War in China: the Ravishment of the North (2/3)

This is the second part of the article “War in China.”
If you haven’t read the first one, please do so.
You can click here to get to part 1.
Click here to access the appendix.


Today is January 15th and marks the day that the 12 demands of 11 Imperialist nations were officially accepted by the Empire of China as Yikuang and Li Hongzhang sign the document, de-facto ending the war between China and the Eight Nations. This document formed the basis of what would later be stipulated exactly in the Boxer Protocol, which was signed in September 1901. This article will continue to elaborate in more detail on the proceedings of the Boxer War and attempt to shed light upon the topic of human suffering in this tragic episode of human history.

hiyooxungga gingguji iletu hvwangheo
Her Imperial Majesty Xingzhen of the Yehe Nara clan, a.k.a. Empress Dowager Cixi.

This article is much longer than my usual articles. Split it up in parts, read it how you like, I trust the clickable contents menu here will be of some assistance.

3. The Battle for Tianjin

The taking of Tianjin was a violent affair. Tianjin is a coastal city that, once taken, serves as a vital staging point which provides a direct connection to Beijing and the rest of Northern China. Simultaneous to the Tianjin-Beijing Campaign, the Russians were also invading Manchuria (read about the Manchurian Campaign here).

A depiction of Tianjin. The stone walls in the centre, built in 1415, formed the walled city of Tianjin. The mud wall on the outskirts protected the suburbs from assault.

There were foreign troops in China before any real hostilities commenced. The Opium Wars granted England and France concessions in Tianjin, which were therefore garrisoned beforehand. Tianjin, at this point in time, was divided into two parts, the historical walled city, which was governed by the Chinese Empire with a million Chinese inhabitants and the foreign concession area which was inhabited by 700 foreign merchants and missionaries with about 10,000 Chinese workers. When the foreign legations were besieged by the boxers, the foreign powers reacted by dispatching a portion of the Tianjin garrison to relieve Beijing. This force of roughly 2000 men, led by Admiral Sir Michael Seymour, left for Beijing on the 10th of June. On the 16th however, it became clear that he would not be able to proceed much further than the city of Langfang due to being blocked and harassed by Chinese defenders. On the 18th, Seymour clashed against the Gansu Braves, the Muslim-Chinese troops led by Dong Fuxiang. Clearly, more men were needed to breach Beijing to reach the foreign legations, reinforcements needed to come from overseas.

The First Shots: Battle of the Dagu Forts

This section draws from Xiang Lanxin’s chapter “Dagu: The Undeclared War,” Myakishev’s “The Capture of the Taku Fort” and Peter Fleming’s The Siege at Peking.

The entrance of China, however, was guarded by the heavily reinforced Dagu forts. These forts were built in the 16th century against Japanese Wako pirates, but were expanded, redesigned and modernised in response to the loss of the First Opium War in order to defend against modern pirates in the form of the Imperialist powers. The forts were state-of-the-art, armed with rapid firing Krupp guns and built with the latest German technology. 3,000 of China’s finest soldiers were garrisoned there. The forts were widely considered impregnable (Xiang 283). So, in order to land more troops in China, and to ensure Seymour’s foray to Beijing would not be cut off, it would be necessary for the invading navies to take control of the forts, but it would not be an easy task.

At 9 o’clock in the evening on the 16th of June, the invading navies issued an ultimatum to surrender the forts or be attacked directly to the commander of the Dagu forts, Luo Rongguang (罗荣光). General Luo Rongguang tried to reason with the Russian Lieutenant Bakhmetieff, who delivered the ultimatum, and told him he would not be able to come up with an answer before the deadline of 2 a.m. past midnight, since General Luo would have to contact his superiors. The Russian officer refused to budge. The ultimatum was delivered and the Bakhmetieff returned to his ship.

The invading navy consisted of 30 ships. 20 of which could not sail in the shallow waters at the mouth of the river. Of the remaining 10 ships that could sail in those shallow waters the American Monocacy, an obsolete wooden ship, decided not to participate in the battle. The Japanese Atago, an old iron gunboat with obsolete guns and was filled with explosives, decided not to participate due to the danger involved with having its explosive caches exploded. The eight vessels that participated in the battle are enumerated in the list below.

  1. HM.S. Fame (British), a modern destroyer with a speed of 30 knots.
  2. HM.S. Whiting (British), ”
  3. HM.S. Algerine (British), a slow three-masted sloop.
  4. The Iltis (German), similar to the Algerine with a slightly higher speed.
  5. The Giliak (Russian), a small but modern gunboat.
  6. The Bobre (Russian), an old steel gunboat.
  7. The Koreets (Russian), similar to the Bobre with heavier armaments.
  8. The Lion (French), an ancient gunboat with two cannons.
Note: the date above says 4 June, 1900. This map was translated from a Russian source from 1901, when they still used the Julian Calendar. June 4th is therefore actually June 17th in the Gregorian calendar.

