Terror and Glory – The Boxer Rebellion

One of the saddest cases was that of Chao-hsi-mao, aged 30, his mother, 59, sister 36 and wife, only 19 years old. In July 1900 all four were arrested by the Boxers for being Christian; their house and all their belongings burnt. The Boxer chief ordered that they be killed where they were arrested.

While on the way back they all joined in singing the hymn “He leadeth me”. Once outside the village they were taken down from the cart; Chao-hsi-mao was beheaded first. Still the mother would not recant, saying, “You have killed my son; you can now kill me.” And she, too, was beheaded. The other two remained steadfast and the sister said; “My brother and mother are dead. Kill me too.” After her death there was only the young wife left, “You have killed my husband, sister and mother-in-law. What have I to live for? Take my life as well.” Thus all four sealed their testimonies with their blood.’

‘On 14 June 1900 the Boxer movement made its first appearance in Tatungfu, North Shanxi. Here were stationed Mr and Mrs I’Anson and three children, Mr and Mrs Stewart M’Kee and two children, and Miss Aspden and Miss M.E. Smith; all of the China Inland Mission. On 24 June an angry crowd burst into the mission compound, the missionaries barely had time to escape. A number of the crowd rushed after them while throwing stones. They escaped and took refuge in the Yamen, (the mandarin’s office) where they were kindly received, sent home and given a guard of 50 soldiers. The guard of soldiers was gradually withdrawn and by 12 July only two remained. That evening another crowd burst in on them. This time the house was surrounded so there was no chance of escape. Mr M’Kee and Mr I’Anson were killed first and then the women and children. Alice M’Kee hid in the cow house but was discovered and thrown into the flames of the burning houses. In all about 100 people, including Catholic and Protestant missionaries and Christian Chinese were killed in Tatung.’

The above accounts are just two of many hundreds describing the martyrdom of thousands of Chinese Christians and of 188 Protestant missionaries during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.

Who were the Boxers? And why did they resort to such savagery? At the end of the 19th century, the ruling Qing dynasty was in terminal decline. For over 50 years, since the infamous Opium Wars, China had endured humiliation and by 1900 the country teetered on the brink of being occupied and sliced up by Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia and Japan. Shanghai was entirely governed by foreigners and commercially and socially the country was in decay. Hatred of foreigners was on the rise and the Boxer movement provided a focus for long pent-up grievances to explode in a blood-bath.

Originally, the Boxers were a secret society, mixing their traditional folk religion with occult practices. They had aimed to overthrow the foreign Qing dynasty, but the wily Empress Dowager Ci Xi cleverly subverted the movement so that its main focus of hatred switched to the foreigners. Outside the Treaty Ports, the most visible foreigners were the missionaries and the ones who had penetrated to the most remote and dangerous regions were often from the China Inland Mission.

The Boxers started to spread rumours that the foreigners kidnapped and ate children. By the spring of 1900 the first killings of foreigners and Chinese Christians had begun. Thousands of Chinese Roman Catholics, over 1,000 Protestants and 188 Western Protestant missionaries were killed. In total, the CIM lost 58 adults and 21 children. It was a stunning blow.

The reaction of the Great Powers was immediate. British, French, German, Japanese and Russian troops descended on Beijing. The Empress Dowager fled and her Summer Palace was burnt and looted. Punitive reparations were enforced on the Chinese government.

But what was the reaction of the CIM? In the spirit of Christ, the CIM refused to receive any reparations for the deaths of its members and the vast loss of property. In Taiyuan the CIM erected a plaque on the wall of the rebuilt mission premises stating that, although full compensation could be justly claimed, it would not be. This was so that the teaching of Jesus might be put into practice, and to make it plain that the missionaries were willing to abandon any personal rights for the good of the Chinese people. It was this attitude that impressed one local Chinese governor so much that he increased his voluntary gift for the relief of the Chinese Christians. All this was in stark contrast to the Western powers and it deeply affected both the people and government of China. In the first two decades of the 20th century the Church in China made significant gains. Truly, the blood of the martyrs was the seed of a renewed and growing Church.