Friday, April 29, 2011

Book Review, "Dune"

            A while back I decided to read more classic science fiction novels as I had heard them referenced and discussed on various nerd message boards and... well, I like science fiction and wanted to see what many consider to be the pinnacles of the genre learn from what they wrote and criticize their central themes.  I read "Ringworld" which, as of now, has the coolest artificial thing ever in the Ringworld itself, I can see why the "Halo" series ripped it off as a setting.  I then read "Ender's Game" which is in a four way free for all battle with "the Hobbit", "Life, the Universe, and Everything", and "American Gods" for my favorite book ever.  The last major Sci-fi classic I read is "Dune".  Let me tell you, it's alright.

It is a pretty majestic setting to say the least.
            I actually saw the movie first, I caught a review that explained how the thing was confounding I decided to look it up on the Netflix instant que.  The movie is a disaster.  There are talented genre actors all over the place, and scenes of special effects that I think looked really cool... others that were less so... others that made me sort of frustrated and mad.  But my highest complaint was this, the movie was too long, and not long enough.  I saw multiple points in which the movie could have ended, and they just continued the story in a "Dune: Vol. 2".  People told me that the instances I mentioned were only about 30% of the way through the book... I came to find out they were exactly 30% through the book, "Dune" has three distinct sections, able to transform into three distinct movies with little effort and plenty of breathing room, they just didn't bother to do that.

Some supporting characters, each have some cool traits to them.
            The movie I blame on the director David Lynch, who is a strange man who I think should be forced to work with Sam Neil and Jeff Combs on a "Call of Cthulhu" movie and be made to stay the hell away from anything that has a straightforward narrative like "Dune".  This movie cries out to have been done by someone like Spielberg, who can adapt books "Jaws", modernize adventure "Indiana Jones", or just go with the hardcore science fiction wizardry "Jurassic Park".  In a modern world, and you'll call me crazy, but I would say give it to Zach Snyder, I think that his slow motion fight scenes (Everything he has done) would be great for showing how the Fremen warriors and the central protagonist, Paul fight with fierce and quick movement, and more, Snyder knows how to present bad guys with a sense of creepy and awesome ("300"), which I think would have worked better for the Harkonens and the Emperor (and I think that the Emperor or Duke Leto should be played by Hugh Jackman, and Count Fenring played by Cillian Murphy).

Paul's Mother and Father, Lady Jessica and Duke Leto
            Overall I liked the book.  I like the martial arts and sword fighting, I think the action scenes were well described and tense, since so many central characters are killed or captured or displaced in the first section the possibility of real death hangs in the air.  To emphasize the possibility of the hero, Paul, loosing his final battle, he tells himself visions of the future, that if he wins he will be seen as unconquerable, if he looses he is a martyr that will be the spirit guiding a galactic jihad.

            The villains are interesting, I like Fayd, he does a good job of being a tricky little shit, I like the Baron, he is a bombastic and monstrous rapist who is actually quite stupid when you get down to it.  The Emperor is rarely seen, but his shock troops are given a lot of fanfare, and when he is around he is a strong character.  Count Fenring is a minor role that I liked and could have seen more of.  And the core characters of Paul and his mother are both interesting and deep enough that I don't feel any member of the supporting cast stole their show, which sometimes happens in books.  The book is good at 'showing and not telling' for the most part, but there are major instances which are recounted rather than played out, and they come off cheap in that sense.

            I did have two major complaints.  Firstly, the plot is set off by the emperor, the guild, and the Harkonens working together to wipe out Paul's royal house, and to take control of planet Arrakis.  The Harkonene's do this because they are greedy, the Guild does this because... They're greedy?  Their motivation is somewhat questionable.  And the emperor does this because... I have no idea.  The Emperor fears that Duke Leto will be made the emperor through his popular support and military skill, why doesn't the emperor just have Duke Leto, or Paul, the Duke's son, marry the princess?  Disarms the threat of civil war via the oldest political game in the book, marriage.  So yeah, I had some trouble with the story structure.

