The Dowager Empress Ci Xi played an extensive role in supporting the group known as the ‘Boxers’, her role can be linked with her lust for power, this is proven by her actions to take power, such as the palace coup against Guang-Xu in 1898, the execution of 5 reformers that went without trial and her apparent poisoning of Tz-uan discussed by Dennet and Dixon. With this in mind, we can safely say that Ci Xi had no boundaries when it came to preserving her power.
The palace coup in 1898 was a result of the ‘hundred days of reform’ led by Guang-Xu, this reform movement was, at first, supported by Ci Xi, but when she realised that this movement could take away her power, she quickly changed her view on the issue, using her influence among other palace representatives according to Anderson, Keese and Low on the 21st September 1898 Ci Xi announced the emperor Guang-Xu was seriously ill and that it was necessary that she took over, in reality however, Guang-Xu was placed under house arrest on a small island in the imperial garden.
In order to stop any talk of reform in China Ci Xi arrested and executed 5 reformers as well as the brother of Kang Youwei; the founder of the reform movement. Ci Xi effectively ended the reform movement in China, she did however continue reforms in one area: military, she began building up the army and providing them with more modern day weaponry.
This made Ci Xi more confident in her stance against foreigners, and this was evident when she refused demands from Italy to lease the province of Chekiang in March of 1899, this continued into November when Ci Xi announced that she would no longer negotiate with foreigners, instead she would refuse all demands even if it lead to an outbreak of war, this then caught the attention of the Boxers.
The Boxers, a group of uneducated peasants despised foreigners and their Christian beliefs, and when Ci Xi announced her new found stance on foreigners, this led to the Boxers slogan “Expel the foreigner, support the Qing. ” It was at that time that Ci Xi took the opportunity to aid the boxers. It was after the sudden support from the Empress dowager that the murders of Christian converts and the destruction of Christian churches were reported. As the number attacks increased, many western powers began to realise that Ci Xi intended to support the movement.
According to Dennet and Dixon, Ci Xi hoped to use the boxers to drive the foreigners out of China, or at least loosen their grip. Her motivation behind supporting the boxers was in some way revealed in the context that, when the boxers had some success she would take the credit for it, but when the boxers failed, she would put the blame on them calling them “outlaws”. While Ci Xi may have supported the boxers, many Chinese ministers urged her to suppress the boxers.
Three people who urged Ci Xi to suppress the boxers were soon beheaded; this again proves that she was only concerned with conserving her own power at any cost. On June 30th 1900 the boxer movement entered Peking, slaughtered Chinese Christians and burned foreign buildings outside the legation quarters. The western ministers had already sent a force of 400 troops to strengthen the legation guards, and on June 10th a force of over 200 troops began to move from Tienstin to Peking, but on June 14th the boxers entered Tienstin and besieged the foreign quarter.
The relief force that left Tienstin was attacked by Imperial troops, and on June 20th the Qing dynasty declares war on the foreigners, which supports the view that Ci Xi supported the boxers, and she did so to preserve herself. The uprising eventually came to an end when a force of British, French, American, Russian, German, Japanese, Austrian and Italian fought their way out of Tienstin and reaching Peking on August 14th they then released the legation inhabitants from the siege and the organized boxer and Imperial army resistance came to an end on that day.
As the foreigners began occupying Peking, Ci Xi and the emperor left in disguise, travelling in covered cart and eventually reached Sian in late October. Negotiations between the western powers and the Qing government were centred on the acceptance that there had not been a war, but instead a rebellion by the boxers, which had been repressed by both sides.
The foreigners were content with this view as it allowed them to continue the treaty system of relations with China, and also confirmed the continued foreign debt payments by China. Ci Xi’s decision to support the boxers was mainly centred on her hatred for foreigners and her lust for power and according to Dennet and Dixon, her choice to support the boxers was the single greatest political miscalculation of Ci Xi’s life. And even though the boxers failed, she still survived.