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The Boxer Rebellion in Editorial Cartoons


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The First Duty: If You Don't, I Shall
Boxer Rebellion magazine cover from August 8, 1900

Click image to enlarge. "If You Don't, I Shall" Puck Magazine Cover

by Udo Keppler for Puck Magazine / Library of Congress Prints and Photographs

In this 1900 editorial cartoon from the cover of Puck Magazine, foreign powers in Qing China threaten to slay the Boxer Rebellion dragon if a weak-looking Emperor Guangxu refuses to do so. The caption reads: "The First Duty. Civilization (to China) - That dragon must be killed before our troubles can be adjusted. If you don't do it, I shall have to."

The character "Civilization" here obviously represents the western powers of Europe and the US, plus (perhaps) Japan. The magazine editors' faith that the western powers were morally and culturally superior to China would be shaken by subsequent events, as troops from the Eight Nation coalition commited horrific war crimes in putting down the Boxer Rebellion.

Initially, the Boxer movement (or Righteous Harmony Society Movement) was a threat to both the Qing Dynasty and representatives of foreign powers in China. After all, the Qing were ethnic Manchus, rather than Han Chinese, and thus many Boxers considered the imperial family to be just another type of foreigners. The Emperor and Dowager Empress Cixi were targets of early Boxer propaganda.

As the Boxer Rebellion went on, however, the majority of the Qing government's officials (though not all) and the Dowager Empress realized that the Boxers could be useful in weakening foreign missionary, economic and military power in China. The court and the Boxers united, albeit half-heartedly, against the forces of Britain, France, the United States, Italy, Russia, Germany, Austria and Japan.

This cartoon expresses the Emperor's hesitation to confront the Boxers. The foreign powers obviously recognized that the Boxer Rebellion was a serious threat to their own interests, but the Qing government saw the Boxers as potentially useful allies.

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