Was the Gengzi Rebellion a “patriotic movement”?

Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC), in his speech at the “Conference to Celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Founding of the CPC”, described the “Boxer Rebellion” in 1900 with words such as “saving the nation from danger”, “the Chinese people rose up in rebellion”, and “the people of China rose up in revolt”. The “Boxer Rebellion” in 1900 was described in terms of “saving the nation from danger,” “the Chinese people rose up in revolt,” and “benevolent and aspirational men and women ran around crying out” (Note 1). However, some historians have used the term “Gengzi Rebellion” to describe this event; was it a “patriotic movement” 121 years ago, or was it a disorder that wreaked havoc on the country and the people?

It is said that after the defeat of the Qing Dynasty in the Sino-Japanese War, the Western powers divided the sphere of influence in the Manchu, the number of Chinese believers increased, the farmers on the north bank of the Yellow River and the Chinese Yayas often clashed with each other, coupled with those days of natural disasters, as well as the intensification of power struggles at court, the accumulated conflicts finally broke out.

In the spring of 1900, thousands of people in Zhili practiced Yihequan, which they called the “Boxers,” and lynched a large number of Christian believers in the Middle Kingdom and foreign Westerners, and set fire to churches and houses of believers. The entire movement was not closely organized or led by a unified leader, and these spontaneous actions of the people were contradictory and confusing, and the attitude of the Empress Dowager Cixi towards this matter was repeated several times.

By June of the same year, Empress Dowager Cixi temporarily decided to use and allow the Boxer Rebellion to enter Beijing, and the Boxer Rebellion attacked the Tianjin Concession ahead of the Qing army. Russia, Germany, France, the United States, Japan, Austria, Italy and Britain, seeing the critical situation of the expatriates, formed a coalition army to invade Tianjin and Beijing. Eventually the Qing court was defeated and signed the Treaty of Xin Chou with eleven countries, including the eight countries that sent troops, paying reparations and signing a treaty allowing countries to garrison and build permanent forts in Beijing.

It is worth noting that Xi Jinping is not the first CCP leader to describe the Boxer Rebellion as a “patriotic movement” in his speech on the anniversary of the founding of the Party, as Hu Jintao did in his speech on the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Party in 2011 and Jiang Zemin did in his speech on the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Party in 2001.

This positive account of the Boxer Rebellion in CCP historiography dates back to the 1950s, when CCP historians sought to integrate Chinese history into the “five-stage theory” of “Stalinism” (note 2). In this theory, the “feudal” era was originally 2,200 years long, starting with the Qin Dynasty, and in the “feudal society”, the “class struggle” naturally took the form of “Peasant wars. Therefore, Chinese Communist historiography focuses on the “peasant revolts”, and the Boxer Rebellion is also considered to be fundamentally “anti-imperialist”.

But these historians ignored the fact that the Boxer Rebellion advocated the “support of the Qing Dynasty and the destruction of the foreigners,” while the Manchu Dynasty was in fact an empire. This historiographical view of the so-called “peasant wars” was reinforced in the post-1957 Mao era, when the “class struggle” determined everything.

The Communist Party’s view was that although movements like the Boxer Rebellion were “positive” in nature, they were bound to fail before the Communist-led proletarian revolution.

But here is the problem. At the beginning of the CCP’s market reforms, around the Third Plenary Session of the CPC in 1978, the Boxer Rebellion was downplayed as “obscurantism” and Wei Yuan, who advocated “learning from the Middle School as the body and learning from the West as the application”, became a forward-looking intellectual. This pro-reform theme is largely perpetuated in standard Chinese textbooks and history journals. Interestingly, in his speech on the 70th anniversary of the founding of the CCP in 1991, Jiang Zemin did not mention any examples of failed “movements,” but merely reiterated in general terms that all such “movements” were doomed to failure before the arrival of the CCP. This was also the case with Hu’s 60th anniversary speech in 1981.

Note 1: The original text of Xi Jinping’s speech reads: “In order to save the nation from national peril, the Chinese people rose up in rebellion, and benevolent men and women ran around shouting, with the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Movement, the Hundred Days’ Reform, the Boxer Rebellion, and the Xinhai Revolution coming up one after another, and various plans for national salvation were introduced, but all ended in failure. China urgently needed new ideas to lead the salvation movement and new organizations to unite the revolutionary forces.”

Note 2: The “five-stage theory” of Stalinism includes the “five-stage process” of primitive communism, slave society, feudalism, bourgeois capitalism, and socialism, and claims that “all human societies in the process of moving toward It is claimed that “all human societies have to go through these stages in the process of moving towards communism”.