The humiliation suffered by the imperial government revealed its weakness and lessened its credibility amongst the Chinese citizenry. It demonstrated the government's ignorance and inability to control events within their own borders. This incident was another in a long string of events that forced upon China the reality of their situation. They discovered that they must modernize, in effect Westernize, in order to contend as a world power.
In May 1900, the Boxers began openly attacking Christians and foreigners in China. These actions resulted in the commission of an international relief force that arrived in the area that June. This small force, some 2,000 men, was turned back by the Boxers, and, soon thereafter, the dowager empress, citing a false report that foreign powers had demanded power be returned to the Emperor, declared that all foreigners be killed.
The appelation is truly a misnomer, for the Boxers never rebelled against the Manchu rulers of China and their Qing dynasty. Indeed the most common Boxer slogan, throughout the history of the movement, was "Support the Qing, destroy the Foreign" - where "foreign clearly meant the foreign religion, Christianity, and its Chinese converts as much as the foreigners themselves.
Attacks by the Boxers were directed against the Catholic converts, many of whom had their houses burnt down and their possessions confiscated. The violence grew, and very soon the Protestant converts shared the same fate as the Catholics; houses burnt and possessions confiscated, while a few were killed, all were 'secondary devils' and only less obnoxious than the pure foreigner.
The Boxer Uprising was a blow to China's world prestige, especially after coming so quickly upon her defeat by Japan in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-5, which had placed her as being second amongst the Asian powers. The Boxer Uprising was also a major cause in the eventual fall of the Manchu Dynasty in 1912. For the Allies it was a different story, giving them all a foot into northern China and access to natural resources. The strong competition at this time between the Japanese and Russians was a guide to what was yet to come in less than four years on, The Russo-Japanese War, the outcome of which would further enhance Japan's dominance in the Far East.
As China's weakness became more apparent, she was coerced into making further territorial concessions. Shanghai, strategically placed at the mouth of the Yangtze, became a thriving international settlement, and the port of Tientsin, eighty miles from Peking at the mouth of the silted Peiho River, was opened to foreign trade.
At first the Boxers were both anti-foreigner and anti-dynasty, wanting not only the expulsion of all non-Chinese nationals but also the end of the Ch'ing dynasty, at the time ruled by the dowager empress, Tz'u-hsi. As the incidents related to the Boxer movement continued to escalate, so did the dynasty's interest in it. Once denounced by the official Chinese government, the Boxer Uprising was soon consolidated by the Empress Dowager as a means to gain popular support.
The Boxers saw anything Western as evil and practiced traditional martial arts and used Chinese weapons such as curved halberds and spears. All foreigners were 1st class devils and Chinese who had converted to Christianity were 2nd class devils, those who worked for the foreigners were 3rd class devils. The Boxers were very superstitious, believing in spells and magic that would mean they were immune to western bullets and such incantations would be used to create a trance like state among the followers. The Boxers were not above using printing presses to publish huge numbers of leaflets spreading their propaganda accusing the catholic church of abusing Chinese women and children.
The rot had begun with Britain's defeat of China in the Opium War of 1840-1842 and the ceding to her of Hong Kong Island. Foreign powers, greedy for cargoes of tea, silk, and the rhubarb that the Chinese believed was essential to cure the foreigners' chronic constipation, had forced China to open her doors to trade.
The Boxer Rebellion was a movement at the turn of the century driven by a secret society determined to drive out the foreigners they believed to be destroying their nation. Despite the eventual backing of the Chinese government, the movement was failure. The combined international response that it drew served only to emphasize China's weakness and contributed to the downfall of the imperial government.