Category Archives: boxer rebellion

March 27, 2012, 6:46 am

It’s Out!

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My new book, The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China, came out today.

Makes a great present for any occasion.

March 22, 2012, 11:21 am

Media Sighting

An interview with moi is in this month’s Military History magazine. Introductory paragraph:

Northern China in the summer of 1900 was the scene of the Boxer Rebellion, one of the most spontaneous, disorganized, violent and downright peculiar uprisings of that or any other century. Vividly described and detailed by Cornell University historian David J. Silbey in his new book, The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China, the rebellion was at once a peasants’ insurgency, an attack on modernism, a clash of cultures and a game changer in the nascent international struggle for power in the Pacific in the new century.

With pictures!

March 7, 2012, 12:49 pm

Self-Aggrandizement, Part XLI

Arrived in the mail today:


January 13, 2012, 1:18 pm

Process, Part II

[First post here]

But if laptops replaced paper as the main way of getting notes down, the difference in the actual physical process of research was not that much altered. Go to the archive, order the sources you needed, and spend days or weeks or months taking notes on them. Copying costs at most archives were much too high to consider wholesale reproduction, and so note-taking depended on how fast you could type. Portable scanners did not really work; either one had to put the document face down on the scanner or drag the scanner along the document. Neither of those things pleased most archivists. In addition, the scanners were slow and did not offer much storage. Thus, note taking remained resolutely textual, and resulted in the production of lots and lots of MS Word documents with notes on specific sources.Notetakingwindows

That changed dramatically with the advent of digital cameras with…

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December 14, 2011, 8:29 am

Bandit Season

One of the most fascinating parts of researching the Boxer Rebellion was the discovery of just how obstreperous ordinary Chinese can be. “Bandit season” (the bandit groups usually included lots of ordinary folks) was well known, so much that in 1932 an English minister prayed “for our preservation during the approaching bandit season, which opens like grouse-shooting about the middle of August, when the millet (perfect cover for bandits) is full grown.”

The pugnacity continues:

Reached by phone on Wednesday, residents said throngs of people were staging noisy rallies by day outside Wukan’s village hall, while young men with walkie-talkies employed tree limbs to obstruct roads leading to the town. Not far away, heavily armed riot police were maintaining their own roadblocks. The siege has prevented deliveries from reaching the town of 20,000, but residents said they had no problem…

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December 7, 2011, 9:20 am

The Facts of Yesterday

H72273kIt’s December 7th, the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Tomorrow will be the 70th anniversary of FDR’s speech to Congress, in which the President said:

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

It is a “date which will live in infamy” as Roosevelt said, but not much longer in living memory:

The 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack will be the last one marked by the survivors’ association. With a concession to the reality of time — of age, of deteriorating health and death — the association will disband on Dec. 31…Harry R. Kerr, the director of the Southeast chapter, said there weren’t enough survivors left to keep th…

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November 22, 2011, 12:46 pm

Occupy Beijing

9780809094776 jpgIn the spring and summer of 1900, bands of ordinary Chinese began to spread across northern China, protesting against and attacking the representatives of an imperial world that was remaking their country in the name of modernity and progress. The so-called “Boxers” were mostly leaderless and connected only by their shared desire to resist and rebel.

The empires fought back. Caught in the middle was the tottering Qing Dynasty of China, led uneasily by the Empress Dowager Cixi, who had dominated Chinese politics for half a century. Watching was the rest of the world, caught by the daily reports from journalists embedded with the western forces.

I wrote a book about that summer of 1900. Writing a book takes a while. There are numerous way stations. There’s the research and the writing, the research that results from the writing, the rewriting, the editing, the rewriting that…

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February 26, 2010, 11:54 am

Can We Have Our Electricity Back, Please?

ChineseTacoma.JPG.jpegAs a followup to these posts (1, 2), and in honor of The West Wing, I note that Tacoma, Washington, was the recipient not only of electricity from the United States Navy, but, 45 years earlier, occupation from the United States Army.

In the winter of 1885, anti-Chinese sentiment swept the west coast. In Tacoma (and elsewhere) that sentiment took the form of a pogrom against the city’s ethnic Chinese residents, who were summarily and violently evicted from Tacoma in the first week of November:

At nine o’clock on the morning of November 3, 1885, steam whistles blew at the foundries and mills across Tacoma, to announce the start of the purge of all the Chinese people from the town. Saloons closed and police stood by as five hundred men, branding clubs and pistols, went from house to house in the downtown Chinese quarter and through the Chinese tenements along the city’s wharf. Sensing…

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July 24, 2009, 2:06 pm

A Band of Boys [Boxers, July 16, 1900]

The effects of the crisis in China in 1900 were not confined to China, obviously. They could reach as far down as the streets of New York, and as deep as the children of that city:

Nicholas Ageno, an Italian boy of twelve years, living with his parents at 77 Oliver Street, and who the police say is leader of a band of boys, last night summoned his followers and set out to look for Boxers. As darkness fell over the city they reached Chatham Square. On Sunday evening Chinamen from all parts of the city and round about congregate at Chinatown. Young Gee, an inoffensive Chinaman who conducts a laundry at 221 East Broadway, came walking across the square toward Pell Street. The boys espied him and advanced to the attack with a well-directed volley of stones, dirt, and other missiles. Gee started for Chinatown on a run, but the boys cut off his retreat, crowded about him, tore his blouse, an…

