The turmoil that would break into the horrors of the first half of the 20th century was already well underway around the world. In China, a nation due to spend most of those fifty years engaged in civil war, the crisis was already here. Neglected by the Qing Dynasty, humiliated by defeat to western nations in 19th century wars, and almost broken by the terms of their peace treaty with Japan, the Middle Kingdom was ready for one of the bloody uprisings that throw the country into chaos and bring about the end of a dynasty. This time, though, the anger was redirected towards the foreign forces and foreign culture seen to be taking over the country. The Yihequan (known as “Boxers” in English) were a secret martial arts society who believed their techniques made them invulnerable to bullets. 100,000 strong, they stormed across Northern China, killing foreigners and Chinese Christians until reaching Beijing, they received the support of the Empress Dowager and set about besieging the Legation Quarter where the foreign embassies were. In a unique show of unity, Japan, Russia, Britain, France, the United States, Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary joined together to invade Beijing, lift the siege, and set up reparations so massive that their repercussions are still being felt today.
For a history of the Boxer Rebellion, I would suggest the relevant episode of In Our Time, or this one from the China History Podcast, or this one from Stuff You Missed In History Class. This History Channel documentary is ok, as far as History Channel documentaries go:
Finally, the piece of Boxer Rebellion related material I’ve spent the most time with is Robert Coltman’s memoir ‘Beleaguered in Peking’ – an inside account of the siege of the Legations, an entertaining read and a fascinating insight into the mind of an American doctor caught up in historical events.