Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1899 Boxer rebel 
Subject: 義和拳 yìhéquán 'Righteous Harmonious Fist' 'Boxer' 
Culture: northern Chinese
Setting: Boxer Rebellion, northern China 1880s-1900s


* Elliott 2002 p397
"The evidence of the men who fought against the Boxers and the Imperial Chinese Army shows marked professional respect for the performance of Boxers some of whom were also proficient in the use of state-of-the-art weaponry.  Scholars have noted that Western soldiers admired the Boxers but the examples given are restricted to instances demonstrating their physical courage in fighting with extreme bravery using antiquated weaponry.  Inasmuch as the writings of the foreign invaders oblige the resurrection of the reputation of the regular soldiers of the modernised Imperial Chinese Army so do they expressly refer to Boxer skill in organised military strategy and in the use of modern weapons.  Western soldiers and some civilian Westerners, for example, Herbert Hoover, Roland Allen and Arnold Savage-Landor, acknowledged the fighting skills of both the Boxers and the regular Chinese army.  Their assessments stand out in marked contrast to some contemporary newspaper reporting and to the judgments made by many subsequent historians.  This professionalism was reciprocated by the writings of the Western-trained members of the Chinese High Command in the field ....
    "A reason why these sources have been largely ignored by subsequent historians may stem from a reluctance to grapple with the actual sequence of the battles themselves.  It has been possible for historians to perpetuate generalised myths about Chinese military inefficacy because they have ignored or misread the sources that describe the actual battles in question."   

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Keown-Boyd 1991 p27-28
"The genealogy of the Boxers is obscure and the subject of much scholastic debate.  One theory, that they were deliberately recruited by the Chinese government as a kind of militia, does not stand up to scrutiny.  According to Chester C. Tan, quoting a learned source in his Boxer Catastrophe, the I Ho Ch'uan -- Fists of Righteous Harmony -- were associated as early as 1808 with various secret societies such as the White Lotus society, the Eight Diagram Sect and the Red Fist Society, which he describes as 'heretical and revolutionary organizations'.  Although largely suppressed at that time, the Fists of Righteous Harmony, or Boxers, maintained a more or less dormant existence for the rest of the 19th century in the northern provinces, principally Chihli and Shantung.  They seem to have been recruited from the poorest classes of society -- landless peasants, unemployed coolies, discharged soldiers and the like.  The Boxer movement also had women members, called Lanterns (Red, Blue, Black and Green according to age) but the role of these ladies is unclear and no European eye-witness ever reported seeing them in action.
    "One of the most curious features of the Boxers was their apparent lack of leadership or command.  In the light of their self-proclaimed immunity to bullets, perhaps they felt they needed none.  They would prepare themselves for action by performing various rites and gymnastic movements, which appeared to observers to resemble boxing, hence the name.  Most Boxers wore something red -- a sash, a scarf, turban or head-band.  They were devoid of military training and possessed few fierarms.
    "Their original aims were the overthrow of the Manchus, the destruction of the Christians and all their works and the total ejection of all foreigners from China.  The first of these was dropped once they had attracted the support of the dynasty.  Of course there were other less altruistic motives for joining the movement such as banditry, pillage, rape, arson and murder.  As the numerical size of the Boxers has never been established, it is impossible to say how many were genuine patriots and how many simply scallywags who jumped on a promising bandwagon.  Nor is it certain that all the outrages committed against Christians, for example those in Shansi and Manchuria, were carried out by Boxers.  Some of these may have been opportunistic attacks by local people upon their Christian neighbours for a variety of motives."

* Harrington 2001 p7
"Simply put, the Boxer outbreak in North China in the summer of 1900 can be attributed directly to Chinese hatred of foreigners and foreign interference in their country.  While there were other reasons for the revolt such as economic hardships brought on by poor harvests, floods and drought, they were all blamed on the 'foreign devils' who were encroaching on China in increasing numbers.  In short, the Boxer Rebellion was a last gasp attempt to throw off the foreign yoke and preserve the Chinese culture, religion and way of life once and for all.
    "While the immediate causes can be traced to various events in 1898 and 1899, these were merely a culmination of over 60 years of Chinese frustration of mounting foreign interference in their country."