Some of the bad guys
            My second issue are the super powers Paul gains later in the novel.  He is the ultimate product of a generations old secret conspiracy to breed the ideal human being.  All of the royal houses are pawns in this conspiracy.  Why is the group responsible doing this?  I don't know, I guess it is because they have always done it and figure that they want to make a Jesus.  The powers he gains are this, he can visualize time as a great landscape, certain sections of that landscape are blocked in shadow, you can take make decisions that lead to the safe well lit path and nothing will ever go wrong, as the shadows are representative of very risky and dangerous instances, which the future beyond can't be seen, but if you never take risks then the galaxy stagnates.  here is my problem, even though that is a cool metaphor, it is magic.  And really the line between sci-fi and fantasy is a random one, but this is an instance in which it crosses my line, and really considering that a lot of technology takes a nontraditional form, this whole book could be turned into a fantasy novel without too much difficulty.  And really that isn't the complaint, the deeper complain is that Paul is magic.  The Guy has training in multiple forms of secret martial arts, he has training in meditation, training to become a human computer, training in political gamesmanship, and he is a super being... It got to be a bit much.

Seriously, bad ass ceases to cover it.
            Overall good book.  Using only whole stars I would give it a 4 out of 5.... Here is another petty complaint.  The cover is boring as hell.  This book has sword fights, giant monsters, spaceships, and a society of women that are breed to be beautiful beyond reason.  Cover is all black with a tiny window that shows a distant aerial shot of two people walking through a desert.  This would be clever if this was a small hint as to the 'walking into shadow' psychic visions Paul later gets, but in actuality it is just boring cover art.

For comparison, here is a typical Conan cover.  You have the hero, a giant monster, a gorgeous woman, and a gem of power.  Not a thing is happening, but there is a hell of a lot of potential. 

If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Intro to Comics: Hank Pym (Upgrade)

(I originally wrote this in June of 2010, this is the updated version.)
            Ever heard of Hank Pym?  Well, he is getting a movie made about him directed by Edgar Wright ("Hot Fuzz", "Scott Pilgrim Versus the World"), as I love both the character and Wright I thought I should throw out some info on him.  This character was a founding member of the Avengers super hero team along with Tony "Iron Man" Stark, Dr. Donald "Thor" Blake, Janet "The Wasp" Van Dyne, and Dr. Bruce "Hulk" Banner.  At the time Pym was called Ant Man, but he has carried on several other titles since then: Giant Man, Goliath, Yellow Jacket, Hank Pym (he got a little lazy when he was running the West Coast Avengers), the Wasp (taken after the death of his wife Janet Van Dyne), and now he is back to Giant Man because for some damn reason people think that costume changes will sell more issues of comic books.
The costume that everybody was waiting to make a come back.  How is this desired?

            Hank took the title Wasp to honor Janet Van Dyne who was killed by shape shifting aliens who kidnapped and replaced Pym, and while doing so spiked the super formula that gave Janet her powers, that spiked formula caused he to nearly explode and kill all of the other Avengers... You know when you write it all out like that this stuff sounds a little silly.  He since reverted to Giant Man because of very weak reasons, that he felt he needed to be his own man and not dwell on his dead wife.
Even though his 'Wasp' costume looked nothing like Janet's.  And was arguably his most distinctive look yet.

            Hank is the inventor of the Pym Particle a substance that allows for the acclimation and dissipation of mass and the manipulation of volume... In other words he can make shrinking and growing formulas.  He also has invented plasma wings that allow a person to fly quickly when shrank, a helmet that allows him to talk to ants and other insects, various gadgets for holographic projection (allowing him to make a swarm of winged ants look like an army of Avengers arrived to save the day, bluffing villains to surrender), he has created The Infinite Avengers Mansion (an extra dimensional house that is thousands of miles in size and has doors that lead to locations all over the world and various important locations throughout the Galaxy), and lastly he is also the inventor of modern artificial intelligence in the Marvel Universe, which leads to his greatest failures.
For a while there they thought this was the Wasp, who was exploding into a new universe somewhere in White Space (which is outside of our universe... Kinda)

            See if Peter "Spiderman" Parker is the kind of nice guy who gets a door slammed in his face in spite of his good intentions, Hank Pym is the type of guy who will run headlong into a locked door and knock himself unconscious in spite of all his best intentions.  Hank invented Ultron, the ultimate killer robot, a being who has nearly conquered the universe on at least one occasion and has nearly wiped the Avengers out on several... That is bad.  Hank has also failed to deal with his limitations well, he has in fact had serious incidents of manic depression and dissociative fugue states in which he has invented an alternate personality that has been more ruthless toward criminals, and toward his friends, having hit his wife, and building another killer robot for him to defeat in order to impress other people (the robot then handed him his own ass).
Ultron, the unkillable murderous android bent on the death of all organic life.  Why, you might ask?  Cause its evil, no other justification has been given, but as of yet no other justification has been needed.

