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Herbert Hoover in China: A Brush with the Boxers

In the late 1890s Herbert Hoover, the future President of the United States, and his wife became embroiled in the violent uprising that broke out in China.

Chinese woodblock print showing the recapture of Tianjin during the Boxer Rebellion, June 1900. AKG Images/Erich LessingChina, in the aftermath of a disastrous war with Japan in 1894-95, was torn apart by warring factions, sporadic civil wars and the ravenous appetite of the competing western powers bent on colonising, annexing or leasing as much of the Celestial Empire as possible. By 1900 it threatened to spin out of control. The fear generated in the Chinese by the arrival of many foreign missionaries, traders and soldiers, combined with deplorable economic conditions and a withering drought, spawned mystical, quasi-religious peasant movements that rapidly drew in the desperate, the destitute and the dispossessed. The Yihetuan (Righteous Fists), named ‘Boxers’ due to their martial arts rituals, succeeded in riding the tiger of Chinese discontent and took in initiates by the tens of thousands.

Trading on folk practices, elements from a number of religious traditions, as well as ignorance, fear, superstition, jingoism and nascent patriotism, the Boxers promised to rid China of foreigners – especially the missionaries and their despised converts whom they dubbed ‘rice bowl Christians’.  

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