Source: Myakishev. “The Capture of the Taku Fort.” Royal United Services Institution. Journal 45, no. 280 (1901): 744

By 12:50 a.m. past midnight of the 17th, an hour before the deadline, the first shot was fired from Fort No. 4 (please refer to the plan above), upon which all other forts opened fire too. The gunboats returned fire, the battle for the Dagu forts had begun. Two Russian vessels, the Giliak and the Koreets drew heavy fire from the forts. The fortune of battle favoured the Chinese in the early morning until dawn came. By 3:45 a.m. the invaders had landed a storming column on the Northern banks of the river, in order to storm Fort No. 4. During their assault on the fort, the invading navies managed to explode a gunpowder magazine in Fort No. 3.

The remnants of a Dagu Fort (a.k.a. Taku) in 2006 as viewed from below. Only a few smaller forts remain as of today, since the Imperialist powers demanded the destruction of the forts after the war.

With a violent explosion, the tide of the battle turned in favour of the invaders. At 5 a.m., invader flags were flown from Fort No. 4. The Dagu forts fell one by one as more and more gunpowder magazines were exploded until, finally, by 6:45 all the forts had fallen to the invaders. On 7:20 a.m. German ship Hansa signalled the successful capture of all the forts. Most casualties on the Chinese side fell due to the many explosions. The battle was hard fought, and the invading navies won a costly victory with 172 dead. The Chinese suffered a heavy defeat with an estimated 1,000 dead or wounded men (600 to 800 dead according to Myakishev). The Battle of the Dagu Forts marked the beginning of the Boxer War.

The fact that such a hastily assembled naval force, with but a mere 900 marines, could take a fortified position that was considered impregnable is surprising to say the least. Xiang accredits this military success of the invading navies to a combination of the dirty diplomatic trick concerning the nature of the ultimatum, “incredible luck” and “blind audacity” (Xiang 286).

The Siege of Tianjin

Early in the morning of July 15th, the Yihequan warriors (a.k.a. Boxers) had begun to attack the foreign concessions of Tianjin. During this attack, a group of Yihequan warriors had begun to attack the railway station. The station was guarded by a large number of Russians. The Yihequan, famous for their rejection of modern weaponry, attempted to face the Russian gunners armed with spears and swords. The casualties were high among the Yihequan. The Russians shot at the crowd indiscriminately, and, not surprisingly, shot and killed many innocent Chinese bystanders who were just curious about the situation.

At this time, the Imperial Chinese troops were standing by, awaiting orders whether to support the Boxers or to defend the foreign legations. This consideration existed because the Boxers were being used by the Manchu Court to put pressure on the Imperialists powers, but were careful not to allow the Boxers to grow too powerful as to be a threat to themselves (Ouellet 513). Upon receiving news that the invaders had assaulted the Dagu forts and that Russian were shooting unarmed and innocent Chinese denizens, the choice was quickly made. It had become clear that the invading armies did not intend to stop at quelling the Boxers, and that the clean-up of Boxers was a mere excuse to force China into another war. The Imperial Chinese armies, even thought they had been fighting the Boxers up until this point, reacted by supporting the Boxers in assaulting the Tianjin foreign concessions.

Adjacent to the foreign concessions was a Chinese military academy (The Wubeitang 武备堂). The academy housed some two hundred students and possessed such an amount of munition and weapons, eight large Krupp guns, that it posed a threat to the concessions. The authorities in the concessions decided to strike the academy pre-emptively. On the 17th of June at 3 p.m. the concessions launched an attack on the academy. The fifty Chinese military cadets inside the academy refused to surrender. They were promptly executed. (Shagren 25)

Map of Concessions in Tientsin (Tianjin) – German
Source: Maximilian Dörrbecker

The Chinese commander Nie Shicheng 聂士成, the infamous butcher of many Boxers, now having arrived on scene, began to bombard the foreign concession area with his artillery. He commanded a well-trained army and carried out the bombardments with precision. The concession remained under bombardment until reinforcements arrived. Many Chinese lived in the concessions during the time of the siege, and in fact, the Chinese had been of great help to the foreign communities as the women sewed clothes and pillows for the sick and wounded and the men washed 400 articles a day. They also helped, under heavy fire from the Yihetuan and Nie Shicheng’s troops, to place and set up machine guns for the foreign troops. Furthermore, the Chinese in the foreign legation built barricades against Imperial and boxer fire. Needless to say, the Chinese were a tremendous service to the Tianjin concessions. The foreigners, however, with all their prejudices, had become hysterical and were not only ungrateful for this help, they even grew suspicious of all Chinese. A court was set up to try these Chinese, and during the siege of the concessions, many Chinese were put behind bars (Shagren 30). After all, to these colonisers an Oriental is nothing more than an Oriental, and no matter how hard they try to help them, to signal friendship or submission, they remain but a tool to be used and discarded.

Dong Fuxiang, Commander of the Rear Division of the Wuwei Corps. His army was known as the Gan Jun: the Kansu Braves.
Ronglu, Supreme Commander of the Wuwei Corps and Commander of the Centre Division.
Nie Shicheng, Commander of the Front Division. His army was known as the Wuyi Jun: Tenacious Army.

The French, seeing the course of the wind, thought it was a good idea to clear the path ahead by setting fire to the suburbs of Tianjin located outside the city walls. The wind carried the flames further toward the city, the raging fires lasted the entire night from the 17th upon the 18th of June. Innocents were “sacrificed in hundreds if not thousands,” thousands of other civilians, who managed to escape the fires were seen fleeing away, with what belongings they could stuff in wheelbarrows in “the last extremity of panic.” For what purpose? It is perhaps akin to clearing a forest before a castle, to remove any cover for the enemy and to provide a clear line of sight, only this forest was home to thousands of people. Such disregard for Chinese lives, for human lives, is nothing short of monstrous and the very pinnacle of barbarity.