            Hank is an incredibly intelligent person, and much like Doctor Voodoo was the Sorcerer Supreme of the Marvel Universe, Hank is the Scientist Supreme a being intended to utilize the elegance of science to make the universe safer and more beautiful.  He is not as intelligent as Mr. Fantastic, or as focused and driven as Iron Man, but has a natural creativity that surpasses the two of them and allows him to fabricate truly bizarre and powerful devices.  He actually carries around several different labs in his vest pockets so he can design, build, and utilize weapons as the situation dictates.
This is God telling Hank that he is important.  Cause he wasn't enough of a head case without the impossible expectations.

            Pym has led numerous teams of Avengers currently operating as the headmaster of the Avengers Academy, an institution for at risk kids with super powers who run the risk of becoming villains.  During the last big event Pym was one of the primary targets of the Skrulls, the shape shifting Aliens that killed Janet Van Dyne.  During the invasion he was replaced by a double and held prisoner, that double ended up having a relationship with Pym's friend Tigra, a fellow Avenger, and she now has a son that is genetically Pym's.  Sadly in recent times, while all of the stories have been good for the most part, and the concepts cool, the characters in "Avenger's Academy" are written a little stilted at times, and when Pym and Tigra had to discuss Tigra's son, whom she wanted Pym to be the godfather of, his response is so cold and robotic that it came off as obnoxious, especially considering how clever and driven he has been in the series that recently ended "Mighty Avengers".
Not that he can't be obnoxious, here is a picture of him calling Mr. Fantastic a bitch and challenging him to a nerd off.

            Rather than telling Tigra how sorry he was that he wasn't the guy she had a relationship with, and how he regrets that fact as she is his teammate, friend, and worthy romantic partner, how she has helped him save the world, and fought back aliens, gods and monsters, he instead babbles about how he never intended to have kids because of his history of mental illness, the whole conversation came off as whiny and self centered, when it should have been a scene full of regret while at the same time having hope for the future, making the characters much more human and connected.  I am disappointed with it to say the least as I feel it was a major missed opportunity, and I know I could have written the scene better.

Conversely, here is he and she behaving like human beings.  Though this is actually an alien impersonating Hank, so take that as you will.
            Pym is one of the most under appreciated characters in comics and I hope the movie does him justice.  I would say his personal best was in the miniseries "BEYOND!" by Dwayne McDuffie which I already covered in "Intro to Comics".

And here is a picture of his latest team, the Avengers Academy

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Boxer Rebellion Part 6: My Conclusions

Final Conclusions
            I do not, as many of the texts I consulted believe, that the Boxer Uprising was unique from a historical perspective.  Was it a fascinating case?  Definitely, and the individual accounts and the grander narrative of the whole affair come off as poetic in many instances.  It is a tragedy on a grand scale fueled by racism, religion, economics, and by the clash of progress and tradition.  It was the first conflict between East and West in the 20th century, and the last great conflict fought by a Chinese Dynasty.  It was the closing out of centuries of a government styled on myth, and the heralding of progress.

            Whenever a society steeped in tradition comes into conflict with an advanced military power their beliefs are challenged, 'why has god forsaken us' could be the sentiment used to describe these groups, and from these groups both violence and new reforms emerge.  The Sioux Indians after being driven deeper into the American continent by Westward United States expansion founded a religion about how one day the White man would be swept away from the world, the Ghost Dance movement believed that through mysticism they could see the future of this day coming and within their ceremonial garments they could not be harmed by gunfire, they like the Boxers' beliefs in their own martial arts, were mistaken.  Local magicians opposing French rule in Algeria claimed that their magical abilities would make them the scourge of white men, the French sent in a magician who put on his own magic shows and then revealed how they were performed, daring local mystics to do better, they were deemed schemers and French rule continued, a rebellion killed before it could walk.

            China had suffered from disaster, and lost faith in the leadership that had brought them there, but sadly rather than change before the tides of the world that beat down their temples with science and foreign ideas they tried to hold firm, banded together and stood against the tide, only to be drowned.  They couldn't have thought they would win, no Boxer truly believed themselves to be invincible, the people wanted miracles to bring back their crops, they wanted someone to blame, and the Boxers gave them some leadership that the Dynasty wasn't, they gave them an enemy, and they told the people that they were the living scions of nature's fury.  It is not unique, but it is certainly tragic.

