chapter  5
25 Pages

The Boxer Incident and beyond, 1900–04

The Boxer Uprising of 1900, during which discontented Chinese, the socalled Boxers, besieged the diplomatic settlement in Beijing and finally fought and lost against an allied force from eight foreign countries (Japan among them), is another seminal event in modern Chinese history. In Chinese historiography, it is fraught with a symbolic power that has even increased over time.1 For Japan, however, the Boxer Uprising marks the visible effacement of China as a sovereign actor from political discourse, and the rise of Russia instead as the new polarizing power. The Boxer Incident brought Japanese soldiers back to China and, finally,

to the gates of Beijing. However, the circumstances of the campaign radically differed from the war with China six years before, at least in the eyes of the Japanese public. Consequently, the public attitude also differed markedly from the exuberant jingoism of the war days. The Boxer Uprising at first was conceived as a primarily anti-Christian disturbance of passing significance and therefore no business of Japan. When the British government requested the Japanese government to send more troops than originally planned, this was understood as an invitation for Japan to join the ‘club’ of civilized powers, and the participation was viewed as an intervention for the sake of civilization. Due to the dogma of ‘Sino-Japanese friendship,’ it could not be viewed as a war anyway. However, the war reports of the Boxer expedition visibly demonstrate that calling China a ‘friend’ eventually meant the total loss of China as an independent power in the eyes of the Japanese public. Thus China was completely ignored in the event, and reports focused solely on Japan’s competition with the Western powers, hinting at the rising tension with Russia. The Japanese public therefore soon lost interest in the Boxer expedition itself, and turned towards the ‘real thing,’ confrontation with Russia.