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)

No comments:

Post a Comment