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The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China Hardcover – March 27, 2012

4.3 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“[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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; First Edition edition (March 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809094770
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809094776
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.4 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,100,671 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is more of some comments from my personal perspective than a comprehensive book review.

I started to have renewed interest in the Boxer movement recently because a good friend of mine has been gathering materials mainly in Chinese for writing a book on it, and we had discussions on the pivotal role of this movement at a critical juncture of the modern Chinese history.

I grew up with the CCP's brainwash which labels the Boxer movement as a great patriotic movement that did nothing wrong, no brutal killing of civilians and no foolish superstition. I recently read some Western works on this topic. They are generally good, but usually leave much room for improvement. The popular one is The Boxer Rebellion: The Dramatic Story of China's War on Foreigners that Shook the World in the Summer of 1900 by Diana Preston. For this reason, I looked forward to reading this book hoping it would be better. This is probably the first book that I have ever preordered from Amazon.

The Boxer movement, though short lived, was a very complex movement. The story has at least three sides - the Eight-Nation Alliance, the Boxers and the Qing government. The Qiang government was divided on the Boxers, and it is a complicated story by itself. The Eight-Nation Alliance is quite heterogeneous. As the book explains, it was amazing that the alliance could survive with so much rivalry. I tried to set a realistic expectation of this book. I do not expect a book by a Western scholar to give a comprehensive and balanced account of the complex event based on solid materials from all sides of the story. Such a book would require a tremendous amount of research. Getting funding for such research must be very difficult.
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Format: Hardcover
I'm no expert on the Boxer Rebellion, but I am interested in Chinese history and always thought the Rebellion sounded rather interesting. I was quite psyched to find this book, enjoyed it, and learned quite a lot from reading it.

If it wasn't obvious from the jacket, this book is mostly about the military aspects of the rebellion. I got a pretty good feel for that (and also for the rivalry between the countries), but was rather confused at some points. It was just hard to keep track of who was who and what happened when. It's a common problem with military histories. This was especially a problem here as the author seemed to occasionally throw in people or things without any real introduction. I'd go back to the index to find what I had missed, I'd find a single entry, but be directed back to the page I was already on!

Some other things I didn't like were a pretty cursory setting of the scene in the first chapter and some rather pro forma political correctness. As for the latter, it kind of sounded like the Westerners are always barbaric and stupid and the Chinese are always smart and courageous.

This is an especially important point as the basic thesis of the book is that the Boxers weren't a pushover, but fought pretty well and could, indeed, have won. The author makes a decent argument for this until after the Battle of Huangcun, when Chinese resistance evaporated. The author speculates a little, but the why - which should be so important to his argument - really isn't there.

A few other things that seemed to be missing:

- I didn't get as strong a feel for the Chinese side of the experience
- There's an awful lot of speculation
- I would have liked to have known a lot more about the fate of the Chinese Christians
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I cannot speak for others, but this is one of the most provocative book I've read in a long time. Although the avowed purpose is to describe two brutal (and nearly forgotten) battles before Peking/Beijing finally fell to the joint allied expeditionary forces in August 1900, the narrative reminds how little human nature has changed in the application or suppression of violence from that day to this.

The Boxers, a decentralized peasant movement created by poor economic conditions and distrust of foreigners and foreign ideas, is not that different in its roots from our Tea Party, except the Boxers were armed and slightly more anxious. The author challenges Mao's notion that they represent the anger of rising Chinese masses, but I can see why Mao employs its deconstruction a useful symbol of unrest and revolt.

The Allied forces--US, British, French, Russian and Japanese--were rivals from the start, brought together only to save their citizens and diplomatic missions isolated when the Boxers rose up. But rivalries seem to out-pace the mission, especially between the Russians and Japanese. All wanted glory, not uncommon at the time, and still a motivator to men at arms, particularly their leadership. I recall brags at having been the The First in Berlin, The First in Tokyo, The First in Rome, even The First in Baghdad---none that long ago.

The allied armies, high on mission were low on behavior, something akin to the Crusaders of earlier times. It seems thousands of innocent Chinese were murdered, raped and robbed without compunction, simply because they were there. US soldiers and Marines were no exception. As one observer wrote: "The great Christian nations of the world are being represented in China by robbing, rapine [and] looting soldiery.
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