Within the worldwide context of growing Western imperialism, China’s 1899-1901 Boxer Rebellion represents a critical nationalist action protesting foreign control and Christian missionary infiltration and co-optation (Boxer Rebellion, 2016; Sebring, 2014). Foreign media provided important channels for influencing critical interpretation of the conflict, primarily aimed at motivating public support within the eight nations that cooperated to subdue the uprising and afterwards carve up China amongst themselves (Boxer Rebellion, 2016; Eight-Nation Alliance, 2016; Sebring, 2014).
The Boxer Rebellion was advanced by the Yihequen Movement (“Militia United in Righteousness”; termed “Boxers” in English) (Boxer Rebellion, 2016). Internally, its objectives included dismantling China’s own imperial dynastic influence, and this led to conflicting support and focus amongst China’s political leadership and general population regarding the Boxer Rebellion cause (Boxer Rebellion, 2016; Sebring, 2014). It similarly led to conflicting viewpoints amongst foreign audiences, especially in the United States where the American Civil War was still a living memory for many. (Boxer Rebellion, 2016; Sebring, 2014)
The rebellion was ended through the combined efforts of an ‘Eight-Nation Alliance of foreign superpowers, which, included Japan (Boxer Rebellion, 2016; Eight-Nation Alliance, 2016; Sebring, 2014).
Common sentiment within China constructed the Boxers as backwards, anti-progress barbarians, though after the uprising this morphed into recognition of their role in combating the crimes of foreign and domestic imperial powers (coinciding with widespread cultural and political change within China) (Boxer Rebellion, 2016; Sebring, 2014).
This viewpoint was generally shared by Chinese emigres, as well as foreign-educated Chinese nationals who had returned home (Boxer Rebellion, 2016; Sebring, 2014). However, many foreign citizens viewed the Boxer Rebellion as an expression of patriotism; For example, this was a popular interpretation in the United States in particular, made even more popular by influential public figures including Mark Twain, which undermined public support of America’s role in the eight-nation alliance (Boxer Rebellion, 2016; Sebring, 2014).
These mirrored the contrasting viewpoints of the Boxer Rebellion within foreign countries, a dynamic that is clearly articulated in the sketch at the top of this page (Boxer Rebellion, 2016; Sebring, 2014). Media representations featuring cartoons in the illustrated weeklies heavily influenced foreign interpretations — These included Punch Magazine (1841-2002) and the Illustrated London News (1842-1971) (Britain); La Caricature (1880-1904), Le Petit Parisien (1876-1944) and Le Petit Journal (1863-1944) (France); and Collier’s (1888-1957) (America), as well as the rival American humour publications Puck Magazine (1871-1918) and Judge Magazine (1881-1847) that typcially provided counter-perspectives (Boxer Rebellion, 2016; Knopf, 2015; Sebring, 2014). In Germany, postcards were a popular medium for circulating cartoons.
While some of the imagery captured action as it happened, in general foreign media cartoons invoked satire to advance imperialist campaigns, using design elements such as juxtaposed iconography and symbolism (Boxer Rebellion, 2016; Knopf, 2015; McCloud, 1994; Sebring, 2014). Common depictions included Boxers as unruly ‘children’ being ‘disciplined’ by English, German, American, etc. ‘parents’; the eight-nation alliance subduing China (e.g. military leaders hanging a dragon); or mocking foreign leaders’ indecision or inaction, as a means of political pressure (e.g. a Chinese character quietly observing squabbling foreign military leaders) (Boxer Rebellion, 2016; Knopf, 2015; Sebring, 2014).
After the rebellion was staunched, the subject of these cartoons turned to the conflict between the members of the eight-nation alliance as they carved up China amongst themselves, and China’s resistance to this (Boxer Rebellion, 2016; Knopf, 2015; Sebring, 2014). Satire typically juvenilized these foreign political leaders, or cast them as animals symbolizing a stereotyped cultural character of each nation (e.g. Britain was depicted as a lion, Russia as a bear, etc.) (Boxer Rebellion, 2016; McCloud, 1994; Sebring, 2014). These seem to have been meant to reassert the national interests of each (within the broader context of imperial interest), or, as a counterpoint, to shame these foreign powers by presenting China as a victim (Boxer Rebellion, 2016; Sebring, 2014).
Boxer Rebellion. (2016, August 4). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boxer_Rebellion
Eight-Nation Alliance. (2016, August 3). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eight-Nation_Alliance
Knopf, C. M. (2015). The comic art of war: A critical study of military cartoons, 1805-2014, with a guide to artists. McFarland. Retrieved from https://books.google.ca/books?hl=en&lr=&id=aANJCgAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=The+Comic+Art+of+War:+A+Critical+Study+of+Military+Cartoons,&ots=bndmEFH3dR&sig=fCYCS-6pXWrYG_v36qwAmWk8wRs#v=onepage&q=The%20Comic%20Art%20of%20War%3A%20A%20Critical%20Study%20of%20Military%20Cartoons%2C&f=false
McCloud, S. (1994). Understanding comics: The invisible art. New York: HarperPerennial.
Sebring, E. (2014). Civilization and barbarism: Cartoon commentary and “the white man’s burden” (1899-1902). MIT Visualizing Cultures. Retreived from http://ocw.mit.edu/ans7870/21f/21f.027/civilization_and_barbarism/cb_essay03.html