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The Boxer Rebellion in Editorial Cartoons


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In the Chinese Labyrinth
During the Boxer Rebellion, Germany was at the forefront in belligerence against China

Click image to enlarge. "In the Chinese Labyrinth," the foreign powers try to avoid war - except for Germany's Kaiser, who puts his foot right in it.

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

A wary-looking group of western powers plus Japan tiptoe into China, careful to avoid the bear-traps of conflict (labeled casus belli - "cause of war") over the Boxer Rebellion (1898-1901). The United States as Uncle Sam leads the way, carrying the lamp of "prudence."

At the rear, though, the figure of German Kaiser Wilhelm II appears to be on the verge of putting his foot right in to the trap. In fact, throughout the Boxer Rebellion, the Germans were the most aggressive both in their general dealings with Chinese citizens (as when their ambassador murdered a young boy for no reason), and with their advocacy of all-out war.

As early as November of 1897, after the Juye Incident in which Boxers killed two German citizens, Kaiser Wilhelm called for his troops in China to give no quarter and take no prisoners, like the Huns.

His comment created an accidental "great circle" in history. The Huns were likely descended in large part from the Xiongnu, a nomadic people from the steppes north and west of China. In 89 CE, the Han Chinese defeated the Xiongnu, driving one division of them to migrate far to the west, where they absorbed other nomadic peoples and became the Huns. The Huns then invaded Europe via what is now Germany. Thus, Kaiser Wilhelm was actually urging his troops to get beaten by the Chinese, and driven across Central Asia!

Of course, that was not his intention when he made the remark. His speech may have inspired the World War I (1914-18) nickname for German troops used by the British and French, however. They called the Germans "the Huns."

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