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July 21, 2009, 2:22 pm

Children Aloft On Their Spears [Boxers, July 20-21 1900]

times20July.jpgFurther information on the (mythical) slaughter of the westerners in Beijing appeared in the New York Times of July 20th. The news was carried, according to the Times by a Chinese merchant lately arrived in Shanghai, who was interviewed by a reporter from the London Daily Express. The details were gruesome:

A Chinese merchant who has just arrived from Peking gives horrible details of the massacre. He says he saw European women hauled into the street by shrieking Boxers, who stripped them and hacked them to pieces. Their dissevered limbs were tossed to the crowd and carried off with howls of triumph. Some were already dead when the massacre began, having been shot by foreign civilians. The merchant says he saw Chinese soldiers carrying the bodies of white children aloft on their spears, while their companions shot at the bodies. He gives other details too horrible to be particularized …

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July 15, 2009, 12:12 pm

Death Preparatory to Resurrection [Boxers, July 13-16, 1900]

This was the week that the westerners besieged in the embassies in Beijing died. They would be reborn again quite quickly, but for several days in the middle of July the world was firmly convinced that they had all been slaughtered. According to the New York Times of July 13th, working off a report by the Daily Mail of London, the Chinese Army had mounted a final assault on the legations in Beijing on July 6th, backed by heavy artillery:

“The two remaining legations, the British and Russian, were attacked in force on the evening of July 6, Prince Tuan being in command. The attackers were divided. Prince Tuan commanded the center, the right wing was led by Prince Tsai-Yin and the left by Prince Yin-Lin. The reserves were under Prince Tsin-Yu.

The attack commenced with artillery fighting, which was severe, and lasted until 7 o’clock in the morning, by which time both legations were…

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June 30, 2009, 12:17 pm

The First Rough Draft of History [Boxers, June 30, 1900]

seymour2.jpgJournalism is famously the “first rough draft of history” and today I want to look for a moment at what kind of draft it is. To do so, I’ve taken a relatively short article from the New York Times of June 30, 1900, and read it closely. How well does an article written in the heat of the moment stand up for the long term?

The short answer: not well. The long answer, however, is that it is interesting to analyze how the article was constructed, what agendas were served, and where inaccurate or shaded information served some purpose other than simply reporting. As a factual account of events prior to June 30, 1900, the article failed. As a source for a history of that period, the article seems to me eminently useful.

Before we explore those answers further, let me lay out a bit of the background to the article. Since early June, 1900, the crisis in China had grown enormously….

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June 23, 2009, 8:12 am

Butchery And Havoc In The Abused Name Of Civilization (Boxers, May 15, 1900-June 15, 1900)

Things began to heat up in China in late May, early June. What had been hints and ominous intimations were now transformed into a full-blown crisis. The “Boxers”–in earlier stories surrounded by quotes and explanation–became over the course of the month simply the Boxers, a name every reader should have, by then, known. Thus, on May 25th, the Times wrote “The United States Government has taken a hand in the suppression of the “Boxers,” the famous Chinese secret society which is engaged in the massacre of native Christians in China, and to which is attributed numberless outrages upon the foreign missionaries.” By June 6, the Times wrote “The murder of Mr. Norman, the missionary, was undoubtedly due to the complicity of the Chinese Government in the disturbances caused by the Boxers.” The Boxers had become part of the common parlance of educated readers and no longer required…

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May 13, 2009, 8:48 am

Postblogging 1909

Brett Holman, whose series post-blogging the Sudeten Crisis inspired my Boxer Uprising Day to Day, is now starting to work his way through the “phantom airship wave” in 1909 Britain:

It’s 90 years since the phantom airship wave of 1909, when mysterious aerial visitors appeared in the night skies over Britain. Or at least, stories about mysterious aerial visitors filled the newspapers of Britain. It’s hard to tell from this distance: the only evidence we have about the scareships are the press reports, which could be a problem if you are interested in a possible underlying reality. But then again, since the number of (alleged) phantom airship witnesses is relatively small, the press was the only way most people would have learned that their sky was being invaded by Zeppelins every night. So for them as for us, the stories are the event itself.

If it lives up to his previous work, it…

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May 11, 2009, 5:35 pm

Boxers, April 15, 1900-May 15, 1900: The Squeezable Lord Salisbury, The Din of the Hammer and the Axe, and the Hum of Wheels, The Panting Man Falls Into His Grave

A seemingly slow month in China, at least as the New York Times reported it. Events from China were less compelling to the paper than events at which people spoke about China. The Boxers were still active, attacking Chinese Catholics southwest of Tianjin, and mounting an attack on both British and Russian units during the period. But the Times wasn’t really interested. The first news it related in a brief 71 word story on 23 April, only to retract it on 26 April as “quite erroneous.” Instead, the paper reported “Some Boxers attacked a village occupied bv a number of Catholics, but were driven off.” The lack of interest of “some boxers” is palpable. [1] The attack on the Russians and British were not seen as part of a larger uprising, but official conniving. “The disturbances are due to Chinese officials working on the credulity of the natives.” [2] The Times was curiously…

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