Initially, the Qing government was aligned with the foreign powers in seeking to suppress the Boxer rebels; the Dowager Empress Cixi soon changed her mind, however, and sent the Imperial Army out in support of the Boxers. Here, new cadets of the Qing Imperial Army line up before the Battle of Tientsin.
The city of Tientsin (Tianjin) is a major inland port on the Yellow River and the Grand Canal. During the Boxer Rebellion, Tientsin became a target because it had a large neighborhood of foreign traders, called the concession.
In addition, Tientsin was "on the way" to Beijing from the Bohai Gulf, where foreign troops disembarked on their way to relieve the besieged foreign legations in the capital. In order to get to Beijing, the Eight Nations foreign army had to get past the fortified city of Tientsin, which was held by a joint force of Boxer rebels and Imperial Army troops.