Nathan Reich
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The Boxer Protocol and the Aftermath

Li Hongzhang, a Qing prince, and representatives of eleven foreign powers signed the Protocol of 1901 or “Boxer Protocol” on September 7, 1901. For letting get out of hand a Chinese-instigated rebellion that seriously disrupted foreign economic and religious interests, China had a price to pay for peace.


The Protocol prescribed death or exile for the 12 ringleaders of the rebellion and a wide range of punishments for 119 provincial officials. Civil service exams were suspended for 5 years in 45 districts in which the Boxers operated. The Protocol thrust on China a 450,000,000 tael indemnity, to be paid in annual installments over the next 39 years (Taking into account interest and an unfavorable exchange rate, the final total ran closer to 980,000,000 taels). From its meager duties of overseeing ports and receiving documents pertinent to foreign affairs, the zongli yamen was to be converted into waiwubu, a full "ministry of foreign affairs". The Protocol enlarged the Peking legation quarter, giving foreigners the run of the place and a permanent guard of their own. In atonement for the deaths of their ministers, von Ketteler and Sugiyama, apology missions were to be sent to Germany and Japan. Anti-foreign organizations were banned; no arms imports were permitted for the next 2 years. Forts between Peking and the ocean were dismantled and no less than twelve routes were watched over by foreign troops.

Chinese would reel from the consequences of the Boxer Rebellion and Protocol for years. The indemnity impacted economic development by bleeding obscene amounts of money out of China. Foreign diplomats sat in a militarily and financially autonomous state within a state, untouchable by Chinese law. Canceling examinations interfered with an ancient mechanism for choosing Chinese administrators. Sensationalized rendering of the Boxer Rebellion contributed to “yellow peril”, a negative assessment of Asian culture in general, in the west. The Chinese people were left humiliated, angered, and terrified by their defeat, but at the same time madly jealous of powers that could do such a thing. As hopeless as the Rebellion appears in retrospect, it may have prevented the foreign powers from partitioning China. It exposed a vast reservoir of nationalism and xenophobia, leaving foreigners the choice of keeping the Manchu dynasty intact or contending with whatever volatile China came up with. The Rebellion also brought to a head dissatisfaction with Manchu leadership, whose reforms, even that of constitutional government, never did enough. The Boxers came to be reinvented as folk heroes by the next revolutionaries: Sun Yatsen in 1911 and Zhou Enali in 1949.

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Hsu, Immanuel C.Y. The Rise of Modern China. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Purcell, Victor. The Boxer Uprising: A Background Study. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1963.