The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China

Written by David J. Silbey
Review by Lucille Cormier

They called it the “Great Game,” the game played by imperialist nations competing for lucrative trade and commercial privileges in less developed nations. In the late 19th century the prize was China. At the time, England, Russia, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, and the United States had established enclaves there whose missions were not, however, solely commercial but to “shepherd the more benighted and uncivilized folks into the light of a Christian and scientific world.” By 1900 many Chinese had had enough of foreign customs and foreign meddling in their internal affairs. The slogan, “Support the Qing, exterminate the foreigners” became the cry of hundreds of thousands of Chinese.

A mystical group of patriots, the so-called “Boxers,” initiated hostilities against foreigners who then appealed to their home governments for protection. Protection came in the form of a military invasion that included attacking Chinese forts and destroying and plundering villages on the march to Tianjin and eventually to Beijing itself. Though Imperial forces joined the Boxers to arrest the foreign “rescue mission” the Chinese were no match for imperialist military strength. Beijing fell after two months of fighting, to be plundered and decimated.

David Silbey provides a meticulously researched and candid description of the Chinese resistance. His detailed and balanced account of this complex conflict is highly readable. Recommended to layperson and scholar alike.