Johannes Hermanus Barend Koekkoek (1840-1912) - Boxers , circa 1900
The Boxer Rebellion, Boxer Uprising or Yihequan Movement was an anti-imperialist uprising that took place in China between 1899 and 1901, towards the end of the Qing dynasty. It was initiated by the Militia United in Righteousness (Yihetuan), known in English as the “Boxers”, and was motivated by proto-nationalist sentiments and opposition to imperialist expansion and associated Christian missionary activity. The uprising took place against a background of severe disruption caused by the encroachment of America and European nations. After several months of growing frustration against both the unrelenting wave of European and Christian presence in Shandong and the North China plain in June 1900, Boxer fighters, convinced they were invulnerable to foreign weapons, converged on Beijing with the slogan “Support Qing government and exterminate the foreigners.” Foreigners and Chinese Christians sought refuge in the Legation Quarter. In response to reports of an armed invasion to lift the siege, the initially hesitant Empress Dowager Cixi supported the Boxers and on June 21 issued an Imperial Decree declaring war on the foreign powers. Diplomats, foreign civilians and soldiers as well as Chinese Christians in the Legation Quarter were placed under siege by the Imperial Army of China and the Boxers for 55 days. Chinese officialdom was split between those supporting the Boxers and those favoring conciliation, led by Prince Qing. The supreme commander of the Chinese forces, the Manchu General Ronglu (Junglu), later claimed that he acted to protect the besieged foreigners. The Eight-Nation Alliance, after being initially turned back, brought 20,000 armed troops to China, defeated the Imperial Army, and captured Beijing on August 14, lifting the siege of the Legations. Uncontrolled plunder of the capital and the surrounding countryside ensued, along with the summary execution of those suspected of being Boxers. The Boxer Protocol of 7 September 1901 provided for the execution of government officials who had supported the Boxers, provisions for foreign troops to be stationed in Beijing, and 450 million taels of silver—approximately $10 billion at 2017 silver prices and more than the government’s annual tax revenue—to be paid as indemnity over the course of the next thirty-nine years to the eight nations involved. The Empress Dowager then sponsored a set of institutional and fiscal changes in an attempt to save the dynasty by reforming it.
To learn about early film history is to learn about alternate history. Cinema was not always predestined to be stories. It could have been anything. Nobody knew how people would react to seeing moving pictures onscreen. There were so many voices, and so many directions it could have – and did – go. But in the end, the Hollywood vision of narrative cinema became the dominant one.
That’s not a judgment call per se, it’s just how it is. You could even argue it’s a sort of natural selection, although I think that’s oversimplifying matters.
Nowadays there’s still plenty of experimentation – and there certainly has been experimentation of different sorts throughout all of film history, even the studio era – but the establishment of the studio system, and of the Hays code, really restricted the form that popular cinema took. In their drive towards mass-market acceptance, the studios bucked off much of cinema’s wild experimenters, its early adopters, and its chorus of different voices - including women - until it became a virtual monoculture.
(caveat: this is me flexing my film degree muscles for the first time in over a decade, so I ain’t fresh on this. for a fun look at the Hays code era, I refer you here.)
It’s been 77 years since civil rights activist and poet Langston Hughes wrote his chilling poem “Kids Who Die” which illuminates the horrors of lynchings during the Jim Crow era. Now, as we approach the one year mark of Michael Brown’s death and the Ferguson uprising that sparked a movement, we can see how Hughes’ words still ring true today.