            I like to look back with this conflict to the Opium Wars, where I believe China was entirely in the right and lost regardless, the British were drug dealers and were undermining the entire country.  Do I believe they had not been treated fairly initially when selling clocks and wool?  Yes, but that does not excuse selling drugs.  Compare that with the Boxer Rebellion, a case when I believe the Chinese were totally in the wrong.  While I do not like that missionaries were arrogant, and that too much foreign influence was causing China to loose identity, the Boxers killed innocent people because they were Christian, they spread lies about cannibalism to discredit orphanages that took in the hungry and the sick, and the Boxers killed innocent people simply because they were different.  That is evil.  And the government was so corrupt that they performed a coup' de tat just so they wouldn't have to reform and confront a world they were woefully unequipped to deal with, they were incompetent and foolish.

            The books I read often would try to make it seem that racism by missionaries on some level justifies the Boxer's sentiment.  Schoppa puts down the words of the German missionary Georg Stenz, "His contempt for the Chinese drips from his description of Shanghai: 'An entirely new world now opened before us.  Crowds of slit eyed Chinese swarmed about the harbor... Cunning, pride, and scorn flashed from the eyes that met our inquiring looks." (Schoppa, pg119)  No offense to Schoppa, but I do not hear the contempt.  This man has come from the other side of the planet in hopes of telling people about Jesus.  I'm not Christian, but I can admire his drive to journey far to help people find what he believes to be a great religion.  And even with the line about "cunning, pride, and contempt" I don't think he was far off, two of his friends were murdered in front of him by Boxers, and he was the target, how he got away I don't know but needless to say that if he saw some sort of anti-missionary vibe in the Chinese people around him, that doesn't make him racist, it makes him observant; even if he was as racist as anyone else in the world, he did not deserve to be murdered in the street because the Boxers blame him for the drought.

            In conclusion, the Boxers were not a unique type of movement in history, but they were most definitely an important terrorist movement in China at the birth of the 20th century.

References Quoted
Eshrick, Joseph W. 1987. "The Origins of the Boxer Uprising"
            I liked this book, I felt I could have easily gotten more passages out of it that would have provided a greater understanding of the material.

Preston, Diana. 1999. "The Boxer Rebellion"
            Good book because of its narrative strength, but I do not think its goal was to be an academic journal and as such gives notice to more sensational aspects of the conflict, fun to read, very informative, tempered by my understanding gathered from reading the other works.

Purcell, Victor. 1963.  "The Boxer Uprising"
            Nothing I couldn't have gotten from the other books, but more writer context on the incident to temper my digestion of the others.

Schoppa, R. Keith. 2002. "Revolution and its Past"
            Surprisingly short bit on this historical incident considering the title of the book, and a little biased in the presentation of some of the players.  Addressed directly in my conclusion.

References Consulted
Bickers, Robert and R.G. Tiedemann. edited 2007. "The Boxers, China, and the World"
            Nothing in here was quotable, though each article had very strong specific focus to an issue within the conflict, if this had been a longer paper I would have quoted from this for several different more focused things.

Spence, Jonathan D. 1990.  "The Search for Modern China"
            The section is a little short on the Boxer Rebellion, though I would have used it for some of its more poignant quotes if I were writing a longer paper.

Waley-Cohen, Joanna. 1999. "The Sextants of Beijing"
            Hardly used at all, I read its small section on the Rebellion, and was disappointed with it.  Generally it is too short a book covering far too large a span of history and comes off as a little glib.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Boxer Rebellion Part 5: Failure to Communicate

Stage Five: Failure to Communicate
            This is the stage in which I cannot really understand the course of action that is taking place.  The Alliance has seized the capital, leadership of the Chinese has either fled, been crushed under military marching, or committed suicide.  Huge territory was already controlled by each of the powers and they had an exiled Emperor ready to step into place as a replacement ruler who could help to legitimize China turning into a parliamentary democracy with the help of foreign ministers and political scientists.  And instead the foreign governments demand money, take away guns, dismantle forts, and put a stop to government testing, hardly an enlightened nation building effort.

            First was the fine calculated at 67,500,000 pounds.  Which was astronomical at the time.  "America objected that this was too high and would bankrupt China; they wanted the sum reduced by a third... America's policy was to bring 'permanent safety and peace to China' and to preserve China's territorial integrity." (Preston, pg310)  Needless to say other powers were not of the same sentiment, and under pressure China agreed that the debt would be paid in full, though it ultimately ended the payments after 39 years.

