The Boxer Rebellion: The Dramatic Story of China's War on Foreigners That Shook the World in the Summer of 1900

Diana Preston, Author Walker & Company $28 (436p) ISBN 978-0-8027-1361-2
One hundred years ago, China, led by a shadowy and highly militant sect called the Boxers, rose up in revolt against all manner of foreign presence and influence, forever altering China and its relationship with the outside world. In this vivid and thorough account, Oxford-trained historian and journalist Preston (A First-Rate Tragedy: Robert Falcon Scott and the Race to the South Pole) examines the Boxer Rebellion primarily from the perspective of the Western diplomats and missionaries who narrowly escaped massacre in Peking (as Beijing was then known), Tientsin and elsewhere in the summer of 1900. Drawing extensively on contemporaneous accounts by English and American defenders, Preston places readers inside Peking's barricaded diplomatic district. Detailing the beginning of the Boxer assault, she charts the reasons for the rebellion--the xenophobia, superstition, abject poverty and legitimate outrage at foreign attempts at domination that drove the rebels and their sympathizers in the Manchu court. With equal immediacy and concreteness, she describes the rebellion's progress: the brutal conditions confronted by Europeans (and the Chinese converts who were barricaded with them) during the bombardment; the long-delayed arrival of Western reinforcements just in the nick of time. Preston puzzles over why the Chinese besiegers, who outnumbered the defenders by perhaps 500 to 1, did not instantly overwhelm their opponents. Evidently, she concludes, even as fanatical a group as the Boxers did not truly wish a wholesale slaughter; still, tens of thousands died in the Boxer Rebellion, most of them Chinese converts to Western religions. Bringing this ordeal back from historical obscurity, Preston tells a riveting story about ordinary people placed under extreme pressure by events they could neither understand nor control. 10 pages photos not seen by PW. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/29/2000
Release date: 06/01/2000
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 464 pages - 978-0-425-18084-6
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