the public. They make of the book what they can, what they want to, and what they will. By that final stage, it is more the reader’s book than mine.

So, I am now in that latter stage. The book–The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China— comes out in March of next year, but, with all the oddities of timing in the publishing world, the first review has already arrived, from Publishers Weekly:

Silbey’s concise, lively account of an early experiment in multilateral intervention analyzes the imperialist motivations that led a mixed army of eight Western nations into a brief but bloody military expedition to suppress the Boxer movement, which spread across the plains of northern China in 1900, lashing out at the foreign powers that had carved the country into spheres of influence as the Qing dynasty wheezed toward its decline

I like Publishers Weekly.

ChineseTacoma.JPG.jpegAs a followup to these posts (1, 2), and in honor of The West Wing, I note that Tacoma, Washington, was the recipient not only of electricity from the United States Navy, but, 45 years earlier, occupation from the United States Army.

In the winter of 1885, anti-Chinese sentiment swept the west coast. In Tacoma (and elsewhere) that sentiment took the form of a pogrom against the city’s ethnic Chinese residents, who were summarily and violently evicted from Tacoma in the first week of November:

At nine o’clock on the morning of November 3, 1885, steam whistles blew at the foundries and mills across Tacoma, to announce the start of the purge of all the Chinese people from the town. Saloons closed and police stood by as five hundred men, branding clubs and pistols, went from house to house in the downtown Chinese quarter and through the Chinese tenements along the city’s wharf. Sensing the storm ahead, earlier in the week, about five hundred Chinese people had fled from
Tacoma. Now the rest were given four hours to be ready to leave. They desperately stuffed years of life into sacks, shawls, and baskets hung from shoulder poles–bedding clothing, pots, some food. At midday, the mob began to drag Chinese laborers from their homes, pillage their laundries, and thrown their furniture into the streets….The mob marched the Chinese through heavy rain to a muddy railroad crossing nine miles from town. [3]

Some were able to pay passage on the next passenger train that came through; some hitched on freight trains; some struggled on foot to Portland.

U.S. Army troops were sent to restore order, which, the New York Times announced, had quieted the city:

The rabid, riotous anti-Chinese talk ceased with the arrival of the troops. Those who had so freely indulged in this chatter, who had discoursed so pathetically on this havoc created by the dreadful Chinaman and the danger of utter extinction to the American citizen by his presence, all at once became wonderfully scarce. The cry “The Chinese must go” was suddenly hushed, and the number of truly good and law-abiding citizens became unusually large.[4]

The unit was the 14th (U.S.) Infantry Regiment, who would be fighting Chinese, rather than protecting them, fifteen years later. [5].

(There’s a map of the mob’s route here. Warning: PDF!)

The effects of the crisis in China in 1900 were not confined to China, obviously. They could reach as far down as the streets of New York, and as deep as the children of that city:

Nicholas Ageno, an Italian boy of twelve years, living with his parents at 77 Oliver Street, and who the police say is leader of a band of boys, last night summoned his followers and set out to look for Boxers. As darkness fell over the city they reached Chatham Square. On Sunday evening Chinamen from all parts of the city and round about congregate at Chinatown. Young Gee, an inoffensive Chinaman who conducts a laundry at 221 East Broadway, came walking across the square toward Pell Street. The boys espied him and advanced to the attack with a well-directed volley of stones, dirt, and other missiles. Gee started for Chinatown on a run, but the boys cut off his retreat, crowded about him, tore his blouse, and otherwise ill-treated him. Patrolman Rafsky of the Oak Street Station went to the Chinaman’s rescue on a double quick. The boys fled, and the policeman when he arrived on the scene, found only a very dilapidated and thoroughly scared Chinaman with his blouse torn and mud stained, and part of his queue missing. He was not badly hurt, but he declared that the policeman probably had saved his life. The patrolman next directed his attention to the assailants, and after an exciting chase captured Nicholas Ageno, who was placed under arrest and locked up in the Oak Street Station on the complaint of Young Gee.

