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The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China Hardcover – March 27, 2012
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“[T]houghtful and concisely told . . . Silbey excels at the military history.” ―Howard W. French, The Wall Street Journal
“[A] concise, lively account.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Silbey furnishes fluent, scholastically sound reading for general interest in modern Chinese history.” ―Booklist
“Recommended for readers interested in military history as well as modern Chinese history.” ―Allan Cho, Library Journal
“In this absorbing analysis of the military history of the Boxer conflict, David J. Silbey shows how swiftly the Boxers learned from their foreign enemies, and how close the foreign forces came to catastrophe. The Boxer Rebellion is a valuable addition to our histories of warfare and revolution in China.” ―Jonathan Spence, Sterling Professor of History Emeritus, Yale University, and author of The Search for Modern China
“It is news even to many informed Americans that the present Chinese government has closely studied a military invasion (involving thousands of U.S. troops) of China more than a century ago. David J. Silbey now tells the story of that historic intervention, complete with the formidable Chinese, European, Japanese, and American characters, and the needed historical contexts. He has accomplished this with a gemlike narrative that is as page-turning as it is succinct.” ―Walter LaFeber, Tisch University Professor Emeritus, Cornell University
“David J. Silbey has done students, teachers, and general readers a great service by presenting the Boxer Rebellion in a lucid and compelling narrative. This book helps us to understand not just what happened in China more than a century ago, but what is happening there now.” ―Michael S. Neiberg, author of Fighting the Great War
“David J. Silbey has a remarkable capacity for explaining a war from the perspective of various participants and for presenting in a clear and efficient way the political, cultural, strategic, and military factors that shape the course of a war. Readers of The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China will understand how the joint expedition in 1900 to suppress this popular anti-foreign uprising became a significant turning point in the miserable history of modern imperial expansion into China and Great Power competition over it.” ―Alan Lessoff , Professor of History, Illinois State University
About the Author
David J. Silbey teaches at Cornell University's Washington, D.C., campus. He is the author of A War of Frontier and Empire: The Philippine-American War, 1899–1902.
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I fault Silbey for not providing custom-designed, detailed maps of the various campaigns and a large-scale map of northern China with key geographic features and city names. This is a serious failure and negates a five-star rating. He does suffer us with six maps from that period that are minuscule and worthless—including one of the innards of Peking. The overall map of northern China that he does provide is small and inefficacious. Accordingly, it is extremely difficult to follow the coalition’s campaign up the Dagu River to relieve the besieged legations in Peking. Included in the coalition army were elements of the armed forces from America, Great Britain, Imperial Germany, France, Austria-Hungry Empire, Imperial Russia, and Japanese Empire.
He opens his book with an overview of western imperialism in China over the past fifty years. He details the negative effects this imperialism engendered on and the general populace’s emotions and on the Imperial government; led by the Dowager Empress Tzu-his (“Cixi” in the current Pinyin spelling) and Prince Duan of the fading Qing Dynasty. Compounding the contempts was the Chinese adversarial perception of the special privileges endowed on Chinese Christians by missionaries and the western powers.
The drought in the spring of 1900 in Shantung Province crippled the breadbasket of northern China. The idle and starving farmers and peasants convinced themselves that the imperial westerners caused the drought to further humiliate and dominate them. Without leadership, the Boxer movement evolved and morphed quickly into a ragtag fighting force throughout the province. Some few of the Boxers were students of the ancient Chinese martial arts collectively dubbed “ch’uan fa.” They slaughtered Christian converts, missionaries and their families, and even important westerners; for example, the Baron August F. von Ketteler, the German minister to the Imperial Throne.
The Boxers moved into Peking and laid siege to the foreign legations—ensconced behind the Tartar wall. The Empress Dowager Cixi made the fateful decision to declare war on “the invaders,” and ordered the imperial army to repel the aggressors. The collation forces fought spirited campaigns at the Chinese’s key forts and strong points along the Dagu River in their difficult campaign to relieve the besieged legations in Peking.
The Chinese, army supported by the irregular Boxers, mounted a spirited defense causing serious causalities among the collation forces. Unfortunately, they could not fight as a unified command because of international rivalries (Japan and Russia, for example), petty jalousies, and failure to develop of a comprehensive operations plan. Of note, credit goes to the Japanese whose bravery and innovative tactics forced the fall of the key city of Tientsin (Tianjin) and they led the way to the capitol.
Nonetheless, after fifty-five days collation forces reached Peking and relieved the legation. The peace treaty, the Boxer Protocol, was harsh and unforgiving to the Chinese—imposing a ₤67 million-indemnity and territorial concessions.
I also recommend two books to complement this one. The first is the Osprey book, The Boxer Rebellion (Men-at-Arms). It has excellent maps, photos, and drawings that help bring the events to life. The second is, The Boxer Rebellion: The Dramatic Story of China's War on Foreigners that Shook the World in the Summer of 1900. It is a excellent cultural history and first hand account of what people in the Legations felt and experienced.
I think Silbey's book, together with these two, make a rich introduction to the Boxer Rebellion for the general reader. Now, on to Wounded Knee...
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