China's Story - William Griffis

The Allies Make War on China

On the advance, not one shot had been fired by any but the rioters, but on coming back, from the morning of June 18, the Chinese soldiers in uniform were firing at Admiral Seymour's force from all sides. In Peking, the Japanese chancellor of legation on June 11, and the German ambassador, Baron von Ketteler, on June 20, were killed.

What was the cause of the trouble, and what were the reasons for this apparent change, in that the enemy, being now of the regular army under orders of the government, took the place of the rioters? For this action of the Chinese regulars the commanders of the warships of all the foreign powers, then in Chinese waters, except those of the United States, under Rear Admiral Louis Kempff, were wholly responsible, as an account of their action shows.

At the mouth of the Pei-ho River leading to Peking, and near the Taku forts which guarded the entrance, the warships of eight allied nations, the United States, Great Britain, Russia, Germany, France, Italy, Austria, and Japan, were lying. There was no real necessity of any hostility against these forts, but the foreign admirals on June 16 demanded their surrender or evacuation.

The American admiral Louis Kempff, trained under Farragut, showed himself the bravest of the brave by refusing to use force and shed blood when China and the United States were at peace. The Peking government was embarrassed with a riot on a large scale. It was another insurrection, and threatened to be as great as the Tai Ping uprising. Admiral Kempff had received no orders from his superiors at Washington. He had to act according to his judgment as a good American, and his conscience was clear. The unbroken tradition binding the United States and China was that of peace. There had never been war or real hostilities between the two countries, the affair at the Canton forts in 1856 being an episode with-out meaning. Washington had laid down the principle and made the precedent against entangling alliances with European nations, and this policy had been scrupulously followed by every president. To fire on these Taku forts was a wanton act of needless war.

Admiral Louis Kempff


Admiral Kempff refused to join in the lawless act. He warned his colleagues that their procedure would unite the Chinese against all foreigners, and immediately render the situation at Tien Tsin and Peking more dangerous. He pleaded in vain. Kempff was the kind of man needed to represent the United States in the Far East. Of physical valor and brute force we have had enough. Our race does not lack in these. Of moral courage, like that of Washington, Perry, and Harris, for example, we have never had as yet enough, and ever need more.

The ultimatum was served at night. It demanded the surrender by two A.M. Bravely and as a true patriot the commander of the forts refused, and notified his government at Peking. The Chinese nobly defended their flag and country for six hours. Then a shell from the Algerine, of the British navy, blew up the main magazine, and the fort was in ruins, on June 17.

The first shot fired at the Taku forts united all China against the hated foreigner. It was worth everything to the anti-foreign mandarins in the government council at Peking. It was exactly what they were waiting and hoping for. It fully justified their attitude. The Chinese government immediately declared war against the invaders, and the Tsung-li Yamen, according to the laws of the world, served notice on the foreign ministers to leave Peking within twenty-four hours, guaranteeing safe conduct. The Boxers were now recognized as militia and helpers of the government against the men who had declared war upon China.

Meanwhile the rioters, now incited from Peking, proceeded with their murderous work, destroying the property of the native Christians and of the missions. Nearly seven-score missionary people lost their lives, but this number, great as it was, was only a fraction of the loss suffered by their Chinese fellow believers, of whom many thousands were put to death, and for none of their losses were the living compensated.

Now sounded the call for an allied army for the rescue of the legations. Eight nations responded. Japan sent the splendid Hiroshima division, making a total of twenty-one thousand of her men on ship and shore, and mostly veterans. Russia soon had eight thousand soldiers on the ground.

The United States, however, was the first to have, with twenty-eight hundred men under General A. R. Chaffee, a definite policy of action, and was the only country that did. Its theory of action, based on over a hundred years of consistent friendship, and especially upon the action of Admiral Kempff, was this: China was a friendly power, ever at peace with the United States. The Boxer movement was a riot on a large scale. After relieving their citizens, insuring protection, and receiving indemnity, the Americans would leave the country. They had no business to remain after the diplomatic settlement was over. China must save herself. In the American view, there was to be no break-up of China. At Washington, during the siege of the legations, acting on the Chinese minister Wu's petition, Mr. John Hay, Secretary of State, had refused to believe that the foreigners in Peking had been massacred. Patience was rewarded and a telegram received in Washington from our minister, Mr. Conger.

Of the diplomacy of President McKinley and Secretary Hay, the action of Admiral Kempff, in maintaining the American peace policy with China, formed the basis. This insistence on the integrity of China was in direct opposition to the "break-up" theory.

Now began the march to Peking. Had the Japanese been allowed to go forward at once and alone, they could easily have performed the work without aid, and the legations would have been relieved a month sooner than they were. The cosmopolitan relief force did not start for Peking until August 4. Before this, Tien Tsin, now strongly fortified and garrisoned by Chinese regulars, must be taken. The first assault of the allies failed. Then the Japanese blew up a gate and resistlessly stormed walls and city. After bloody fighting, the Chinese retreated. In this campaign, the American naval force, under Admiral Kempff, and the Ninth U. S. Infantry, were especially active, but the brave Colonel Liscum was slain.

