Kerry Ryan
The Empress Dowager

It is extremely important in times of conflict to have a strong leader. During the years of the Boxer Rebellion, China did in fact have a strong leader however she may not have been the best for the job. The Empress Dowager was undoubtedly a woman who was dedicated to her cause. Unfortunately, at this time she had the same cause as the seemingly helpful but realistically destructive boxers. In the beginning, the Boxer Rebellion was aimed just as much against the empress dowager as against the foreign people. Why, then, did the empress seem to encourage the goals of the boxers?
The empress’ interested had been peaked about the boxers because of their claim of magical powers and the way that women in the boxer movement were appreciated as equals. The boxers had a strong distaste for any foreign powers that showed interest in seizing China and intended to use force in order to resist and gain power. The Empress saw a way of using the boxers to assist her in ridding China of the evil foreigners who she believed would inevitably destroy China’s culture. When others disputed her support for the Boxers, she contended that at that time China was weak and must rely on the support of the people. This popular support of the people was with the Boxers and to cast them aside meant to lose the support of the people at a crucial time during threatening foreign conquests in China (Esherick 289). After a group of Italians seized a Chinese bay as a naval station, the Empress lost her patience with Europeans and seemed to wholeheartedly agree with the boxers. “Tzu Hsi began to believe that the foreigners might be resisted, even gotten rid of, and that China could ‘revert to its old life again and do away with foreign intercourse, interference, and intrusion’” (Preston 21).
In 1900, the Americans had planned to move into the Forbidden City. They voluntarily halted their forces at the last second before attacking the city at the request of some of the other foreign nations. It was too late however because the damage was already done. When some people arrived at the city they found complete and utter devastation. Citizens were shot, hung, and beheaded throughout the city and the empress had been forced to seek exile in the north of China. The Boxers had reached and destroyed the Forbidden City, forcing the empress to flee disguised as a Chinese peasant woman and leave behind the rest of the citizens to be brutally murdered.
One year after the Empress Dowager fled from the Forbidden City during the Boxer Rebellion, she returned with a new outlook, intending to modernize China and open minded to the idea of foreign interest in China. “Tzu Hsi seems quite frequently to have used the word mistake when talking of the Boxer troubles and it has an interesting ambiguity” (Preston 317).
The Empress Dowager had originally supported the Boxers for two reasons. She wanted the help of the boxers to remove the foreign powers from Chinese soil and she wanted to be certain Manchu rule would be safe. She overlooked the pillaging they did and the destruction that they caused because she believed it to be in the best interest of the nation of China. She, of course, thought the enemy was the foreigner. As we can see, ignoring the damage these boxers caused, did nothing to help the Manchu rule, and only led to its downfall soon after her death.

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.