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Lewis Lapham: Orgy of Looting Came After Boxer Rebellion

'The Boxer Rebellion'
"The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China," by David J. Silbey. Source: Hill and Wang via Bloomberg

May 25 (Bloomberg) -- “Kill the Foreigners!” was the motto of China’s red-sashed Boxers, as they were dismissively known in the west. Members of the Righteous Fists of Harmony opposed imperialism and Christianity and took up arms to drive out their representatives. An eight-nation alliance that included the U.S., Germany and Japan invaded China and, after a quick victory, divided up Beijing.

(To listen to the podcast, click here.)

The occupiers regarded themselves as morally and ethically superior to the barbaric Asian hordes. Still, alliance troops practiced widespread rape, torture and murder, as well as uncontrolled looting. “Soldiers of all nations joined the orgy,” reported an American Marine.

Charles Henry Martin, future Congressman and Oregon governor, bragged to his wife that he’d gotten three sable coats, one silver fox and a cloak of ermine and astrakhan, among many other luxuries.

In their sector, the British openly organized a daily auction of stolen goods, while the tireless Japanese appropriated tons of silver ingots.

The 1901 Boxer Protocol provided for Chinese restitution to the victors of $355 million over a 39-year period. By 1940, the total payout was estimated at $600 million to $700 million.

I spoke with David Silbey, author of “The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China,” on the following topics:

1. Colonialism’s Burden

2. Century of Humiliation

3. Secret Societies

4. Kill the Foreigners

5. Rape and Looting

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

Muse highlights include Zinta Lundborg’s NYC Weekend and Greg Evans on movies.

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at lhl@laphamsquarterly.org.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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