1900 The Boxer Rebellion

exhibit section showing Boxer Rebellion items


The Boxer Rebellion was the by-product of Western trade, imperialism, and economic development in China during the final years of the 19th century. By August 1900, over 230 foreigners and thousands of Chinese Christians had been killed by Chinese terrorists, known as the "Boxers." Journalists captured the violence in drawings created for American newspapers.

The violence was located in northern China where European investors had built railroads and developed mining operations. To protect the Chinese empire from Western take-over, a secret society called the "Fists of Righteous Harmony" aimed to exterminate all "foreign devils." Thousands of Boxers targeted Christian missionaries in December 1899 and escalated their rampage in the spring of 1900. By June, the Boxers had been joined by elements of the Imperial army and boldly attacked foreign compounds within the cities of Tientsin and Peking.

Inside the walled compound in Tientsin was a young mining engineer named Herbert Hoover, who had settled in China with his wife, Lou. For the Hoovers, the siege was an occasionally harrowing but often adventurous experience because it was of short duration. The foreign relief troops reached Tientsin by the end of June and drove the Boxers off by mid-July.

Further inland, Peking was in greater peril. A force of 400 Marines and 100 volunteers defended 900 people in a space intended for 60 individuals. The siege lasted for 55 days with 66 casualties. When the Europeans finally emerged from the Peking compound, they found its streets littered with the bodies of Chinese Christians. No individuals were ever charged with the murders, but the Imperial government would be forced to pay for the destruction.

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--Artifacts on loan, courtesy of the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts as well as from the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts

The events of 1900 in China created an unusual opportunity for artists. Even though photography was coming of age, most newspapers and magazines still relied on drawings to depict and interpret contemporary events. Editors attempted to forecast the outbreak of meaningful events in far-off places, so that artist and reporters could be sent to these places in advance of breaking news.

This forecasting was not always possible, however. The Boxer Rebellion in China in June of 1900, for example, erupted so suddenly that most publications were unable to get artists to China in time for the fighting.
Because of this breaking news, some of the artwork for British and American magazines and newspapers was drawn by professional artists already in China (such as Sydney Adamson and Henry S. Landor) or by those who were able to get to China quickly (such as Fred Whiting and John Schonberg).

In other cases, military officers (such as Francis Gordon Poole) sketched, wrote, or even photographed what they were observing in the heat of battle, and found a ready market for their work in New York and London publications. Staff artists then developed these amateur sketches or eyewitness accounts into finished, publishable artwork. Additional artwork was prepared in studios in various western countries and in Japan by studio-based professional artists.



hat and slippers

Queue (pigtail, or Chinese man's braid) - of a man executed for murder and looting, the day after Webb Hayes arrived in Peking. Chinese men were forced to shave the front and top of their heads, and wear the rest of their hair in one long pigtail after the Manchus conquered China in the 1640s and founded the Ch'ing Dynasty. This was a Manchu tribal hairstyle, and was seen by the rulers of the new dynasty as Chinese acceptance of Manchu rule. By the time of the Boxer Rebellion, the queue had become a symbol of shame to the Boxers and Chinese nationalists in the late 19th century.
--Artifact on loan, courtesy of the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Fremont, Ohio

Coolie Hat (peasant's hat)
- woven bamboo, 1894. The term "coolie" comes from the Chinese "ku li" which means "bonded labor." In America this term was often used in a derogatory manner toward Chinese immigrants.
Chinese Slippers - woven straw, pre-1912.
--Artifacts on loan, courtesy of the Putnam Musem of History and Science, Davenport, Iowa



Imperial Soldier's Uniform - from the Ch'ing Dynasty, collected by the Hoovers.
Blue and White Porcelains - from the Hoover Collection of Ch'ing Dynasty porcelains (1644-1911).
--From the collection of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, West Branch, Iowa

Chinese Two-man gun, or Wall gun - presented to E. H. Conger, an Iowan who was the Minister to China from 1898-1905. This is a percussion, muzzle loading shoulder weapon, requiring two men to hold and fire. Contains four brass barrel bands, full wooden stock, brass furniture, and fluted muzzle.
Beheading Sword - hand-made. Two-handed with a wooden handle and simple pommel and iron hand guard. Single edged blade is wide and about 3 feet long with a slight false edge at the tip. Reportedly used during the Boxer Rebellion.
--Artifact on loan from the State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines, Iowa



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