            Second were the restrictions.  To limit military growth and armament while tensions cooled and so money could be spent on domestic reconstruction, at least I optimistically project that was a motivator, China would be allowed to not buy weapons for two years.  During that same period the Civil Service Examination would be suspended, the motivations for this move I do not quite understand.

            The Civil Service examination was a centuries old system of creating some sort of meritocracy based system for the government, but had failed to be reformed in that time, so it stood as an un-evolving relic which was held in place because to remove it would call into question the entire body politics qualifications for their own positions.  And not removing it had caused any rival path of education to languish because there were no guaranteed benefits for any other form of social promotion.  Suspending this test was a good idea, a forward thinking one and was part of the reformist movements prior to the Dowager's take over and Boxer Rebellion, but suspending for such a short time is silly, and would not in and of itself prompt any other reform, so I have no idea why they insisted on this.

            I suspect a certain moderate and measured mentality is to blame for China not simply being sliced up into provinces for the various powers, but never the less with the deaths of so many leaders, and the Dynasty fleeing before the military power of the Alliance, the Dynasty was walking dead.  The long term authority and legitimacy of the institutions were shattered, the countdown to revolution, a revolution that would replace the Divine Right nature of the monarchy's authority, was begun.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Boxer Rebellion Part 4: All Together Now

Stage Four: All Together Now
            In August the Alliance of the Great Powers arrived to relieve those men and women in Beijing who had been under siege.  Comprised of roughly 50,000 soldiers with major contributions coming from Japan, Russia, and the United Kingdom, and working through a complex joint command structure they took the city with vastly superior weapons and tactics.  The Boxers did often have fire arms, but many were armed with spears and swords.  Qing forces were defeated in a rout.  Again varying reports give me a mixed look at casualty numbers, but I think that to say close to 40,000 Chinese and Boxer forces were killed, while only about 3,000 Alliance forces were lost, not counting the Chinese Christians who had taken innumerable losses since the creation of the Boxers and their sporadic attacks against missions.

            A good deal of the loses seemed to come from the extremely irregular nature of the Boxers.  As many were the exact undesirable element that they had accused the 'Rice Christians' of being military leaders couldn't work with the greater body of them.  Yu-Lu a military leader said this, "'Boxers are too wild and difficult to train.  On pretext of enmity to the Christians, they loot everywhere and have no intention of attacking the foreign troops.'  When the battle came, the Boxers scattered without a trace." (Esherick, pg309)  They also focused efforts on Christian structures with anti Christian goals, rather than more tactically viable long term strategies for going against the foes.  Esherick illustrates this in the siege of the Northern Catholic Cathedral, were thousands of Boxers were trying to take and kill the 3,000 civilians and 40 or so marines, but couldn't get support from the regular troops who saw it as a waste in effort motivated out of cruelty rather than need, ultimately the marines held the Cathedral.

            The Boxers were not all to blame for the loses, the regular troops were under the command of leaders with wildly different ways of thinking about each other.  It was a regime established in a coup, suicidally facing off against vastly superior military forces under the pretext of a doctored diplomatic ultimatum.   They feared the Boxer movement too, a group that could very well turn into a new revolution against the Dynasty, I imagine that a large number of them sought to get the Boxers destroyed so they wouldn't have to deal with them post war.  A large amount of the leadership was in some sort of convoluted game of letting some other leader lose battles, pulling punches against a force they couldn't defeat, trying not to slaughter innocent foreigners, and somehow come out looking like a hero on both sides of the conflict so they wouldn't have to face exile or execution.  It was Byzantine politics of China, and not an environment which a government can be expected to win a war in.  In other words, they weren't working together, they had no clear goal, and they had a diverse and powerful enemy that many just wanted to make peace with.  They lacked the Moral Law to govern.  "The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger." (Sun Tzu, 'The Art of War', Chapter 1 lines 5 &6)

            Sadly, China was not fully aware of the level of destructive power they were going against.  China was a foreign land full of barbarians that had killed innocent Christians, or so it would have seemed to the typical marine or soldier moving toward Beijing.  The foreign military did not know about the politics involved on their opponent's side, nor did they care.  These men and women wanted revenge and they took it, burning their way to the capital before capturing it.  Nearly indiscriminant crimes were waged against local populations thought to be harboring Boxers, and the sheer lunacy of fighting guns with Boxer mysticism was laid bare to the world.  The Boxers United in Righteousness were stamped out brutally.  "Outside Beijing, troops went out on 'punitive picnics' to punish, by looting, rape, and arson, suburban villages suspected of harboring Boxers." (Esherick, pg310)  Preston mentions that the aftermath was brutal in a far range with German troops frequently leading the way destroying what the Kaiser called the Yellow Peril, with huge misgivings on the part of British and American forces, but little could be done to stop frequent indiscriminant carnage.