The now bolstered forces had the power to sally out and force the Chinese Imperial forces and the Boxers to lay off the siege of the concessions. The Imperial forces retreated into the ancient walled city of Tianjin. On July 9th, in one of the various skirmishes around Tianjin for strategic locations General Nie Shicheng gave his life protecting his nation. As the foreign armies gained more favourable positions, they also gathered enough strength to carry out an assault against the walls on the morning of July 13th. Based on the experiences of their previous wars in China, they did not expect to face much capable resistance during their assault on Tianjin. They were mistaken.

These walls were manned by competent artillerists from the Imperial Navy, Chinese regulars equipped with Mausers and Remington rifles as well as numerous Boxers using obsolete weapons such as matchlocks. The Chinese resistance was heavy. It appeared the Chinese forces had increased in effectiveness and was “fighting well and more skillfully than ever before” (Shagren 29). During the assault for the walls of Tianjin, the Chinese resistance had on several occasion managed to pin down the siege forces. For example, the Americans, including Herbert Hoover, were pinned down in the open and used Chinese graves as cover (Shagren 37). The Japanese and the British faced similar heavy fire from the walls of Tianjin as they approached the city (Shagren 37). They got as close to the wall as they could by 9 a.m. of the 13th. They advanced slowly under fire until eventually, by 2 a.m. deep in the night from the 13th upon the 14th, the foreign troops reached the walls and the gate. They opened the first gates of the barbican with explosive charges. The Japanese sappers scaled the walls and opened the second gate of the barbican from within. The valiant defense of the city was to no avail. With a loud explosion, the way into the walled city of Tianjin was wide open, and the onslaught began.

By this time, one third of the city was on fire, another good portion was destroyed through the structural damage caused to the city by the explosives. Thousands of dead littered the streets, Boxers, Imperial soldiers, but also women, children and non-combative men. According to accounts of elderly survivors only an hour after the Western invaders entered Tianjin the dead must have been in the thousands. The western forces had also employed poisonous shells and the gas was killing many. There was many a house where the poison gas entered and the entire family, clutched together in fear, young, old, man, woman, died where they huddled. There were many Imperial Qing soldiers, lying in position, as if aiming their rifles, ready to fire at a moment’s notice. Yet, upon closer inspection, they had already been gassed to death. The riverside near the legations had the most corpses. The pontoon bridge had to be opened so that the corpses could float away. (Sun 168)

American soldiers standing guard at a Tianjin gate.

The Desolation of Tianjin

The city of Tianjin fell to the invaders on July 14, 1900. Tianjin surrendered, after which many civilians were raped, more were killed. The Qing government never made an estimate on how many civilians died, the Allied forces have kept these numbers hidden. Only the Russians have given a rough estimate and claim that after the fall of Tianjian about a 100,000 residents of the original 1,000,000 remain. 90% percent of the city either fled or perished (Sun 167).

When Tianjin fell, the women were conquered twice, first as Chinese, then as women. The unbridled bestial lust of the Western soldiery cannot be understated. They barged into random homes and began raping. Women above the age of sixty, girls just past puberty, all were targets of this rapist alliance. Many women committed suicide by jumping into deep wells. After the fighting was over, they discovered one well which contained the remains of as many as six women. When the allied rapists could not find any women, they would proceed to rape young boys. The raping was not limited to the city, most certainly not. Young women were captured and brought onto ships to be gang raped. One ship was reported one time to have captured “20 Tianjin beauties alive” (Sun 169-170).

Unsurprisingly, if you have read part 1 of this article, the looting that took place was of epic proportions. Not only did the invading soldiers loot, but the foreign civilians who lived in the concessions came to take their pick, and the Chinese labourers and workers who felt disadvantaged by the wealthier citizens of Tianjin took their pick. The most heinous were perhaps the soldiers, who even forced many of these Chinese labourers to do their looting for them.

Do you see the pure hypocrisy of the “civilised” West to come to Qing China to tell the Boxers how to behave? The world criticises Japan for the Nanking Massacre, but conveniently forgets their own role in the desolation of Tianjin.

Tianjin remained under occupation until its liberation in August 15, 1902. During this period of occupation, the invading forces set up temporary institutions such as the Tianjin Provisional Government (天津都統衙門/天津都统衙门). The T.P.G. is the greatest example of the utter disregard for the Chinese customs, Empire and the ultimately, the Chinese people.

The draconic laws they established to catch any and all potential boxers caused the death of many innocent civilians. The tyrants would see the slightest evidence of insurgency as reason to execute the suspect. For example, men who had marks on their shoulders, which they would allegedly have gotten from the recoil of their rifles, were rounded up and shot. Women who were found wearing red clothes, a colour adored by Tianjin women, were accused of being Red Lanterns (a division of female boxers who always wore red) and subsequently tried and shot (Sun 167). While many Yihetuan members had already retreated, there were those who stayed behind. They removed their red sash or red clothes and blended in with the non-combatants. Those who were discovered by the Western invaders were dragged out an executed, along with any family who dared to harbour the Yihetuan members (Sun 169).