* National Army Museum online > The Boxer Rebellion 
"The uprising was initiated by a Chinese secret society called the Yihetuan (Righteous and Harmonious Fists). This group practised a form of martial arts that resembled boxing, at least to Western eyes. The 'Boxers', as they became known, embarked on an armed campaign to drive all foreigners out of China.
    "Although some of its members carried firearms, most were armed only with spears and swords. In some areas, the 'Boxers' were reinforced by better-equipped Imperial Chinese troops."

* Daraul 1961 p238
"The 'Boxers' (actually members of the Fist for Protection Society) who attacked the legations in Peiping in 1900, were trained to pitch of zeal and fanaticism which has seldom been equalled. They had been initiated in darkness alternated with light, in the depths of temples to the accompaniment of fasting and invocations. They had to recite meaningless phrases taken from Taoist magic, and undergo complicated gymnastics. They swallowed a variety of drugs and potions, as well as mystical diagrams written on red paper. The result was to condition their minds to the idea of success, supernatural aid, invulnerability, insensibility to pain, enthusiasm and blind obedience.
    "The 'Boxers' -- also, and more literally correctly, often called the 'Fists for Righteous Harmony' -- were a mystical organization derived from the Big Sword Society. And the Big Swords is one of the names used by the Triad Society, which lurks behind so many of the activities of Chinese secret associations. Their training is supposedly based upon that of the Fighting Monks of Shao Lin Monastery, who preserved certain secrets of meditation which made them invulnerable and endowed with various supernatural powers."

* Elliott 2002 p516-517
"With regard to Boxer fighting tactics, again these reflected the proportion of the men in the Boxer bands who were discharged soldiers still unemployed since the Sino-Japanese War as well as disaffected soldiers from various armies.  Boxer 'drill' certainly incorporated supernatural ritual scorned by European and Chinese observers alike.  However, it also contained elements of Western military drill as well as hereditary military knowledge suitable for small militia units for use in minor engagements with banditry endemic in China towards the end of the Qing dynasty.  Thus when the Allied military noticed that the Boxers fought courageously and were orderly and tenacious both in attacking and withdrawing, they were observing what they understood as 'orderly.'  That is, what they saw reflected some military training and knowledge on the part of some elements of Boxer forces.  The defeat of Admiral Seymour was due perhaps less to crazed fanatic patriotism armed with primitive weapons, than to a semblance of tactical skill, military training and organisation, and some familiarity with modern weapons visible as such to the members of the Allied invading force describing their experience during the abortive Seymour expedition and the subsequent siege of Tianjin.  Writing of Boxer action during the siege of Tiajin, Captain McCalla noted:
About daylight, on the 11th July, the Boxers armed with rifles, came out in the open, and advanced on the station with great courage.  The attack was well delivered and well sustained ..."

* Bodin/Warner 1979 p

* Cohen 1997 p

* Esherick 1987 p

* Knight/Scollins 1990 p


* Heath/Perry 1994 p32
"As all of the Boxers were civilians, they wore no real uniform; the closest thing to a uniform was a piece of red cloth somewhere on their person.  This piece of red cloth could be a turban, apron or waist sash.  Some men embroidered Chinese characters on the fronts of their jackets.  Many ... chose to wear the character Yung (Brave).  If the turban was not worn, a straw 'coolie' hat would have been the usual replacement.  The Boxers could be barefoot or could wear slippers or sandals."

* Knight/Scollins 1990 p12
"Most wore the ordinary peasant dress of white or blue cotton tunic and trousers, and like all Chinese, they wore the front of their heads shaved and their hair in a queue, a compulsory badge of allegiance to the Manchus instituted generations before.  By the time the movement had advanced on Beijing many Boxers sported items in red as badges of their allegiance to the Yi-ho quan: either a red head-scarf, a red waist-sash, a red apron, or red ties around the ankles or streamers from their sword hilts.  Their leaders wore no distinguishing marks, although a few affected the dress of Court officials, and the yellow riding jacket worn only by senior Quing [sic] commanders."