            A last ditch defense of the capital had crumbled, but it didn't really matter at that point, the Empress and the Court had fled, and continued fleeing for months allowing the capital to serve as the ultimate bargaining chip for the Allies who captured it in the negotiations for peace.  Many in the higher ranks of the Chinese leadership committed suicide, many more had died fighting earlier in the conflict, and any number of Boxer and Imperial leaders were facing executions from their own people and Alliance troops.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Boxer Rebellion Part 3: Pride and Prejudice

Stage Three: Pride and Prejudice
            While the groups were forming it was happening in a greater context of foreign relations.  China had been, as previously stated, moving toward being divided amongst the colonial powers of the world.  In an effort to head off this change an intellectual movement had started to call for drastic reforms in the status quo, and the Emperor seeing this as an opportunity at a legacy that would make him a founding father of China's future put into effect the Hundred Days reform.

            Massive overhauls in schools, military, and government bureaucracy were all planned, decreed, and then killed with the overthrown of the Emperor by the reactionary and corrupt upper levels of the Chinese government, with Empress Dowager being the leader, or at the very least the public face of this movement.

            Oddly the author Preston portrays the Empress Dowager as one part Catharine the Great and another Caligula, one side a cunning politician and capable administrator, having her hands very much on the controls of the whole movement, but she is also portrayed as sort of mad with luxury and privilege, taking her position more as an opportunity of indulgence and allowing those court members around her to control things, and stepping in with her own opinion at different times, though not being the constant master of the whole affair.  I am unsure which interpretation of Dowager was correct, but I prefer the compromise of the two.  That the Empress was the most identifiable entity among many in a larger conspiracy to keep China under their control, and that her collective court had more say and input about policy and that Dowager should not shoulder the bulk of blame for the events of the Boxer Rebellion.

            In the midst of this overthrow perpetrated by Reactionary government elements, foreign presence became more ill at ease.  The Emperor had been amicable with the foreign presence and for the most part I think that his reforms would have been welcomed by the international community in China.  The Boxers gathering and assaulting people were not serving as a calming effect to the tension.

            As I said in stage two, the Boxer movement was ostensibly recruiting from the same groups that the Christians were recruiting from, the poor and disenfranchised who were calling for both a personal direction, and looking for food.  Natural disasters had added considerably to the plight of the Chinese in the North East provinces, Schoppa singles out a flood that destroyed farmland which was quickly followed by drought which unemployed many Chinese as the key issue.  But the Boxer's in addition to using local folklore to speak to the spiritual side of the destitute Chinese, also had food to fill the stomachs of the hungry countrymen.  "An attraction of the Boxers as food became scarce was that they usually had good supplies of grain, gained in their pillaging of Christian households and sometimes their extortion from the wealthy."  (Schoppa, pg120)  Apparently no one in the Boxer Rebellion called the late joiners of the movement 'Rice Christians' when they showed up for the catering.

            The diplomatic friction hit a high note with murder of numerous missionaries and officials, along with several thousand Chinese Christians.  The first missionary victim according to Preston was an Englishman named Brooks, who was captured, stripped, led through the snowy countryside naked, and then while fleeing for his life was ridden down and decapitated.  Brook's murder was a thing of discussion in the capital as various foreign dignitaries sent for naval backup from their homelands and petitioned Dowager for concrete law enforcement action against the Boxer movement.

