The Siege at Peking: No lessons learned

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The failed Boxer rebellion at the turn of the 20th century was one of the humiliations suffered by China in the hands of Western powers. Unlike Japan who was able to engage the West and modernize the country, China remained traditional and saw its territories chopped up and claimed by Western powers. Hatred for the foreigners was high, but because the country is weak, they cannot do anything.

The growth of a peasant cult against the foreign missionaries called the Boxer was allowed and supported resulting to the killing of thousands of foreign missionaries, their families and local converts. The rebellion was not against the Chinese government, but against the foreigners. No effort from the Chinese government was made to quell it. The killing spree continued until it reached the vicinity of Peking. It became clear later that the Empress Dowager have tacit approval of the activities of the Boxer. As the Boxers reached Peking, they lay siege on the area where the embassies of the Western countries were located. The Chinese army took over the siege and it became obvious that the Boxers were used as a ruse for China’s real intention of wiping out foreign presence not only in Peking but in whole of China.

The siege lasted for more than 50 days. Despite the numerical superiority of the Chinese they were not able to break the defense of the legations. Internal squabble among the generals of the Empress saved the day for the Western embassies. The Western nations were able to muster a multi-national force from the coast where most of its warships were stationed, attacked Peking and save the legations. The Empress Dowager left Peking who moved north and in the chaos that followed the defeat of the Chinese army from the Western forces, the Boxers melted away.

China paid a heavy price for its misadventure. A hefty fine was imposed, key generals and leaders who supported the Boxers were sentenced to death and the palace was looted by the invading forces. The question remained why did the Chinese army participated in the siege instead of abating the Boxers, knowing that it will rouse the anger of the Western countries and make it a pariah in the international community. Up to the present, no understandable explanation have been presented that will justify such attitude.

More than a century after the siege of Peking, this attitude is again displayed by the current Chinese government. Without regards for the rights of its smaller neighbors, it laid claims on the whole South China Sea, threatening and imposing economic and political pressures to countries opposing its actions. The ‘peaceful rise’ was a sham, with even international laws it has ratified were not respected. The Chinese government is bent on going to war against its neighbors. They thought that now that they have the economic means and the growing military power, they can get what they want and to hell with international opinion. Indeed, no lessons learned.

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