WAR WITH THE WORLD.
The last summer of the century saw the forts at the mouth of the Peiho captured for the third time since the beginning of 1858. It was the opening scene in the last act of a long drama, and more imposing than any that had gone before, not in the number of assailants nor in the obstinacy of resistance, but in the fact that instead of one or two nations as hitherto, all the powers of the modern world were now combined to batter down the barriers of Chinese conservatism. Getting possession of Tientsin, not without hard fighting, they advanced on Peking under eight national flags, against the “eight banners” of the Manchu tribes.
What was the mainspring of this tragic movement? What unforeseen occurrence had effected a union of powers whose usual attitude is mutual jealousy or secret hostility? In a word, it was humanity. Spurning petty questions of policy, they combined their forces to extinguish a conflagration kindled by pride and superstition, which menaced the lives of all foreigners in North China.
In 1898, when the Emperor had entered on a career of progress, the Empress Dowager was appealed to by a number of her old servants to save the Empire from a young Phaeton, who was driving so fast as to be in danger of setting the world on fire. Coming out of her luxurious retreat, ten miles from the city, where she had never ceased to keep an eye on the course of affairs, she again took possession of the throne and compelled her adopted son to ask her to “teach him how to govern.” This was the coup d’etat. In her earlier years she had not been opposed to progress, but now that she had returned to power at the instance of a conservative party, she entered upon a course of reaction which made a collision with foreign powers all but inevitable. She had been justly provoked by their repeated aggressions. Germany had seized a port in Shantung in consequence of the murder of two missionaries. Russia at once clapped her bear’s paw on Port Arthur. Great Britain set the lion’s foot on Weihaiwei; and France demanded Kwang Chan Bay, all “to maintain the balance of power.” Exasperated beyond endurance, the Empress gave notice that any further demands of the sort would be met by force of arms.
The governor of Shantung appointed by her was a Manchu by the name of Yuhien, who more than any other man is to be held responsible for the outbreak of hostilities. He it was who called the Boxers from their hiding-places and supplied them with arms, convinced apparently of the reality of their claim to be invulnerable. For a hundred years they had existed as a secret society under a ban of prohibition. Now, however, they had made amends by killing German missionaries, and he hoped by their aid to expel the Germans from Shantung. On complaint of the German Minister he was recalled; but, decorated by the hands of the Empress Dowager, he was transferred to Shansi, where later on he slaughtered all the missionaries in that province.