cover image The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China

The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China

David J. Silbey. Hill and Wang, $26.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-8090-9477-6

Silbey’s concise, lively account of an early experiment in multilateral intervention analyzes the imperialist motivations that led a mixed army of eight Western nations into a brief but bloody military expedition to suppress the Boxer movement, which spread across the plains of northern China in 1900, lashing out at the foreign powers that had carved the country into spheres of influence as the Qing dynasty wheezed toward its decline. After the Empress Dowager Cixi ended her policy of suppressing the Boxers, they besieged the foreign legation quarter of the capital in June. That in turn triggered a punitive expedition to free the legations, and fierce battles that nearly resulted in Allied Western defeat, which Silbey (A War of Frontier and Empire) describes with excellent sourcing and vivid eyewitness accounts. The “Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists,” as the Boxers were known, arose from a complex response to drought, faltering government, and the incursions of imperial powers that often worked under the aegis of spreading Christianity. Silbey explores the machinations and conflicting motivations of the Russian, Japanese, German, American, British, Italian, Austro-Hungarian, and French troops as byproducts of the “Great Game,” a competition for colonial influence. In addition to a finely detailed account of the fighting, Silbey offers a compassionate analysis of Cixi’s limited options. (Mar.)