            A conspiracy took advantage of the Empress' insecurities when dealing with the Foreign demands for protection and their approaching navies, several ultimatums to the Empress Dowager asking for huge numbers of government duties to be handed over to the foreign presence and the Emperor to be restored to power were read at court and it enraged the Empress.  This series of demands was engineered by her own court to spur her into declaring war on the foreign presence.  "The Ultimatum was a forgery by Prince Duan... but it had its intended effect.  The Empress Dowager declared dramatically: 'Today they have opened hostilities, and the extinction of the nation is before us... Rather than wait for death, is it not better to die fighting?'" (Esherick, pg302)

            The Empress had previously been curious about the Boxer movement but now saw it as a set of troops that could be supported and utilized without need for pay.  They were all already fervent and directed at the enemy, and in many causes thought that they were invincible.  She allied her forces with the Boxers and ordered the extermination of the foreign presence in Beijing and then China as a whole.

            Considering the weight of the military forces in question, I have seen various estimates but all were measured in the tens of thousands, the weeks that the diplomatic quarter held out was a miracle.  The place was under siege until the middle of August and I can only imagine that it would not have lasted had it not been for more pragmatic members of the Chinese court blunting their attacks hoping that a more peaceful solution could still be reached.  A number in the court realized how poor their long term prospects of conflict were, "Several ministers... protested that China had been unable to defeat even one Power in past conflicts, and stood little chance of withstanding a united expedition of all the Great Powers now." (Esherick, pg302)  I also think that some more merciful members of the court saw the people in the diplomatic area as having families and would not suffer themselves to killing innocents.  Then there were ministers who simply didn't get the message to wage war, as the decree was not clearly and quickly distributed to the various provincial government heads, and the reaction to the directive was mixed, I imagine more than a few simply 'lost' the order.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Boxer Rebellion Part 2: Fight Club

Stage Two: Fight Club
            The Boxers full title, according to Preston was 'I Ho Tuan' or Boxers United in Righteousness and they emerged from the Shantung province from two previous groups, the Big/Great Swords and Spirit Boxers, both of which had originated in Shantung.  The Big Swords were a militia or vigilante group made primarily of land owners who sought to protect their property from bandits.  The Spirit Boxers came from a much poorer demographic and while they did proactive martial arts they also based a large amount of their practices around charms and mysticism.  Ultimately the Spirit Boxers were the stronger influence on the final dogma of the Boxer movement, having performed martial arts shows to draw in recruits and claiming that through spirit possession they could become invincible to bullets and swords.

            Spirit possession was, in my opinion, very similar to the religious practice of talking in tongues in some Christian sects, in which the believer takes on the presence of a spirit or angel and acts or speaks with the authority and power of that supernatural creature.  Boxer's used names of creatures from very well spread mythos in their martial arts demonstrations, speaking the cultural language of those they wished to recruit.  Using this cultural mythos their movement spoke to a large demographic within the Han of the province using symbols that had been taught to them since their birth.

            The Boxers appealed to, ironically in my view, many of the same demographics that the Christian Missionaries had been converting from.  The Boxers were more effective I think, because they professed a more active view point and spoke from a familiar native position to those groups.

            Aiding in the growth of this movement was large levels of disenfranchisement from a drought which struck the Shantung region forcing many directionless and poor young men into population centers looking for work and instead finding this militant anti foreign movement.

            As the Boxers United in Righteousness took on a more focused membership from those economically displaced by the presence of steam technology and telegraphs posts,  what could be considered manifestos or newsletters began to be distributed in large sums, "We support the Qing regime and aim to wipe out the foreigners; let us do our utmost to defend our country and safeguard the interests of our peasants" (Purcell, pg224) serving as a perfect example of what the ultimate goal would be for this movement.

            To further parallel this movement and the work of Missionaries, rather like nuns the Boxers had a position for women within their movement with its own responsibilities.  Much as nuns would serve as nurses and teachers in addition to being a part of the church hierarchy, the Boxers had the Red Lanterns who were mostly teenage girls and young women who carried red paper lanterns, in part used to help burn missions, and said to be the source of some level of mystical power.  "They were considered the equals of the male Boxers despite the Boxer belief that female impurities rendered Boxer Spells useless."  (Preston, pg32)

            I considered the idea that the anti-Christian sentiment might have stemmed in part from the Taiping Rebellion, granting a strong cultural memory to Chinese culture that might lead to a sort of demonizing folklore surrounding Chinese who have succumbed to the corrupting foreign influence of Christianity.  But that didn't really pan out in my view.  The Taiping Rebellion happened in the south, the Boxers emerged from the North, the Taiping Rebellion had little resemblance to Western Christianity and was not supported by them when they fought through China, where as the Boxers focused their attention on the idea that it was only corrupt Chinese who would join foreign missions to begin with and that the Christianity they followed was distinctly foreign and absent of Chinese influence.  The Boxers did not have a vendetta against some cultural memory of the Taiping Rebellion, they were against Christianity in the here and now of their lives.

