Stereographic print from 1901. The original caption read: U.S. Minister E.H. Conger and staff, heroes of the awful siegein the American Legation, Peking, China. BY UNDERWOOD & UNDERWOOD.

The Boxer Protocol was the treaty that ended the Boxer Rebellion of 1899–1900, awarding indemnities to the eleven victorious foreign powers. In 1937 Japan invoked provisions of the protocol when it invaded China.

The Boxer Rebellion of 1899–1900 is perhaps best remembered because of the twelve-article and nineteen-annex protocol, which was signed by elder Chinese statesman Li Hongzhang and representatives of eleven foreign powers in September 1901 as a peace treaty after the catastrophic event. In 1937 Japan invoked Article 9 of the protocol, which allowed foreign troops to occupy stations between Beijing and Tianjin, when Japan exploited the Marco Polo Bridge Incident to launch its invasion of China at the start of the War of Resistance against Japan (1937–1945, known outside China as the Second Sino-Japanese War). However, the pretext of the Japanese was weak because the Marco Polo Bridge was not one of the twelve stations where the foreign powers would have been allowed to deploy.

The entire Boxer episode was disastrous, damaging China because of the myopia of the Dowager Empress Cixi, who in her old age lacked the leadership to rescue the Manchu Qing dynasty (1644–1912) from demise. The Boxer episode began in 1899 in the province of Shandong in eastern China, where an anti-Western secret society, which used the martial arts (hence the term Boxers, or I-ho Quan) as a means of training, spiritual uplift, and immunization against Western weapons, went on a rampage (1896–1898). Members of the secret society first killed Christian Chinese and foreign missionaries who, the Boxers felt, had either betrayed Chinese tradition or incited Chinese to do so. The general mood of the country was low after the war against Korea (1845–1894), the humiliating defeat, and the Shimonoseki settlement that followed. Thus, people were ready to cheer anyone who dared to defy the enemy.

What began as a scattered targeting of Christians by the Boxers soon was generalized to the destruction of anything foreign: churches, mines, railways, and foreign institutions, which were blamed for all the hardships that China suffered. Many of the Boxers were alienated and impoverished peasants, unemployed persons who had been dismissed from the imperial troops or local militias that disbanded, or long-distance porters who had lost their jobs to the railway companies. The Qing dynasty was neutral at first, although it benefited from the Boxer slogan; “Support the Qing and eliminate foreigners!” However, in May 1900 the Qing court began to lend support to the Boxers because it believed in their power and was ready for a confrontation with the West in order to rescue something of its downtrodden prestige in the country after the Korean debacle.

Boxers Begin Siege

The rebellion itself began on 20 June when the Boxers began an eight-week-long siege against the foreign embassies in Beijing, which had been forced on China in the first place and had destroyed its worldview of the tributary system (dating from premodern times, when foreign powers paid homage to the emperor, pledging wealth, assets, and goods in exchange for reciprocal trade agreements or special treatment) with such “barbarians” now that China had to host them in the capital. The dowager empress foolishly declared war on the foreign powers the next day and directed the provincial governors to participate. However, they knew the military might of the West and understood the scope of the looming catastrophe. Li Hongzhang, a senior official who was respected by the West because of his experience and wisdom, had fallen from grace in Beijing and was in exile in the south.

The foreign powers finally acted to extricate their embassies from the siege. The foreign powers replaced the two thousand troops who withdrew under pressure by the Boxers with an expedition of nineteen thousand soldiers, most of them Japanese because of the ability of the Japanese to bring in reinforcements from nearby Korea while the European and U.S. troops lagged behind. The expedition conquered Beijing on 14 August, and Emperor Guang Xu and the dowager empress fled to the ancient capital of Xian. Facing defeat and chaos throughout the country, Li Hongzhang, together with Governors Liu Kon-I and Zhang Zidong in the southeast, who had previously refused to join the war, in Guangzhou (Canton) signed separate settlements with the foreign consuls in their provinces in order to avert collapse of the country.

Peace Settlement

These leaders again came to the rescue of the now-discredited Manchu dynasty and negotiated a peace settlement in Shanghai, known as the “Boxer Protocol.” The most humiliating terms of the protocol were those that dictated an enormous indemnity that China was forced to pay each of the eleven foreign powers, and the twelve stations on the road between Beijing and the sea that the foreign powers were permitted to occupy to defend their reinforcements should the need rise again. That is the article that Japan invoked in 1937. Other articles in the protocol were a burden, but the burden of the indemnity, which held China’s budget hostage to foreigners for many years, was probably the most oppressive.

However, one can see some positive outcomes of the rebellion and the protocol: The Boxers proved that China could fight courageously against the West, and the protocol avoided the partitioning of China. Because the Manchus were now repudiated as foreigners who let the dynasty fall to the pressure of the West, the Chinese proved that they were capable of forming a patriotic front. This confidence was picked up by a new type of leader, Sun Yat-sen, who began to explore alternative forms of government after it became obvious that the dynasty was falling.

Further Reading

Cordier, H. (1902). Histoire des Relations de la Chine avec les Puissances Occidentales [History of the relations between China and Western Powers]. Paris: Felix Alcan.

Fairbank, J. (1953). Trade and diplomacy on the China coast. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Hsu, Immanuel. (1970). The rise of modern China. New York: Oxford University Press.

Morse, H. B. (1971). The international relations of the Chinese empire. Taipei, Taiwan: Cheng Wen Press.

Reischauer, F., & Reischauer, C. (1967). East Asia: The modern transformation. London: Allen and Unwin.

Schirokauer, C. (1989). A brief history of Chinese and Japanese civilizations. Philadelphia: Harcourt Brace Publishers.

Spence, J. (1990). The search for modern China. New York: Norton.

Source: Israeli, Raphael. (2009). Boxer Protocol (Xinchou Treaty). In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 194–196. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Stereographic print c. 1901. The original caption read: Ministers of
Foreign Powers during negotiations with China
leaving Spanish legation after a sittingPeking, China. BY UNDERWOOD & UNDERWOOD.

Boxer Protocol (Xinchou Treaty) (X?n-Ch?u Tiáoyu? ????)|X?n-Ch?u Tiáoyu? ???? (Boxer Protocol (Xinchou Treaty))

Download the PDF of this article