An anecdote speaks of a marriage in a village in the Hedong area. A T.P.G. patrol was curious and entered venue where the marriage was taking place. The Western soldiers, perhaps unaware of Chinese customs, were convinced that the bride was a Red Lantern and the groom was a Boxer due to their red clothes (traditional Chinese marriage attire is red). Following brief argument, neither side understanding the other, the soldiers shot the bride and bridegroom to death, turning their marriage turned into their funeral (Sun 168).

The T.P.G. made “improvements” to the city that benefited not the locals or the Chinese Empire, but to ease commerce with the West, much like what these Western Imperialist powers did elsewhere in the world in exploitation colonies. They also destroyed the ancient walls of Tianjin as they claimed the lean-to slums around the walls were a fire hazard. If they wanted to prevent fires, they could have simply demolished the slums, yet they removed the entire stone wall. It appears it was an act of spite, since the wall caused them so much trouble during their assault on Tianjin. Incredibly, despite all the horros they wrought upon Tianjin, the Western Imperialist powers still had the sheer gall to claim that the T.P.G. was meant to represent the interests of the Chinese Empire and the Chinese people.


A Japanese invader leading a Yihetuan warrior by the leash

4. The Ravishment of the North

Allow me to preface this section with a brief summary, from my limited understanding, of Claudia Card’s article to understand why the invading forces did what they did, what the long-term effects are of large scale, weaponised rape that occured in the North of China.

Rape as a Weapon

Martial rape domesticates not only the women survivors who were its immediate victims but also the men socially connected to them, and men who were socially connected to those who did not survive.

Dr. Claudia Card

Rape is a weapon of war. Mass martial rape first targets the women who are brutalised as objects of pleasure and serve the purpose of recreation. Martial rape also targets the countrymen of the raped women, it is a threat, a warning to the rest of the country. In essence, it is terrorism. The terrorist then seeks compliance from these people, in order to acquiesce to his demands.

Mass martial rape, at its core, is targeted against entire peoples. It communicates dominance, not only to the women and girls raped, but also to her male associates. Children born out of forcible impregnation in martial rape will take on the identity of his rapist father and undermine familial solidarity; this is an example of genetic domination. Even if no child results from the rape, the act of rape is often enough for a husband, son or father to reject her. Therefore, martial rape undermines “national, political, and cultural solidarity, changing the next generation’s identity, confusing the loyalties of all victimized survivors.”

As can be seen, killing people with steel, famine and disease are not the only way to commit genocide. The other method is by destroying a group’s identity by perverting its cultural and social bonds, as in the previous paragraph. Card argues that martial rape does both kinds of genocide, as “many women and girls are killed when rapists are finished with them.” Those who are not killed either become pregnant or become known as rape survivors, as a result, “cultural, political, and national unity may be thrown into chaos.”

The section above is based entirely on Claudia Card’s article. I refer you to her article if you wish to gain more understanding on the topic of martial rape.

War, rape, genocide are no joke. Could those who glorify war, idolise killers and propagate violence raise their heads if faced by a victim of all of these? I hope the reader can keep this in mind as you read through the rest of the article. I’m not going to lie, it will not be a pleasant morning read.


The Fate of Beijing and Surroundings

This section will be written with material from Sawara Tokusuke’s Miscellaneous Notes about the Boxers, Chai E’s Gengxin Chronicle, Peter Fleming’s the Siege at Peking, the Qing Shigao 清史稿 (Draft History of the Qing) by Zhao Erxun.

Suicide before the Storm

Westerners posing on the Dragon Throne (source unknown)

It is August 14th, the people of Beijing wait anxiously as the armies of the West stand at the gates. The sound of Mausers and Maxims resonate against the stifling walls of the capital. The people, acutely aware of what happened to Tianjin, prepare for the worst. Some officials, fearing they would face retribution for their steadfast loyalty to the Emperor and refusal to acquiesce to Western demands, decided to take matters into their own hands. It was better to die with your honour than to die at the mercy of invading troops. Xu Tong 徐桐, the Imperial Tutor, and his whole household wished not to endure the humiliation of capture. They chose honour. Him, his wife, children, concubines and servants swayed, like the leaves of a weeping willow, from the rafters of his manor. Stools were kicked about in the room, no doubt some had regretted their decision to hang themselves and had violently tried to regain a footing, but could not (Zhao section 465).

When the Capital fell, aside from the innumerable commoners who died, countless officials commited suicide with their families as well.

Sawara Tokusuke in an excerpt from “the Miscellaneous Notes About the Boxers” (266)

Near the Eastern Gate of Beijing, the preferred method was to cast oneself into the well of the house. Each well was filled with dead women and dead girls. So many wells, in fact, that there was a real fear for the poisoning of the Beijing water supply. This is how much they feared what would happen if the Europeans entered Beijing.

Captain Francis Brinkley wrote that when Tongzhou fell, no less than 573 women comitted suicide to prevent their honour from being sullied. Aside from those who chose death by their own hands, on their own accord, many others died at the hands of the invaders.

Some Horrifying Accounts

Reader’s discretion is advised for this section due to graphic descriptions.