Let’s see how far we can track that, using Google Street View… Read the rest of this entry »

times20July.jpgFurther information on the (mythical) slaughter of the westerners in Beijing appeared in the New York Times of July 20th. The news was carried, according to the Times by a Chinese merchant lately arrived in Shanghai, who was interviewed by a reporter from the London Daily Express. The details were gruesome:

A Chinese merchant who has just arrived from Peking gives horrible details of the massacre. He says he saw European women hauled into the street by shrieking Boxers, who stripped them and hacked them to pieces. Their dissevered limbs were tossed to the crowd and carried off with howls of triumph. Some were already dead when the massacre began, having been shot by foreign civilians. The merchant says he saw Chinese soldiers carrying the bodies of white children aloft on their spears, while their companions shot at the bodies. He gives other details too horrible to be particularized here. It seems that the Boxer leaders had organized a plan, including the offering of rewards and rich loot, for the annihilation of Europeans throughout China, and that Prince Tuan’s Generals have been emphasizing the opportunity the soldiers have of seizing the bodies of white women. According to The Daily Telegraph’s St. Petersburg correspondent, the Russian Government is in possession of definite news that all the foreigners in Peking were massacred on July 15. [1]

There are a number of fascinating elements to all this. First, a similar article published the next day on a massacre of missionaries and Chinese Christians and also reported through Shanghai was notable for being much less detailed than any of the stories on the purported slaughter at Beijing It was notable as well, however, for actually having been true.[2] The oddity of the event with more detail being the fake one is striking. Second, the Times was again putting in sentences of confirmation, as it had in its previous reports. This time it was the St. Petersburg correspondent of the Daily Express who confirmed that the Russian government had “definite news” about the massacre.

Read the rest of this entry »

This was the week that the westerners besieged in the embassies in Beijing died. They would be reborn again quite quickly, but for several days in the middle of July the world was firmly convinced that they had all been slaughtered. According to the New York Times of July 13th, working off a report by the Daily Mail of London, the Chinese Army had mounted a final assault on the legations in Beijing on July 6th, backed by heavy artillery:

“The two remaining legations, the British and Russian, were attacked in force on the evening of July 6, Prince Tuan being in command. The attackers were divided. Prince Tuan commanded the center, the right wing was led by Prince Tsai-Yin and the left by Prince Yin-Lin. The reserves were under Prince Tsin-Yu.

The attack commenced with artillery fighting, which was severe, and lasted until 7 o’clock in the morning, by which time both legations were destroyed and all the foreigners were dead, while the streets around the legations were full of the dead bodies of both foreigners and Chinese. Two foreigners are said to have escaped through the gates, one with a sword wound in his head” [1]

The story, the Times says, came from the Daily Mail’s Shanghai correspondent and “emanat[ed] from Chinese official sources.” [2] It is interesting to note that the news came from a city nearly 800 miles from Beijing, rather than the capital itself, or any of the closer ports. In addition, the copious detail is fascinating: the specifics of the commanders, the time of the battle’s end, the foreigner wounded by a sword in the head.

This news story was published the same day as another bit of “fatal news”: the price of tea was rising “as a result of the troubles in China.” Such an occurrence would cause “the domestic woes of Americans…to be increased a hundred-fold. For is it not known of all men that the lady who rules in the kitchen will not stay in a house where she cannot have plenty of tea?” [3] And so slaughter and tea came together in a way they had not, perhaps, since the American revolution.

all hope lost.jpg
The next day, the news was worse, or so it seemed, kind of. A giant headline announced “ALL HOPE LOST FOR PEKING FOREIGNERS” and was sub-headed “Even State Department Now Believes They Are Dead.” After these dramatic headlines, with the surety of disaster and tragedy, the story itself was a bit of a let down. “Positive information that the foreigners in Peking have been murdered,” the piece led off, “is still not forthcoming, but each addition report received seems to make their fate more certain.” We don’t know anything new, the Times seemed to be saying, but we’ve lost all hope. So has the State Department: “Even the State Department at Washington, which up to now has regarded the dispatches about the tragedy in the capital as of doubtful veracity, has given up hope for the Europeans and Americans there.” The vagueness of this is annoying. Did someone from the State Department say something? Could you give a specific name? And why didn’t yesterday’s article talk about the State Department’s doubts?

Read the rest of this entry »

seymour2.jpgJournalism is famously the “first rough draft of history” and today I want to look for a moment at what kind of draft it is. To do so, I’ve taken a relatively short article from the New York Times of June 30, 1900, and read it closely. How well does an article written in the heat of the moment stand up for the long term?

The short answer: not well. The long answer, however, is that it is interesting to analyze how the article was constructed, what agendas were served, and where inaccurate or shaded information served some purpose other than simply reporting. As a factual account of events prior to June 30, 1900, the article failed. As a source for a history of that period, the article seems to me eminently useful.

Before we explore those answers further, let me lay out a bit of the background to the article. Since early June, 1900, the crisis in China had grown enormously. Early in the month, the western powers sent several hundred guards–soldiers, marines, and sailors–up to the foreign embassies in Beijing to protect them from the Boxers. Within a few days of that arrival, the train and telegraph lines from Beijing were cut, and almost all communication with the capital was lost. The naval forces assembled off the coast at Dagu in the Yellow Sea put together a scratch force of whatever fighting men they had available, led by Admiral Edward Seymour took the train north from Tianjin, close to Dagu, in hopes of being able to repair breaks in the line and make it quickly to Beijing. They failed, and had to fight their way back to Tianjin, reaching it in late June.

