Boxers, Bandits, and Rebels: State, Society and Popular Violence in China
The eighteenth century was perhaps the high water mark of the Chinese dynastic system. This period saw prolonged peace, massive and unprecedented territorial expansion, economic and demographic growth as well as cultural and artistic advancement. In the 19th century, long simmering demographic and ecological pressures placed increasing strain on Qing society and social tensions increased and flared violently. By mid-century, China was embroiled in the Taiping Rebellion and descended into history’s largest civil war, one claiming the lives of an estimated 20 million Chinese and profoundly altering the landscape and possibilities of late Qing China.
Less than fifty years later, north China was boiling with the violent uprising of the Boxers United in Righteousness who attacked both foreign missionaries and their Chinese converts. Their cause briefly taken up by the Qing throne, the Boxers became the leading edge of Chinese anti-imperialism. These attacks by ordinary Chinese led to a vicious punitive expedition by Western forces against the Qing and its subjects.
In the first decades of the 20th century, the Republic of China turned into a “bandit world.” The dissolution of central state authority that began in the mid-nineteenth century reached its apex and opened China to roving gangs of bandits.
These three episodes in Chinese history weave a narrative of popular violence and its relation to the state. If the Taipings were clearly rebellion (if not revolution) against the state, then the Boxers were perhaps a rebellion for the state, and the bandits a rebellion without a state. In all three of these cases, we will examine the violent choices made by common people. We will employ a variety of primary sources such as oral histories, newspapers, poetry, fiction, legal records, official proclamations and government communication, and consider their strengths and shortcomings.
- Hong Xiuquan’s “Ten Commandments,” 1852, and “The Ode for Youth,” 1853
- “An Anti-Manchu Declaration” 1852
- Selections from The Book on the Principles of the Heavenly Nature
- Selection from The Land System of the Heavenly Dynasty
- The Tian Wang’s Manifesto to the Foreign Brothers
- Zeng Guofan: “A Proclamation Against the Bandits of Guangdong and Guanxi,” 1854
- The Confession of Shi Dakai
- British Government Communication and English and American Missionary Reports
- Harvey James Howard’s Ten Weeks with Chinese Bandits (1926)
- Paul Cohen: History in Three Keys: the Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth (1997)
- Joseph Esherick: The Origins of the Boxer Uprising (1987)
Grading: Active participation in discussion and close reading of all assigned materials are a major part of the grade. Additional assignments include a map quiz; short reading responses; and a final paper.