The Allied forces would capture women, no matter virtuous, wretched, old or young, and would, as much as they could, displace them to Biaobei alleys and to live in row houses there as prostitutes for the soldiery. To the West end of this alley the path would have been blocked off, in order to prevent escape, the East end was the only way in or out. This way was guarded. Any person from the Allied forces could enter for pleasure and rape to his heart’s desire.

Sawara Tokusuke in an excerpt from “the Miscellaneous Notes About the Boxers”

Sadly, it appears those who hanged themselves could be counted among the lucky. The citizens of Beijing were subject to three days of unbridled savagery after the fall of the Beijing. The demonic behaviour of the armies was apparent, rape was ubiquitous, so much so that among the soldiery “venereal diseases were rampant” (Fleming). There are claims it was in the interest of both the Qing Imperials and the Eight Nation Alliance that the most excessive horrors and abominable actions would be kept a secret. According to these numerous sources (the veracity of which I have been unable to verify) the military advisor and journalist known as Captain Francis (Frank) Brinkley would expose the truth in the Japan Mail editorial.

Source of this image is unknown, hundreds of websites use this image and all agree this was taken during the occupation of Beijing or at least during the Boxer War.

One of Brinkley’s accounts relays the story of a marauding soldier who entered a palace complex. Upon entering some chambers he spotted one of the maids, naked and scratching at something. The soldier immediately proceeded to assail the maid. Upon penetration, he stubbed his genitals on a hard object inside the maid. It appears that the complex had been raided beforehand, and another soldier, having taken so many priceless artifacts with him that he could no longer carry them all, found it humorous perhaps to insert a golden buddha statue into the maid’s privates. Upon discovering this, he cut open the maid, took the statue, and left.


Author’s Note:
A few questions: with whom did the soldier communicate to find out about the previous soldier who inserted the golden buddha? It seems unlikely that the maid or the soldier could communicate effectively due to the language barrier. Moreoever, it seems highly unlikely a newspaper from 1900 publish such a vulgar act in graphic detail. A somewhat questionable account, yet nonetheless one widely spread.


It is also said that during the indiscriminate killings in Beijing and its surrounding areas, the soldiers were curious about the lotus feet of Chinese women. So curious, in fact, that some soldiers would cut off the feet of some women in order to take them home as a souvenir. Though, such a macabre account is too extraordinary to be believed without concrete evidence.

Another account tells of a Japanese officer by the name of Aoki (perhaps referring to Colonel Aoki) who would sever breasts from women and cook those breasts in his rice congee, which he would proceed to eat. There is, however, no way to verify this account, and shall therefore be treated as an urban legend.

It is hard to imagine a woman in an exceedingly conservative society would agree to be eternalised with bare breasts.
It is speculated that the photographer coerced her to take this photograph.

The horrors don’t end here. There are two striking anecdotes described in the Gengxin Chronicle. In the first, a family’s home was occupied by European invaders. They raped women there day and night. After they left, numerous volumes of pornography were strewn about on the floor. Chai E also reports that foreign soldiers are extraordinarily lustful. In their skirmishes against the Boxers, they had captured a number of young women of remarkable beauty. Three foreign soldiers waited until they returned to their camp before questioning these women. They found out the women had been abducted by the Boxers for the same reasons they were captured here now. Indeed, the foreign soldiers did attempt to rape them, but the women resisted with everything they had, until their clothes were torn to shreds. The soldiers asked them: “You have been ruined by the bandits already, so how can you even consider your own chastity?” The women replied in the same voice: “Even though Boxers are ruffians, they are still Chinese. You are devils, how dare you violate women from the noble lands?” The enraged soldiers beat the women to death and disposed of their bodies on the streets (Chai 317-318).

Indeed, it appeared common practise for the invading soldiers to capture women, regardless of class or creed, to rape them. This was done by forcing them to work as sex slaves in rape-manors they had established in the Beijing hutongs (alleys formed by siheyuan residences). This excerpt from the “Miscellaneous Notes about the Boxers,” written by Japanese journalist Sawara Tokusuke, describes one such rape-manor:

“The Allied forces would frequently capture women, no matter virtuous, wretched, old or young, and would, as much as they could, displace them to Biaobei alleys and to live in row houses there as prostitutes for the soldiery. The West end of this alley the path would have been blocked off, in order to prevent escape, the East end was the only way in or out. This way was guarded. Any person from the Allied forces could enter for pleasure and rape to his heart’s desire.” (Sawara 268)

Sawara also reports on the seven daughters of Yulu 裕禄, the Viceroy of the province of Zhili (present day Hebei). Yulu was on good terms with the invaders. He was a man who always sought to create good impressions, and due to this, the British Consul at Tianjin offered him asylum on board of one of Her Majesty’s ships for his loyalty to the British (Fleming 84). Later in the war Yulu perished in the battle for Yangcun. When Beijing fell, the Allies abducted all seven of his daughters and then sent them to the Heavenly Palace in Beijing where they were violated repeatedly. Then they were held captive as sex slaves for the soldiers in one of the rape-manors mentioned above (Sawara 268). His efforts to please the British ultimately exploded in his face which his daughters paid the price for; no good deed goes unpunished.

