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The Boxer Rebellion:
During the 19th century, rapacious colonial powers squeezed China mercilessly, seizing territory and extorting profits while missionaries sought souls. In the late 1890s, a virulently resentful peasant movement spread across northern China; foreigners nicknamed its adherents "Boxers" for the martial-arts exercises they practiced en masse. When the movement erupted into open violence in 1900, the imperial government supported attacks on foreigners that escalated into a siege of the foreign embassies in Peking. Diana Preston's The Boxer Rebellion is an account of the 55-day confrontation that alarmed the world. When Western and Japanese troops eventually routed the Boxers, soldiers and civilians looted the capital (to the benefit of Western museums) and extracted yet more concessions from China. The events of 1900 showed both sides at their colorful worst, and the author spares neither Chinese cruelty nor colonial pomposity and racism. Though this narrative history is told almost entirely from a Western viewpoint--of the 200 titles in the bibliography, not one is in Chinese--the many diaries and letters that Preston consulted ensure a lively portrayal of personalities and evocation of the times. She enjoys racy rumors, whether substantiated or not, and is so enamored of the charlatan Backhouse's salacious claims that he had an affair with the Dowager Empress that she details them twice. With little analysis but all the pace and immediacy of a popular novel, The Boxer Rebellion makes for absorbing reading. --John Stevenson [via]