On the hot and dry march to Peking, the Japanese, with modern appliances, including filtered water, were in the advance, but had to wait for the Russians, who averaged only four miles a day. These selected the best villages, wells, and camping places. In their dust, the Americans marched next, selecting such sites and drinking water as might be left. The English forces (including a drilled regiment of Chinese from Wei-hai-wei), German marines, Italians, Austrians, etc., followed. Of the entire host, the Japanese lost the fewest men by sickness in proportion to their numbers. In this international school of war many lessons were learned, the Mikado's men losing all fear of the Czar's soldiers after seeing them on the march and in camp.

Meanwhile in Peking there could be no unity in the councils of the regular Chinese and the Boxers. Furthermore, some of the best men in the government, though discouraged at the treachery of the foreigners in firing on the Taku forts, tried by warnings to restrain excesses. Hence the safety of the besieged. Many buildings near the legations were fired in the hope of burning out the foreigners. In the defense the American marines, brave, alert, and efficient, covered them-selves with glory and greatly aided the prospects of holding out. The native Christians were continually at work on fortification or repair.

The advance of the rescuing expedition reached Peking August 14, and the city was taken next day. As the rescuers entered, the court and empress fled, and the seat of government was set up in the west at Sian Fu.

For the missionaries and diplomatists there were rescue, food, and certain indemnity; but what of the native Christians exiled from their homes and fields, of which only vestiges remained? Where was even food to come from? In such a crisis, brave men, like the American Dr. Ament, went out into the open country. According to justice and immemorial custom in China, he compelled the village elders, who had connived at, or encouraged the Boxers, to furnish supplies of food. From the confiscated property in Peking, money was obtained to support the native Christians until they could be sent home. This action was misunderstood and maligned at home by a popular author. He "caught a Tartar" in attacking Dr. Ament, who showed the true facts.

Admiral Kempff, the hero who had vindicated the noblest American traditions, instead of being rewarded as Admiral Dewey, for example, had been, received no thanks, and was relegated to routine duty in the Philippines. Yet on his righteous action was based the diplomacy which followed, in which the United States led the way. This was because our State Department had a definite policy, the policy inaugurated by George Washington and fixed by over a hundred years' precedents given by American merchants, explorers, and missionaries, whose theory and practice were the exact reverse of those of other Western peoples.

In Europe, the traditional idea concerning the countries of Asia was that they exist to be conquered and made part of European empires. At the antipodes of such a notion, which was based on the exploded dogma of the divine right of kings and the supposed privilege of the white race to dominate all others, was the American doctrine that Asian humanity does not exist for conquest or possession, but that her peoples are to be treated as brothers, to be taught, helped, and healed. Such a creed had been exemplified for over a century by Americans. President McKinley, Admiral Kempff, Secretary John Hay, and Elihu Root, as servants of the American people, merely declared to the world and registered the verdict which had long ago been given by American commerce, Christianity, and diplomacy.

In the looting of Peking, the savagery that lurks even in the civilized nations of Christendom broke loose, the Russians, French, and Germans showing especially relapse into needless slaughter of innocent people and brutal treatment of women. The main body of the Germans arrived after the real work of rescue was over. The Europeans, indeed all except the Americans, recognized Count von Waldersee as commander-in-chief of the so-called "punitive expeditions," that devastated the country in the name of God. Prince Ching and Li Hung Chang, as plenipotentiaries, acted with the foreign diplomatic agents at the council table.

The punishment of China was made so severe that the American conscience revolted. Several of the missionary societies refused to apply for or receive indemnity. After all just claims of American citizens had been settled, the government at Washington returned the unexpended remainder. This fund was immediately invested by the Peking government for the education of scores of Chinese youth in America.

After many long sessions and the voting down of many ridiculous propositions, the articles which were signed secured the integrity of China, indemnity to foreigners to the amount of four hundred and fifty million taels,—but none to the native Christians,—the abolition of the Tsungli Yamen, and the creation of a state department of foreign affairs, to rank above the Ministers of State, the death penalty upon eleven princes or mandarins named, the razing of the Taku forts, prohibition of the importation of arms and war material, provision for foreign guards at the capital, and the suspension of provincial examinations in the Boxer districts for five years. Where Baron von Ketteler was killed, a memorial structure was built, and an imperial prince went in person to Berlin and presented apologies to the Kaiser.

Again the poor people of China were called upon to endure an increase of the already crushing burdens of taxation, to pay within forty years the foreigners' mulct.

At Arlington, near Washington, are the eloquent tombs of Liscum and Reilly, who led our brave soldiers in China. In Saint James Park, London, is a statue in bronze of the English rescuers and defenders, with bas-reliefs showing men of two nations, British and American, of the same race and language, defending the legations. In better days to come, the heroes who refuse to fight unjustly will also be honored in enduring bronze.