June 21st in German History: China Declares War on Germany and other European Nations in the Boxer Rebellion

Troops of the Eight nations alliance 1900.jpg
Forces of the Eight Nation Alliance.

The 19th century saw a series of humiliations for China, then under the control of the Qing Empire. Britain first defeated China in the two Opium Wars, taking islands and ports and forcing concessions on China. Other nations soon followed suit, fighting more wars and taking more port cities from China. The culmination of Western interference in China was the Boxer Rebellion, in which forces of eight nations put down an uprising of religious zealots known as the Boxers for their use of Chinese boxing rituals.

Baron von Ketteler. The German Imperial Envoy Killed by a Chinese Captain.

The final years of the 19th century saw the Chinese government lose authority over its own country. The Chinese people were angered by foreign encroachment, and looked to strengthen China and push Western powers out. Following severe drought and crop failure, a series of murders and attacks on Western missionaries and officials culminated in the Boxers, a religious militia that believed themselves impervious to Western weapons, marched on Beijing. Eight nations- Germany, Austria-Hungary, Britain, France, Japan, the United States, Italy, and Russia- sent troops to form expeditions to relieve the Legation Quarter, where Christians and missionaries had fled. The siege of the Legations began after the German Imperial Envoy was killed while seeking to voice his complaints to the Empress Dowager Cixi. Cixi decided to support the Boxers after learning of the expedition into Chinese territory, declaring war on the Eight nations on June 21st, 1900. The first expedition, the Seymour Expedition, was defeated by the Chinese Army, the Boxers fighting with great courage and stubbornness and vastly outnumbering the 2,000 men sent. The second expedition, the Gaslee Expedition, of 18,000 men, succeeded in relieving Beijing. The European forces were armed with machine guns and bolt-action rifles which far outmatched the muskets and swords the Boxers used. The expedition plundered Beijing and forced Cixi to surrender.

After the surrender of the Qing government, Pro-Boxer Chinese officials were executed and the government was forced to pay the equivalent of $10 billion in silver. Major Chinese railroads and ports were occupied by European troops. However, the consequences of the Boxer Rebellion were far greater than the indemnity or the loss of a few rail junctions. The failure of the rebellion increased revolutionary sentiment, especially in Southern China. Further, it forced the government to rely on European powers to run its economy and help prevent rebellion, as much of the Qing military was destroyed. The Boxer Rebellion led to the near-total submission of China to outside powers, and was the low point for the center of humiliation.

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