The Boxer Uprising was a rebellious movement in China in the 1890s. At the same time, views of specialists on the origin and causes of the rebellion vary consistently. Traditionally, there are two major approaches to the interpretation of the Boxer uprising, according to which the rebellion is viewed either as the anti-imperialist struggle of Chinese people, or, in contrast, as the nationalist rebellion. In this respect, the book “The Origins of the Boxer Uprising”¯ by Joseph W. Esherick tends to avoid both views mentioned above. Instead, the author develops the idea of the impact of a bunch of socioeconomic and cultural factors and this idea is backed up by a detailed, scientific research and statistical analysis.
First of all, the author starts with the analysis of the environment in which the rebellion took place. In this respect, it is very important to understand the socioeconomic and cultural situation in China because the author focuses on socioeconomic and cultural factors as major causes of the rebellion. At the same time, the author attempts to analyze in details the origin of the Boxer movement and intertwine this movement with other sects in China. However, the author argued that the Boxer movement was not necessarily grounded on the traditional Chinese culture and traditions. Instead, he pointed out the possible impact of the popular culture of the late 19th century China on the emergence of the Boxer movement as a response of the local disadvantaged population to cultural oppression from the part of Europeans.
At this point, it is worth mentioning the fact that the growing cultural pressure from the part of Europeans was very significant, while China tended to westernization. In this respect, the impact of Christian missionaries was particularly significant. On analyzing the origin of the Boxer uprising, Joseph W. Esherick stresses the negative impact of German missionaries. According to the author, they provoked the rebellion because they increased cultural pressure, while the intention of the missionaries to convert the local population to Christianity naturally provoked the opposition and resistance within the local community, which supported the Boxer movement because the local population associated the movement with the power that can or, at least, attempts to protect Chinese culture, traditions and religious beliefs.
The author develops the idea that the impact of religion was quite significant in regard to the development of the Boxer movement. In fact, he compares the Boxer movement in China to the Sioux movement in India in the 1890s. The author stresses that religious rituals and traditions can be transformed into a powerful movement when the local population faces a serious and powerful threat from the outside. In such a way, religious and traditions of the local population could be viewed as the major ideological ground to the Boxer rebellion.
Remarkably, Europeans did not influence the cultural or spiritual sphere of life of the Chinese population solely. Instead, their impact extended on socioeconomic and political domain. As a result, according to the author, the foreign power was viewed as a threat to the local population and people rebelled against the growing impact of Europeans, while European culture, religion and lifestyle started to spread in China and, especially, among Chinese elite. In such a context, the economic relations with Europeans were interpreted by the local population as the threat to Chinese economic interests for people believed that Europeans simply robbed China out. Such a view was justified by the consistent losses of China from its trade with Europeans and the attempts of Europeans to establish control over Chinese trade and economy at large.
However, Joseph W. Esherick lays emphasis on the fact that the economic policy of Qing was a very important factor that provoked the rebellion. In fact, the author tends to distinguish two major causes of the rebellion. On the one hand, it was the cultural pressure from the part of Europeans and attempts of Christianization and westernization of Chinese people. On the other hand, the failure of the economic policy of Qing led China to a profound socioeconomic crisis. At this point, it is possible to speak about a close interdependence between the two aforementioned causes of the rebellion. To put it more precisely, the consistent deterioration of the socioeconomic situation and pauperization of large masses of the population provoked the growing dissatisfaction of people with the official policies. In such a situation, European missionaries were associated with the deterioration of the socioeconomic situation in China because people needed to find the cause of their problems and they naturally externalized the cause. As a result, Chinese people associated their economic problems with the expansion of Europeans and neglect of Chinese traditions, which people believed to be an essential condition of the nation’s wealth and prosperity.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that Joseph W. Esherick distinguish two major causes of the Boxer uprising: the poor economic policy of Qing and the impact of missionaries or Christianization of China.