* Harrington 2001 p23
"The Boxers grew out of the popular culture of North China and developed from various different secret societies composed mainly of young Chinese males.  What they lacked in leadership they made up for with a fanatical zeal in their desire to rid China of all foreigners and to replace the ruling Manchus, who they viewed as foreign usurpers.  As the movement expanded, new groups identified themselves with one or another Chinese trigram (an inscription or character of three strokes or letters), the most common being the kan and qian trigrams.  They imitated the dress of martial arts performers but they distinguished themselves from the masses by wearing special items of clothing.  The kan trigram wore red caps or turbans, a red sash or scarf, and red leggings or ankle strap; the qian trigram Boxers preferred yellow.  A village would have a single Boxer unit (or tuan) of anywhere from 25 to 100 men, with larger settlements having more units.  Each unit was led by a Senior Brother Disciple (da shixiong), chosen often because of his superior boxing skills.  The rest of the unit were called Brother-Disciples (shixiong).  There was a distinction between military (wu) units and civil (wen) units, the latter being composed mainly of educated persons."

* Knight/Scollins 1990 p45-46
"Most Boxers were young men who wore their ordinary peasant costume, with perhaps a few items of red insignia to show their allegiance to the movement. ... The red aprons -- one variant of the Boxer insignia -- varied considerably in length and cut, some appearing as a panel on the chest, others hanging to the knees.  It was common practice to wear the queue tied up around the back of the head."


* Elliott 2002 p515
"Insofar as Boxer weaponry is concerned, while many Boxers were 'only' armed with bamboo lances tipped with iron (often described as 'spears'), some observers noted that 'these were the most effective [weapons] of all.'  In hand-to-hand fighting more than one Allied officer tasted the quality of the steel in Boxer swords or lances.  Colonel Yang Futong died in a most gruesome manner at the hands of Boxers armed with these primitive weapons.  Other observers noted that Boxers had been issued with Winchester repeating rifles and Mannlichers and some Boxer forces possessed and used with proficiency two Krupp field cannon.  Financial problems had obliged civilian authorities like Li Hongzhang to pay off large numbers of foreign-trained soldiers the Sino-Japanese War.  Some of these men were certainly among the ranks of the Boxers and were most probably able to use any modern Western weapons they were given by sympathisers or managed to capture.  In late June the Court told governors and governors-general to levy and arm Boxer militias.  One of General Yang Mushi's most pressing concerns was that if he allowed his men to be surrounded and killed by the Boxers, they would capture all his weapons and ammunition."

* Harrington 2001 p24
"At the beginning the Boxers were armed with primitive weapons including long swords and knives, and ancient firearms."

* Heath/Perry 1994 p32
"Boxers disliked Western weapons.  Their movement preached the overthrow of 'foreign devils' through the use of the martial arts and traditional Chinese weapons.  Most Boxers preferred to carry swords, spears and halberds.  The swords were wide-bladed chopping weapons, some requiring two-handed use.  The spears had long curved blades, while the halberds were of purely Chinese design and did not resemble the halberds of medieval Europe.  Some men carried wicker or brass shields."

* Knight/Scollins 1990 p46
"Rejecting Western weapons, they were poorly armed with swords, spears and halberds."

* Bennett 2018 p91
"In 1898, the Dowager Empress Cixi declared affinity with the Boxer rebels in a campaign against the encroaching influence of foreign powers.  This sanctioned a form of return to old traditions with regard to arms and armour.  The Boxers practiced martial arts and for the most part rejected firearms in favour of swords and spears.  Many proclaimed their belief that followers of the movement could become immune to bullets.  The Imperial troops nominally acted in support of the Boxers and were obviously better equipped."