Read the rest of this entry »

Things began to heat up in China in late May, early June. What had been hints and ominous intimations were now transformed into a full-blown crisis. The “Boxers”–in earlier stories surrounded by quotes and explanation–became over the course of the month simply the Boxers, a name every reader should have, by then, known. Thus, on May 25th, the Times wrote “The United States Government has taken a hand in the suppression of the “Boxers,” the famous Chinese secret society which is engaged in the massacre of native Christians in China, and to which is attributed numberless outrages upon the foreign missionaries.” By June 6, the Times wrote “The murder of Mr. Norman, the missionary, was undoubtedly due to the complicity of the Chinese Government in the disturbances caused by the Boxers.” The Boxers had become part of the common parlance of educated readers and no longer required explanation.

Both China and the Boxers became front-page news in those late spring weeks. And now, they were threatening not merely missionaries or native Christians, but Beijing itself. The Chinese Army was helpless to deal with them:

The rebellion continues to grow in intensity, and the gravest fears are entertained of its ultimate extent. The foreign envoys at Peking, fearing a massacre within the capital, have decided to bring up the guards of the legations. The rebels are now massing outside of Peking, and their numbers are reported to be constantly augmenting. Fresh contingents of armed malcontents are coming up almost hourly from the north. The imperial troops who were sent to disperse the rebels found themselves hopelessly outnumbered. Several hundreds were killed, and two guns and many rifles were captured, after which the greater part of the remaining troops went over to the rebels. They are now marching side by side [1]

By nearing Beijing, of course, the Boxers neared the representatives of the foreign nations, the correspondents reporting on China, and the telegraph lines that connected China to the outside world. The threat, thus, became much more immediate and personalized for each country and the delay in reporting events dropped as well. The number of articles concerning China more than doubled in the month compared to the previous month’s total.

Who was responsible for the crisis? There seemed a notable reluctance simply to believe that this was a popular uprising. Someone more important had to be at fault. The most obvious guilty party was the Imperial Throne. If they could not control the Boxers immediately, then the Chinese government had little claim to be such: “A Government which cannot protect foreigners at its own capital, when these foreigners are there by its invitation or its permission, is not a Government which it is any longer possible for its foreign friends to uphold.” [2]

Or could it be that the government was actually supporting the Boxers? The Times found that idea plausible as well. The actions taken by the throne to deal with the movement were fake. They were “pretended mission[s]” deceptions intended to fool the western powers. The tortured logic of the paper was that the throne must have the power to suppress the Boxers. That the Dowager Empress did not was thus a sign that she, in fact, supported them: “the throne and Government have been actuated by secret sympathy with the Boxer movement, which the Government has ample power to suppress if it so desires.” [3]

Read the rest of this entry »

Brett Holman, whose series post-blogging the Sudeten Crisis inspired my Boxer Uprising Day to Day, is now starting to work his way through the “phantom airship wave” in 1909 Britain:

It’s 90 years since the phantom airship wave of 1909, when mysterious aerial visitors appeared in the night skies over Britain. Or at least, stories about mysterious aerial visitors filled the newspapers of Britain. It’s hard to tell from this distance: the only evidence we have about the scareships are the press reports, which could be a problem if you are interested in a possible underlying reality. But then again, since the number of (alleged) phantom airship witnesses is relatively small, the press was the only way most people would have learned that their sky was being invaded by Zeppelins every night. So for them as for us, the stories are the event itself.

If it lives up to his previous work, it’ll be well worth following.

A seemingly slow month in China, at least as the New York Times reported it. Events from China were less compelling to the paper than events at which people spoke about China. The Boxers were still active, attacking Chinese Catholics southwest of Tianjin, and mounting an attack on both British and Russian units during the period. But the Times wasn’t really interested. The first news it related in a brief 71 word story on 23 April, only to retract it on 26 April as “quite erroneous.” Instead, the paper reported “Some Boxers attacked a village occupied bv a number of Catholics, but were driven off.” The lack of interest of “some boxers” is palpable. [1] The attack on the Russians and British were not seen as part of a larger uprising, but official conniving. “The disturbances are due to Chinese officials working on the credulity of the natives.” [2] The Times was curiously disconnected from this as well, giving it 87 words and barely any attention. They paid as much attention to the story of the jailed Chinese man who declared he was the Emperor:


A Chinaman In Prison Declares He Is
Ruler of the Nation.

