Kerry Ryan
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Old Betsy” – The Powers Work Together

Though all the foreign powers had different interests in China and were attempting to divide the nation into “spheres of influence,” or individual economic regions, they were forced to have a common interest throughout the Boxer Rebellion and that interest was to save the foreign people who were trapped on Chinese soil. Throughout the Boxer ordeal that refused to cease, the foreign powers, regardless of how they disagreed over petty issues, were forced to work together. During many sieges, including those of Peking and Beijing, the foreign powers relied on each other to save their missionaries who were in fatal danger. “Old Betsy” was the culmination of this teamwork that occurred with the powers throughout the time period. At one point during attack, the foreign forces found themselves at a loss in terms of arms and artillery.
“‘Old Betsy’ was a sort of gun that had been created with parts from all over the world. “The French and British, pointing out that the cannon had an Italian mounting, fired Russian ammunition, was left over from an Anglo-French operation, and was rehabilitated by an American sailor, christened it ‘The International Gun’” (O’Connor 193). The name “Old Betsy,” however, came from American origins and was what the Americans insisted on calling it. Though some critics were skeptical about the new instrument, it proved them wrong. The shell went through three different walls upon its first use.

‘This unexpected addition to our equipment must have led to much speculation among the ignorant Chinese soldiery as to warlike resources of the foreign devil who could thus apparently construct a cannon out of his inner consciousness.’ Edmund Backhouse later claimed that the Empress Dowager told him it had made a most exasperating noise and kept her awake during her siesta time (Preston 161-162).

It is obvious that the foreign powers were extremely impressed with their new invention. Diana Preston, in her book, The Boxer Rebellion, demonstrates clearly with the quotes featured above that the international gun brought a sense of pride to the group of foreigners that they were going to need.
Richard O’Connor, in his book, The Spirit Soldiers, points out that the gun did have shortcomings. It could not be fired at a long range and black smoke billowed out from the gun after every single shot. This meant that those firing the arm could be seen by enemies from far away and would thus become a target themselves. “Nevertheless, Old Betsy devastated the Chinese barricades with one shell, then was loaded with grapeshot – old nails, scrap iron, nuts and bolts…” (O’Connor 193-194).


Works Cited


Cohen, Paul A. History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Events, Experience, and Myth. New York,
NY: Columbia UP, 1997.

Esherick, Joseph W. The Origins of the Boxer Uprising. Los Angeles, CA: University of
California P, 1987.

O'Connor, Richard. The Spirit Soldiers. New York, NY: G.P Putnam Sons, 1973.

Preston, Diana. The Boxer Rebellion. New York, NY: Walker and Company, 2000.

Price, Eva J. China Journal: An American Missionary Family During the Boxer Rebellion. New
York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1989.