Another story relays the fate that befell the women of Chongqi’s household. Chongqi 崇绮 was a nobleman from the Mongolian Alute clan and scholar of high standing in the Imperial Manchu court. He was also the father-in-law of the previous Emperor. His wife and one of his daughters, much like Yulu’s daughters, were captured by the invading soldiers. They were taken to the Heavenly Temple, held captive and were then brutally raped by dozens of Eight Nations Alliance soldiers during the entire course of the Beijing occupation. Only after the Eight Nations Alliance’s retreat did the mother and daughter return home, only to hang themselves from the rafters. Upon this discovery, Chongqi, out of despair, soon followed suit (Sawara 266). He hanged himself on August 26st, 1900. His son, Baochu, and many other family members commited suicide shortly after (Fang 75).

A group of Western soldiers posing with prostitutes.

Deploying Death Squads in “Punitive Expeditions”

Then there were the Punitive Expedition. These death squads were routinely sent into the Chinese countryside. The main perpetrators of these atrocities were the German and Italian forces, who were relatively new to the game of Imperialism in China as compared to France, Britain and the United States. It would seem that the two nations had something to prove. Count Alfred von Waldersee reportedly worked with “feverish activity” by ordering 75 punitive expeditions, ergo: death squads, into the countryside (Mombauer 109).

These death squads murdered thousands of innocents, as “it is safe to say that where one real Boxer has been killed since the capture of Peking [Beijing], fifty harmless coolies or laborers on the farms, including not a few women and children, have been slain” (Lynch). Mombauer also confirms this as she writes that in these expedition “countless Chinese, including many women and children, met their deaths” (Mombauer 109). It appears Alfred von Waldersee was ahead of his time, as his countrymen some 40 years later would sent their Einsatzgruppen into the Polish countryside with “feverish activity” as well.

The German way of ensuring that no potential Boxer escaped their grasp was to kill every living Chinese they could see. Entire villages were shot, put to the torch and massacred, even villages who were cooperative with the Germans were brutalised by the German soldiery. The German method can be likened to a crazed inmate who attempts to appear impressive by beating everyone in his vicinity to prove he is the strongest, and to be feared. The French way was different, but not much better. They enforced their will by offering the villages they visited an ultimatum, either they would comply to every demand, or the entire village would be put to the sword, the choice, as it were, was given to the villagers. The more calculated French approach, which is the equivalent of a schoolyard bully who will threaten to beat you to a pulp if he doesn’t get your lunch money, was reportedly more effective in getting the villagers to comply as opposed to the German approach.

Should you encounter the enemy, he will be defeated! No quarter will be given! Prisoners will not be taken! Whoever falls into your hands is forfeited. Just as a thousand years ago the Huns under their King Attila made a name for themselves, one that even today makes them seem mighty in history and legend, may the name German be affirmed by you in such a way in China that no Chinese will ever again dare to look cross-eyed at a German.

Kaiser Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany, an excerpt from the “Hun Speech” on July 2nd, 1900
German postcards and various Chinese websites claim this was an image taken of executed Boxers.
(More reliable sources claim that this was the highly publicised execution of Namoa pirates by British authorities on May 11th, 1891, in Kowloon City)

5. The Weakness of China

The invading forces of the West were small armies by any measure. So, how was it possible that this hastily assembled and badly co-operating invasion force, which did not even have its Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshall) with it during most of the fighting, was able to breach China’s defenses and take the capital city, the impregnable Dagu forts and Manchuria, the heimat (homeland) of the ruling class of Manchus, so easily?

A Nation Divided

Firstly, part of the reason was the decentralised nature of the Chinese forces by this point of the Qing Dynasty. Due to the many rebellions and revolts since the Taiping Rebellion of the 1850’s the Manchu court had given many generals and governors permission to raise their own armies in order to quell these revolts. This policy had allowed the dying Qing Dynasty to continue existing for half a century longer, but it was a double edged sword. This was the rise of regionalism in the Late Qing Dynasty. The decentralised forces meant in reality that the governal-generals who commanded large and formidable armies, each in their own corner of China, enjoyed immense autonomy. So much autonomy that, when Empress Dowager Cixi declared war on the 11 of the most powerful nations at the time, half of China refused to heed the call of duty and signed an agreement with the Western nations instead.

坐擁東南,死不奉詔

I will sit securely in the Southeast and die before I heed the summons.

Zhang Zhidong

The agreement was called the “Mutual Protection of South East China.” This agreement, signed by Li Hongzhang (governor-general of Guangdong and Guangxi), Liu Kunyi (governor-general of Jiangsu, Anhui and Jiangxi), Xu Yingkui (governor-general of Fujian and Zhejiang), and Zhang Zhidong (governor-general of Hunan and Hubei) ensured that their provinces would not be invaded regardless of what happened in the North. This agreement and the refusal to obey a direct Imperial decree were nothing short of high treason. Yet, the Imperial Court was in no position to do anything about it. This is the reason why the majority of China (South and East China have the highest population concentrations in all of China) did not participate in the war.

