The Boxer Rebellion
What we call The Boxer Rebellion of 1900 was called Yi He Quan or Fists of Righteous Harmony by the Chinese. Due to years of humiliating defeats and oppression by foreign aggressors in China, the populace was eager to change the status quo. In 1898, a secret society in northeastern China roamed in bands practicing martial arts and mysticism. They believed that magic would make them impervious to bullets and that armies of the dead would rise and join their cause. Most of the boxers were peasants or urban thugs from Northern China who resented the growing influence of Westerners in their land. They were secretly supported by the Qing Dynasty under the direction of the Empress Dowager Ci Xi to oppose outsiders such as Christian missionaries and European businessmen.
In the summer of 1900, they staged a massive uprising throughout the countryside and soon pushed toward Beijing. CI XI reassured Westerners that they were safe and that she was dispatching Qing forces to stop the boxers. In reality, however, her troops blocked foreign reinforcements and she encouraged boxers to enter the capital. After that began an eight-week siege of the foreign walled compound in Beijing.
To this day, the question remains – whose side were the Baguazhang masters supporting? There is no doubt that Baguazhang masters (including Dong Haichuan himself) loathed foreigners. Yet, none of Dong Haichuan’s disciples spoke openly for one side or the other. Up to this point in history, Baguazhang had been kept secret within the walls of the imperial Forbidden City. Yi He Quan would be the first time the martial art was seen in battle. During the eight-week siege in Beijing, many Baguazhang pugilists revealed themselves. They joined the ranks of the boxers and were distinguished for their prowess.
It is uncertain, given the official neutrality of the Baguazhang elders in the matter, where these Baguazhang fighters originated. The information leaked out of the palace somehow, perhaps intentionally. One theory holds that Xing Yi stylists who lived near the Forbidden City and trained closely with Baguazhang guards in the Imperial Palace may have been the ones to spread the knowledge during the rebellion. Ironically, practitioners of a different internal art may have been the primary source of the first Baguazhang contact with the outside world.
After eight weeks of intense fighting and near-victory over the foreigners in Beijing, a 19,000 strong expeditionary force of Russian, British, German, French, American, and Japanese troops arrived as foreign relief. This force attacked Beijing, routed the boxers, and looted the city, including the Forbidden City.
Upon seeing the vicious destruction carried out by foreign forces Cheng Tinghua out of rage attacked several soldiers with only twin daggers and killed a dozen or so before dying of multiple wounds. Meanwhile, Yin Fu protected the Empress Dowager Ci Xi (who was disguised as a peasant woman) on her flight from Beijing. Ci Xi would return to power a year later and Yin Fu was praised for his skill, but the Qing Dynasty was doomed. Baguazhang practitioners, however, would continue to be the chosen bodyguards of high Chinese officials to this day.