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.

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