VICTORIA, B. C, April 15.—The steamer Rio Jun Maru, which arrived here yesterday from the Orient, brings a strangre story of a Chinaman who was arrested at Wuchang. After lying in jail and being beaten he proclaimed himself to be the Emperor. He claimed he had escaped from the palace, where he had been imprisoned by the Empress Dowager, and had since been traveling incognito. He possesses documents purporting to bear the seal of the Court of Peking identifying him as the Emperor. [3]

Note that the story seemed simply to be the excited tale of someone coming off a steamer in Canada, drunk or sober, and yet the newspaper thought it worthy of publication.
Read the rest of this entry »

S.M.W. Brooks in
upper right hand corner

The month of April, 1900, started off on a hopeful note. “The Chinese Government,” the Times announced, “has settled the controversy arising out of the murder, December 31 last, of the Rev. Mr. Brooks of the Church Missionary Society on the following terms: Two of the murderers will be beheaded, one imprisoned for life, one for ten years, another for two years, a memorial chapel will be built upon the site of the murder, and a tablet will be placed in Canterbury, England, at the expense of the Chinese Government.” The murder, the Times reminded its readers, had been committed by “the seditious society known as ‘Boxers,’ who had been very active in destroying villages and slaughtering native Christians.” [1] The Great Powers were applying pressure to the Chinese directly:

The American, British, German, and French Ministers have sent a joint note to the Chinese Foreign Office demanding the total suppression of the Society of Boxers within two months, and announcing that, otherwise, the powers mentioned ‘will land troops and march into the interior northern provinces, Shan-Tung and Chi-Li, in order to secure the safety of foreigners. [2]

At the same time, the situation remained puzzling. There were complaints on April 5th that the Zongli Yamen (the offices designated to deal directly with foreigners) were being recalcitrant, and there was an outbreak of journalistic anthropologizing, a common reaction in these situations. The Times, looking for answers, found them in its analysis of Chinese society. There was “thick description” that would have done Clifford Geertz proud:

The audience of foreign ministers by the Chinese Minister, the Empress Dowager, and the heir apparent, on March 5, was a disgraceful farce. According to a Peking dispatch the Ministers were shabbily treated and given to understand they were not wanted. The Emperor spoke but one word. That was when he drew out of his sleeve the reply to the Ministers con- gratulations and handed it to Prince Cheng. He appeared stooping and feeble, glancing furtively along the line of visitors as if sadly hoping to see the face of some friend. His aunt, the Dowager Empress, observed every movement through cautiously lifted curtains. The audience was over in ten minutes, when, amid the usual celestial prayer, the. Ambassadors and Ministers were escorted to their chairs. Several of those dignitaries knew too little of palace etiquette to refrain from turning their backs upon the Emperor. The Emperor looked very pale, and is believed to be slowly dying, of poison. Reports say the coronation robes for the new Emperor have been ordered, and that Kwang Hsu’s coffin has been sent for as is customary when an Emperor reaches the age of thirty years. [3]

Like a lot of amateur anthropologizing, the details overwhelm the narrative. The Emperor is being poisoned! His coffin has been sent for! But that’s customary when an Emperor turns thirty! The contradictory flow gives one the sense of a reporter piling things up in his article haphazardly in hopes that a structure will emerge.

Read the rest of this entry »

From the “Official Account of the Military Operations in China, 1900-1901” (PRO WO 33/284) compiled by Major E.W.M. Norie, Middlesex Regiment, page 113:

Between the 21st and 23rd July eleven English and American members of the China Inland Mission were murdered at Ch’u-chou by the local train-bands, which had been organized to defend the town against a rising of the secret society of Vegetarians.

Italics original.

Suddenly, after only sporadic mention of the Boxers in previous months (or “Bozers” as one article called them) the last week in March saw the western world–at least as far as the New York Times saw it–awaken, sort of, to the increasing crisis in China. But it was a crisis that the Times did not seem to know how to handle. They could not conceive, I think, of a genuine popular uprising. So it had to be be a plot of the Empress Dowager Cixi, “an old lady not only of singular malignity but of singular power.” [1] She was encouraging it. She was allowing it to happen. She could not “sufficiently reward the officials who exhibit marked hostility to everything not Chinese.” TheTimes continued:

Hen-Tung, probably the most bitterly anti-foreign official of the empire, has been decorated with the three-eyed peacock feather, which had not been conferred for eighty years; the notorious Li-Peng-Hing, who was dismissed from the Governorship of Shan-Tung on German demand, has been advanced to the first rank, and the former Governor Yuh-Sien of Shang-Tung has been appointed Governor of the Shan-Si district, a snub to the powers interested, and likely to prejudice British interests in the province, as the powers believe his maladministration is the cause of the present state of affairs in Shan-Tung.[2]

Any Western actions in China, commercial or political, would have to deal with this “Tammany at Peking.” [3]

USS Wheeling

The American government responded to the situation by sending a warship from the Philippines to the northern coast of China. The gunboat Wheeling (which, at her launch, had been called by the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, “A TRIM CRAFT Is the Dapper Little Gunboat “Wheeling.” AND SHE’S A SAUCY THING TOO, With Her Up-to-Date Armament of Long-Fire Rifle Guns.” [4]) would take up stations off the Dagu forts there. But what could it do?

The State Department is in a quandary to devise means to render effective protection to the American missionaries at Shan-Tung. The difficulty lies in the fact that the missionaries have in most cases gone as far as two hundred miles inland, beyond reach of any aid that can be extended from a warship.

Unfortunately, the Wheeling did not carry any ninjas Iron Fists with flaming hands hands alit with chi’i energy (see comments for nerd orgy of corrections on previous sentence), Read the rest of this entry »

The first half of March witnessed three themes mingling in the New York Times coverage of China. First was the “Open Door” policy of Secretary of State John Hay, an attempt to leverage open the Chinese markets for American manufacturers.

Secretary of State John Hay

Second was the continuing imperial rivalries over China itself, most particularly that of Russia and Japan. Third was the growing perception that the Dowager Empress of China was resolutely anti-foreign and trying to do everything she could to break such influence in China. In this latter, the Boxers–or “Bozers” as one unfortunate typo declared in mid-March–were seen as one part of her anti-foreign effort. [1]

Hay’s policy seemed to be on the brink of global adoption, or so the President of the University of California, Benjamin Ide Wheeler (a Cornellian), said in a speech in San Francisco on March 11, 1900:

In the course of the week, Secretary of State Hay will announce to the people a victory, not of war–call it of diplomacy, if you please–in that the ports of China will be opened to the commerce of the world. He has reached an understanding with Great Britain, France, Russia, and Germany, which does away with territorial spheres of influence. According to the terms of the agreement, there will be no longer any spheres of influence in the Flowery Kingdom….The idea is to make the ports free to the world’s commerce and give all nations a free hand in exploiting their markets. [2]

It should be noted, of course, that the “open door” did not refer to immigration, where the Chinese Exclusion Act (coming up for renewal in 1902) restricted the number of Chinese who could enter the United States. Read the rest of this entry »

More news from China over the ten days from February 15 to February 25, 1900. The most aggressive German missionary to China, Bishop Johnan von Anzer, returned to Europe to meet with the heads of state, including the Pope. His aim, as the Times explained, was to “induce all the European Governments interested to join in an attempt to convince the Peking Government of the necessity of suppressing all combinations and demonstrations against foreigners, and, if necessary to enforce this jointly….” At the end of the article came a brief line that illustrated the closeness between missionary activities and state imperialism, as well as serving as a nifty shot across the bow of the Catholic Church. “Emperor William,” the Times intoned (Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany), “attaches great importance to Bishop von Anzer’s counsels.” [1]

Meanwhile, the Times did not mention the Boxers. Other secret societies, however, were causing a ruckus, one which the British Navy had to deal with: “In the early part of last month, the crew of a steam launch from the British gunboat Tweed…had a lively fight with pirates, who are known as the ‘Order of the Red Flag.'” [2] And here I thought piracy was a modern problem? The Times did pause to print a sociological explanation of Chinese Secret Societies, however. Such societies, the Times announced, were similar to American unions or clubs.

bruce lee, enter the dragon
Member of Secret Society
After Fight

“Many are trade unions as simple as those which prevail in this country.” The Times continued “in their origins, these societies were laudable…and then their degeneration–inevitable in any country, but how much more so in China?–set in.” The story warned, darkly, that “wherever the Chinese go they take their secret societies with them. And it may be taken as a rule that every Chinaman belongs to one of them. The most innocent and well-meaning may be a member of one of the most criminal.” More, those secret societies and their members indulge in mysterious and violent practices: “Sometimes these societies get up fights, when at the signal–the beating of a gong in a special manner–peaceful citizens will be seen to rush from their shops, armed with murderous-looking tridents, swords, spears…and other instruments of offense that one might never have suspected they possessed.”[3]

Finally, Wu Tingfang’s public relations tour of the United States continued apace. Read the rest of this entry »

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