The Fight against Western Imperialism in China

Categories history

China was a stable country, particularly in the economic sector, in 1800. Most of the people were successful farmers while others worked as laborers in factories in return for wages. However, the land was slowly invaded by the Western superpowers who started to control the natural resources in China. Additionally, the foreigners spread their doctrines such as Christianity contrary to the will of most people. Patriots formed rebellious groups so as to push away the foreigners. For instance, the Boxer Rebellion was formed by a group of adolescents against Western Imperialism in 1900. Later on, The Tiananmen Movement was established to fight against corruption and authoritative leadership. This paper, therefore, analyzes the Boxer Rebellion and The Tiananmen Movement and establishes how the two movements impacted on Modern China.

The Boxer Rebellion

The Boxer Rebellion was a movement against Western imperialism by the people of China. The revolution took place between the year 1898 and 1900. The term ‘Boxer’ was used to refer to a group of semi-religious peasants who believed that incorporating their gymnastic movements in preparation for the battle would make them immune to bullets. The boxers believed they were a ‘Society of Harmonious and Righteous Fists.’ The rebellion was mainly targeting the foreigners who had control and influence over the government of China. Therefore, they wanted to drive the foreigner away from their land and stop their religious influence and any other changes they had caused. The movement was mainly dominant in Northern China among the Shandong and Zhili communities.  The majority of the boxers were adolescents who were led by local Chinese monks and salespersons. Additionally, the group comprised of female boxers known as Lanterns. Most members were illiterate while a few were educated. The group was strong anti-foreign and anti-Christian in nature.

Th Boxer Rebellion happen because of various reasons. To start with, China was rich in natural resources such as steel and by the 1890s; foreigners had started owning the nation. The people felt exploited and humiliated since most of them were forced to work for the foreigners. They were forced into Christian practices both directly and indirectly.  The other factor that contributed to the rebellion was the need to fight the spread of Christianity. The Boxers felt threatened by the fast spread of Christian doctrines that challenged the Chinese traditional practices and beliefs .The feeling was aggravated by the Christian missionaries’ actions of building churches and hospitals across the country. The Boxer Rebellion was also convinced that the Western people were to blame for the economic difficulties that the country experienced. For instance, there was the high unemployment rates, the deterioration of local industries because of external competition and the fact that life was becoming expensive and hard in China. The Boxer Rebellion also believed that the foreigners were responsible for the bad luck that the country experienced. For instance, the occasional flooding of Yellow River and droughts could only be termed as the consequences of angering the spirits of the land.

The Boxer Rebellion began their attacks that escalated from 1900. They conducted raids and ambushed the foreigners in various parts of the country. In response, the British admiral, Seymour, sent over two thousand troops to counter the rebellious groups for diplomatic interests. However, the army troops did not manage to go beyond Beijing because they were attacked. The boxers advanced further to attack the Christian camps mainly in Beijing and Tianjin. Qing government supported the revolution by discouraging the foreigners from sending in more troops because their diplomats were under protection. Contrary to the words, a German minister was killed later in 1900 and the government of China declared war against the foreigners. The Boxer acted in full force and by the time the foreign militaries suppressed them, they had killed over two hundred missionaries. After that, China suffered the consequences of the rebellion by being forced to execute ten Qing officials and pay a fine of three hundred and thirty-three million dollars over a span of forty years.

Boxer rebellion had an enormous negative effect on the lives of Chinese people. The economy worsened since the people were forced to pay higher taxes so as to settle the rebellion fine. However, the impact of the war was rather positive than negative since it stopped the intrusion of the Western countries to China. China would have lost its independence if it were not for the intervention of the Boxer Rebellion. Additionally, it was only through the movement that the nation realized the incompetence of Qing government in ruling China.

The Tiananmen Rebellion of 1989

Student political activists started the Tiananmen Rebellion in conjunction with members of the public.The reason behind the movement was to demand freedom and democracy following the existence of a highly corrupted nation.  The death of Hu Yaobang stirred the movement which received enormous support from both the intellectuals and urban residents. Influential figures such as prominent officials, journalists, and writers made frequent visits to the Tiananmen Square in support of the students’ movement. Eight influential officials publicly declared that they would never give into dictatorship nor tire to struggle for democracy. With time, the insurgent group formed Beijing Autonomous Association of Intellectuals (BAAI) and the Association of All Circles of the Capital platforms of airing their views.