Sick Men of Asia

Drugs, gambling, prostitution have long since weakened the fighting spirit of the Chinese. It clouded their judgement and melted their courage. Their pursuit of hedonism and pleasure led to cowardice. Indeed, even in the Second Opium War, the English, when they took the fortifications in Guangzhou, noticed the soldiers were too stoned to fight. The Manchu court was acutely aware of the lure of pleasure. They had forbidden their bannermen from attending theatre and opera performances, from visiting brothels, from gambling, from all manners of pleasure they had gotten used to. It was to no avail, even though the Empire had collectively pardoned the entire Manchu caste for a number of times for their debts incurred when gambling, living excessively or otherwise. Indeed, it was widely known that the Manchus often snuck out of their Tatar cities to take part in the vices offered to them by the Chinese. The addiction to hedonism had thoroughly corrupted most virtuous qualities of the Manchus as a collective. As such, the effectiveness of the Manchu Banners was a far cry from the time they fought in Kangxi’s campaigns and a further cry from the time of their conquest of China. Indeed, the Manchu armies had become nigh useless. Even attempts to strengthen the Manchu fighting forces were in the end for naught. The Hushenying (Tiger Spirit Battalion), a unit of 10,000 Manchu bannermen with modernised weaponry and the Shenjiying (Beijing Field Force), a mostly Manchu army, also modernised, were decimated in the Battle of Beijing.

This, for me at least, has made abundantly clear that alcoholism, drug abuse, prostitution and gambling are absolutely not harmless forms of entertainment. They lead to the destruction of your body and soul and they lead to the death and defiling of your closest family members. Abstain from these vices if you know what’s good for you!

Lackluster Commitment

It appears the governor-generals of these Southeastern provinces were of the opinion that the war was lost before it began. They decided to preserve their own regional strength for the future. Their lack of faith in their own military capabilities caused them to opt for self-preservation instead of resistance. Perhaps they did not realise that if the Imperialists did away with the Beijing court, they would be next. And indeed, perhaps the south of China realised this in 1937, when the Empire of Japan launched its full offensive into all of China, not just the North.

There is no need to heed the Imperial decree from Beijing.

Ronglu, Supreme Commander of the Wuwei Corps

Among those who did obey the Imperial decree to fight, the commander of the Wuwei corps, Ronglu (a.k.a. Yung-lu), was actually opposed to fighting the Western invasion. He thought that battling 11 of the most powerful nations while having lost against Japan five years prior to 1900 was a fool’s errand. Indeed, it was recorded that he once uttered the phrase “There is no need to heed the Imperial decree from Beijing.” So, he fought the entire war with diplomatic damage control in mind. During the siege of the legations he prevented Dong Fuxiang from acquiring artillery to destroy the legations. He never directly committed his Wuwei Corps in full strength against the foreign armies. Nie Shicheng, commanding one of the wings of the Wuwei Corps was even fighting and killing many of the Boxers before the Western forces attacked Dagu. Yuan Shikai, the man who commanded the most well-trained and well-equipped wing of the Wuwei Corps at the time, decided to preserve his strength by not participating in direct combat against the invasion forces. His army remained at full-strength after the Boxer War. Among the Wuwei Corps, the only commanders who fought the Imperialist forces seriously were Dong Fuxiang and Nie Shicheng.

One should always have a realistic view of enemy capabilities. It is bad to underestimate the enemy, but it is equally as bad to overestimate the enemy. The Chinese troops were demoralised before the fighting even began. When the storming column of the invading navies stormed Fort No. 4, the defenders fled instead of resisting. When the Allied soldiers entered Tianjin, it is rumoured that the Imperial forces abandoned the Boxers to their fate. The Western Forces were few in number, the soldiers hastily assembled, the supply lines long and expensive. They would never have been able to justify a greater invasion force and a longer, prolonged campaign in China. A war of attrition by committing the full capabilities of the Boxers and the Imperial armies would have been impossible for the invasion forces to resist. It appears that very few of the commanders of the Imperial or regional armies believed they stood even a sliver of chance against the invasion forces. As such, their overestimation of the enemy forces prevented them from considering victory at all, leading to lackluster commitment.

Remember: 
No matter how strong they seem, 
they are not gods; 
even if they were, 
gods can bleed as well.

Concluding Word

Firstly, I apologise for the long time it took me to write this article. There was much research to be done and in the initial phase I fell into a minor state of depression after doing the research. I was demoralised and questioned even the purpose of writing these articles if all they bring to light is pain and a severe loss of faith in the goodness of humanity. But then, I do stand by my original point of departure for writing these, and that is to make sure that none of this is ever forgotten. To this end, I have once again picked up my pen. With that out of the way; my concluding words.

The West invaded China under the pretense of political and moral justice. They wanted to avenge the murder of Christians and western expatriates by punishing the perpetrators. However, their moral highground fell into a thousand pieces as their hypocrisy was revealed. How is it possible for the morally superior and civilised Western armies to commit crimes more heinous than the ones they were avenging? How can indiscriminate murder of innocents possibly be seen as justice for the ones they were trying to avenge? To this day it baffles the mind how deeply hypocrisy runs.

No, this is no crusade, no holy war; it is a very ordinary war of conquest . . . A campaign of revenge as barbaric as has never been seen in the last centuries, and not often at all in history; . . . not even with the Huns, not even with the Vandals . . . That is no match for what the German and other troops of the foreign powers, together with the Japanese troops, have done in China.

August Bebel in the Reichstag, 19 November 1900, cited in Roland Felber and Horst Rostek, Der
‘Hunnenkrieg’ Kaiser Wilhelms II. Imperialistische Intervention in China, 1900/01 (illustrierte historische hefte), East Berlin 1987, p. 43.