            I have a difficult time understanding the nature of this movement at this stage.  They oppose the presence of new technology because it has economically damaged them, and because it violates taboos, and they oppose Christianity because it is divisive to communities, and because they think that they are performing inhuman practices on people, but in my research I have found no one in the movement attempting to negotiate on little things.  For instance, why is it the local people don't just ask the missionaries to show them around the mission one day so that they can see there are no jars of eyes?  Why not get a job with the railroad like so many Chinese workers had done for decades in America?  Why not learn how to put up and use telegraphs so they know what they are and how they work and really question the nature of how these things fit into ancient traditions of natural balance?  It seems like a step was skipped somewhere.  That people went from poor farmers, to really poor farmers too quickly, and that they went from disgruntled to violent too quickly.  Why was it that no one stopped, looked around, and asked whether there were compromises or deeper investigations that could happen?  I can not find evidence of a cultural apologist on either side of the conflict and that is unnerving to me, I feel something important has been edited out somewhere.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Boxer Rebellion Part 1: Pilgrims in an Unholy Land

            The Boxer Rebellion breaks down into several stages, the first being the growing incursion of Western technology and religion into mainland China; the second is the growing of the Boxer groups themselves, with various forms of recruitment and the formation of dogma as a group; third is the Boxer's initial threats/attacks and the Western diplomat's initial anxiety; fourth is the direct conflict between the Boxers and the Western world, from attacks on Diplomatic quarters and personnel, the response of the Chinese government, and the creation of a unified military response by the various Western powers to combat the threat; the fifth and final part is the resolution, the fining of China, and other Diplomatic concessions conceded as amends for the Boxer's actions.

Stage One: Pilgrims in an Unholy Land
            The Western world had been increasing their presence in China since the Opium Wars, each concession made to one foreign power was used by others as leverage and example to extend their own treaty, taking by inches China's sovereignty over the course of decades.  Every text sees the encroachment of the West deeper into China in certain smaller steps.

            It begins with Missionary work gathering up small tightly bound communities of Chinese citizens around Christianity.  These small communities are usually seen by non-converts as trouble makers and delinquents.  Missionaries carried with them certain diplomatic weight as members of the West, and could use this on behalf of their religious community within China; the Missionaries also brought with them church resources in the way of food for the hungry, medical treatment for the sick, and education and care for orphans.  Non-convert Chinese believed that these privileges motivated more conversation than any drive for real spiritual fulfillment.  "Many were from the poorest groups anyway and were disparagingly called 'Rice Christians' in the belief that they had converted only to fill there stomachs." (Preston, pg26)

            After missionaries move into the interior of China there starts cultural friction.  Since missionaries could and frequently did intervene on behalf of their converts, and they created a separate community that did not celebrate local holidays or superstitions, they could and frequently were seen as an undermining presence in the village that they were present within.  As with any minority group which is seen as hostile to the established order, rumors are created around religious misunderstandings to foster stigma against the group.  In the case of the Christians rumors of cannibalism has always been the most prevalent myth held against them, it was true in Ancient Rome and it was true in China; more than likely a poor understanding of the Catholic tradition of communion, symbolically ingesting the flesh and blood of Christ by eating bread and wine is the source of these rumors in either case.  Acting against this subversive cannibalistic cult violence erupts.  Eventually violence or tension would prompt military intervention to protect missions and the converts from angry local violence.

            Lastly, diplomats use the violence and need for military presence to justify deeper and deeper territorial presence, and the creation of railroads and telegraphs to keep the military and mission presence both supplied and informed.  This also carries with it a great deal of cultural friction.  European culture evolved with technology, superstition in various eras being eroded by the convenience provided by individual technological discoveries, China did not have that same cultural luxury.  China's culture was newly introduced to things without the context of watching them be invented, or learning how they worked.  You have in this instance poor peasant farmers who still have strongly pantheistic superstitions watching as foreigners with radically different appearances build machines that drastically change the economy, doing things that fall outside of the farmers view of the natural world.  "Telegraph lines were similarly feared.  Wind moaning through the high telegraph poles sounded like spirits in torment.  Rusty water dripping from the wire looked like the blood of the spirits of the air."  (Preston, pg30)