As the organized groups pushed for dialogues with the authorities, the students went on hunger strikes with the support from the public. The efforts of the demonstrators proved futile when the army conducted a violent crackdown with the intention of suppressing the movement. Deng Xiaoping eventually decided to use violence to wipe out the movement on June 4, 1989. The massive killing resulted in the death of up to seven thousand people. In the end, the majority of the demonstrators were exiled, imprisoned while others went into hiding. However, the massacre did not spell the end of the movement since the groups revisited their strategies to determine the most appropriate approaches. The groups organized informal networks of like-minded individuals and identified a meeting place that was still under government surveillance. A new generation of students also formed study groups that criticized Party policies by using the internet as the medium of communication. Once more, the students received support from journalists and other activists who voiced their opinions.

Most of the members were related to the people who lost their lives in the military crackdown. The government tried to silence the families of the massacre victims by compensating them for their losses. However, some of the groups persisted in seeking the truth about what happened on the day of the massacre. For instance, the Tiananmen Mothers circulated two declarations just before China signed the United Nations Human Rights Convention.  The first declaration was about the suppression of individual rights in China while the second declaration was about the growth of corruption among officials in China. It was during the aftermath of the Tiananmen era that women joined the forces to press further for the human rights led by Professor Ding Zilin. The push for human rights, political reforms and fight against corruption was then succeeded by campaigns that advocated for the release of the Tiananmen Movement prisoners. Some of the active campaigners like Du Daobin were arrested because of their activism but released after few days. That was an indication that their campaigns were successful. Despite the massive killing that took place on 4 July 1989, the movement became a legacy whereby students spearhead a movement for political reforms and were willingly joined and supported by the public.

The impact of the Tiananmen movement is felt in China today through the observance of human rights and democratic leadership. People have a right to support a party of their choice, and they have freedom of speech. However, it is unfortunate that the only individuals who can seek political reforms in China remain to be the elites.The ordinary workers have not formed political reform groups since the 1989 massacre. The gap could be attributed to the fact that the ordinary citizens are still afraid of government repression. Alternatively, the gap could be attributed to the social class differentiation in China. The intellectuals rarely acknowledged the efforts of the peasant and casual workers’ efforts in the protests, rather, they formed study groups among themselves. Additionally, the rise of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) in the mid nineteen nineties gave political activists an opportunity to voice their opinions to a larger audience. The government was nevertheless keen to intimidate the performance of the activists by setting restrictive measures over their operations.

The Comparison between the Two Movements

The two groups shared various similarities and differences. For instance, the two groups were led by patriots who believed their country deserved independence. The two groups were fighting for the interests of the inhabitant. However, The Boxer Rebellion mainly focused on pushing away foreigners who were threatening to take over China. The other similarity is that both movements involved the young people. The Boxer Rebellion comprised of adolescent boys while the Tiananmen was started by a group of student leaders. Interestingly, both groups received full support from the rest of the community.  Also, both groups faced severe consequences that had an enormous impact on China. For example, the Boxer Rebellion resulted in the death of missionaries which attracted a fine of three hundred and theory three million dollars. China resolved to raise taxes that contributed to the economic depression in the country. On a positive note, the rebellion prevented further exploitation from Western nations.

The two movements used different approaches to the attack. For instance, the Boxer Revolution believed in using violence to pass their concerns. Thus, they killed, raided and held hostages of their victims. On the contrary, the Tiananmen opted for a less violent approach by holding peaceful demonstrations at the Tiananmen Square and going on hunger strikes as a way of passing their concerns to the authorities. The other significant difference between the two groups was that the Boxer Rebellion comprised of illiterate and semi-illiterate members while elites and students mainly spearheaded the Tiananmen Movement. The literacy difference explains why the two groups used different approached to air their concerns.

Notably, the two groups differed in their agendas. To start with, the Boxer Rebellion acted on a religious basis while the Tiananmen Movement was driving for political reforms. The Boxer rebellion was against the Christian doctrines that threatened the beliefs and values of the Chinese people. The group believed that the foreigners were responsible for the adverse changes that experienced in the country such as drought. On the contrary, the Tiananmen Movement was concerned with fighting for a better country by pushing for political reforms. It is notable that the Boxer Rebellion was not bothered by the leadership style. However, the Tiananmen Movement was against dictatorship thus advocated for democracy.


The insurgent groups and movements in China were an expression of the interests of people against imperialism. For instance, Boxer Revolution was an organized but informal group of faith-based youths who were against the foreigners. The group used violence to seek independence from cultural interference. On the contrary, the Tiananmen Movement was a more organized and civilized group that advocated for political reforms, the end to corruption and the rights of the normal citizens. It was unfortunate that the two groups faced much resistance from the government but eventually, they impacted positively on the independence and democracy of China.