As for the goals that the Eight Nations Alliance set out to achieve with this war? They succeeded in their primary objective, which was to relieve the Foreign Legations in Beijing. They also succeeded in “punishing” the Chinese population by creating a nightmarish hell for the Chinese unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of their cruelties. As for their strategic goals, however, to perhaps put a ruler on the throne sympathetic to Western influence or to eliminate China’s most effective fighting forces at the time were not succesful. The Empress Dowager had escaped unscathed and a good portion of China’s modern armies were kept away from the fighting, leaving them at full strength.

On the Chinese side, it is also remarkable that the Emperor and the Capital were threatened and subsequently invaded while the rest of China just looked on and ate all the pies instead of rushing to the aid of their land and liege. Much like in the Sino-French War, the same message about unity can be shared here. If even the surrounding provinces of Shandong (Shantung), Henan (Honan) and Shanxi (Shansi) sent their armies to the aid of Zhili (Chihli), then the invading forces would have never been able to invade China with such ease and so few men. Never mind the odds of a succesful Western invasion if all of China rushed to Zhili and Beijing.

“Barbarie — Civilisation”
“It’s all a matter of perspective. When a Chinese coolie strikes a
French soldier the result is a public cry of ‘Barbarity!’ But when a French
soldier strikes a coolie, it’s a necessary blow for civilization.”
Le Cri de Paris, July 10, 1899
Artist: René Georges Hermann-Paul

So, I would have to echo Card’s exhortation. The best defense is prevention, and one of the ways to prevent the victimisation of women, is to reject the idea that women are perpetual victims and therefore easy targets. The idea that women should not be trained in martial arts and in the use of weapons should be rejected. That actually doesn’t just go for women. In fact, if you wish to deter an attacker, one must gain the reputation of being indomitable. Asians were seen as cowards, in fact “yellow bastard” still refers to cowards. Asian men are seen as meek and cowardly. Asian women as subservient and docile. These are the reasons why we are still being targeted by other groups for theft and robbery. This is why world media can insult us daily with impunity. This is why it seems like it’s just another tuesday when a man of European descent kills Asians. Irrational humans truly behave like animals. Humility, passivity and agreeability only communicate weakness, which incurs aggression. Dignity, assertiveness and perseverance communicate strength, which deters aggression.

Lastly, for your own sake, and the sake of our people: stop doing drugs, stop seeing prostitutes, stop gambling and stop drinking alcohol.

Remember, but bear no hatred,
for hate is a bottomless cup, I will pour and pour.

Learn from this history lesson. Be strong.

Read about the various heroes, Imperial, Yihetuan or otherwise, in the next part of our three part article. Stay tuned.

  1. Card, Claudia. “Rape as a Weapon of War.” Hypatia 11, no. 4 (1997): 5-18.
  2. Chai E, “The Gengxin Chronicle” (Gengxin jishi), in Compiled Materials on the Boxers (Yihetuan wenxian huibian), ed. Zhongguo shixue hui (Taipei: Dingwen, 1973), 1: 317–318.
  3. Chao-ying Fang. “Chongqi.” In Eminent Chinese of the Qing Period: (1644-1911/2), 74–75. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing Group, 2018.
  4. Fleming, Peter. The Siege at Peking. London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1959.
  5. 刘海岩. “八国联军占领期间天津若干问题考析.” 历史档案, no. 2 (2005): 76-83.
  6. “八国联军侵华大事记.” 中国天主教, no. S1 (2000): 47-48.
  7. Mombauer, Annika. “Wilhelm, Waldersee, and the Boxer Rebellion.” Chapter. In The Kaiser: New Research on Wilhelm II’s Role in Imperial Germany, edited by Annika Mombauer and Wilhelm Deist, 91–118. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511496790.006.
  8. Myakishev. “The Capture of the Taku Fort.” Royal United Services Institution. Journal 45, no. 280 (1901): 730–44. https://doi.org/10.1080/03071840109424898.
  9. Ouellet, Eric. “Multinational Counterinsurgency: the Western Intervention in the Boxer Rebellion 1900–1901.” Small Wars & Insurgencies 20, no. 3-4 (2009): 507–27. https://doi.org/10.1080/09592310903027074.
  10. Roland Felber and Horst Rostek, Der ‘Hunnenkrieg’ Kaiser Wilhelms II. Imperialistische Intervention in China, 1900/01 (illustrierte historische hefte), East Berlin 1987, p. 43.
  11. Sawara Tokusuke, “Miscellaneous Notes about the Boxers” (Quanshi zaji), in Compiled Materials on the Boxers (Yihetuan wenxian huibian), ed. Zhongguo shixue hui (Taipei: Dingwen, 1973), 1: 266-268.
  12. Shagren, Glen, “Tientsin China in 1900” (1976). All Graduate Plan B and other Reports. 727. https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/gradreports/727
  13. Sun, Qihai. Baguo Lianjun Qin Hua Jishi. Beijing: Huawen Chubanshe, 1996.
  14. Xiang, Lanxin. “Dagu: The Undeclared War.” In The Origins of the Boxer War: a Multinational Study. London: Routledge, 2015.

Published by Afakv

Keeping the memories of those who went before us.

4 thoughts on “War in China: the Ravishment of the North (2/3)

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