When Japan defeated China in 1895, European powers answered with an order they called, “ carving up the Chinese melon.” Following the division of Africa among European powers, they turned their sights to what they saw as an extremely weak Chinese government. European powers and America began to scramble for what was called “spheres of interest.” These spheres of interest involved holding leases for all railway and public advantages in different regions of China. Russia got Port Arthur, Britain got the New Territories near the Hong Kong region, Germany got Shantung and America got nothing. America was focusing largely on Guam and the Philippines and had missed the opportunity and so insisted on the “open-door policy” in China were commercial opportunities were equally available to all Western powers and the political and territorial integrity of China stayed intact.
The imperial court responded to this foreign threat by giving aid to various secret societies. Traditionally, secret societies had been formed in opposition to imperial government; as such, they were certainly a threat to the Ch’ing government. However, anti-foreign sentiment had risen so greatly in China that the Empress Dowager
,ruler of China, believed that the secret societies could be the leaders in a military deportation of Europeans. This policy reached its crucial period in 1900 with the Boxer Rebellion.
The Boxers, or “The Righteous and Harmonious Fists,” were a religious society that had originally rebelled against the imperial government in Shantung in 1898. They practiced an animistic magic of rituals and spells that they believed made them invulnerable to bullets and pain. The Boxers believed that the expulsion of foreign devils would magically renew Chinese society and begin a new golden age. Much of their discontent, however, was focused on the economic scarcity of the 1890’s. They were a passionate and confident group, full of contempt for authority and violent emotions.
In reality, the Boxer Rebellion could hardly be classified as either a rebellion or a war against the Europeans. China was largely under control of regional Governors General these regional officials ignored the Empress Dowager’s instructions and put forth every effort to prevent disorder or any harm coming to foreigners. The Boxer Rebellion, then, existed only in a few places and centered in Beijing. The Boxers laid seize to the foreign compound in Beijing cutting the Embassies off from their countries. The western response was quick and harsh. Within a couple of months, an international force captured and occupied Beijing and forced the imperial government to agree to the most embarrassing terms yet: the Boxer Protocol of 1901. Under the Boxer Protocol, European powers got the right to maintain military forces in the capital, therefore placing the imperial government under arrest. It also suspended civil service exams; demanded a huge amount to be paid to European powers for the losses they suffered, and ordered government officials to be punished for their role in the rebellion. It also suspended all arms imports into the country.
The embarrassment of the Boxer Protocols set China on a new course of reform that dramatically put into place all of the reforms, originally proposed by K’ang Yu-wei, prior to the Boxer Uprising. In 1901, the education system was redone to allow girls to attend and study Classics and Confucian studies were changed to the study of Western math, science, engineering, and geography. The civil service examination was also changed to reflect this new teaching method. Finally, in 1905, it was abandoned altogether. China began to send its children to Europe and Japan to study the new subjects. The military was reorganized under Yuan Shih-k’ai, who adopted the Japan and Western style of military discipline and organization.
In 1909 the last emperor, Pu Yi, the Hsan-tung emperor, ascended the throne. Soon there after the Imperial Dynasty was disposed by feuding warlords. The Boxer Rebellion was the last gasp of a dying imperial regime.