17 June 2011
China's stamps and postal history were heavily influenced by the presence of foreign post offices, a situation which came to a head during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, as our feature explains. ...
A century ago the Boxer Rebellion of China was grabbing headlines, with the so-called Boxers – their athletic prowess gave them their name, though they were known locally as the ‘Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists’ – revolting against Christian missionaries and the growing Western involvement in Chinese affairs.
Foreign Post Offices in China
At the turn of the twentieth century, there were numerous foreign post offices operating in China, including American, Japanese, French, German and British services, and as such there is much postal history material available from this eventful period.
The Boxers, and the secret societies from which they were formed, began to influence local affairs during the late 1890s. By the turn of the century the political climate in China was becoming increasingly unstable, with foreign powers looking to split the country into their own territories, and the opium trade, conducted mainly by the British, leaving its mark on locals. The leadership in the country was also uncertain and by 1900 the reforms planned by Guangxu Emperor lay in tatters as he was deposed by Empress Dowager Cixi. With foreign governments showing sympathy to the removed Guangxu, the Empress encouraged the Boxers to fight against foreigners. Embassies in Beijing, then Peking, were stormed and the rebellion began in earnest, with many diplomats and foreigners finding themselves taking refuge in what became known as the Siege of Peking. The addition of Imperial troops and Muslim Kansu Braves saw the growing violence turn into war.
The influence of foreigners on China has made the turn of the century a fascinating period for philatelic study, but with the addition of the escalating violence many more covers were sent from military field post offices and from besieged cities.
A 1c postal stationery card endorsed ‘Feldpost’ and sent on 11 March, 1901 to Osnabrück, Germany was recently offered at auction and is a good example of material to be found. The cancellation and ‘K.D. Feldpostation/No. 7’ cds would have been sent free of overseas postage. Another cover recently at auction was sent to Leeds, England, from the Siege of Peking, and featured a CIP 20c stamp and a French ‘Chine’ overprinted 50c value. The letter writer was James Bredon, the Secretary to consular official Sir Robert Hart, who told of the hardships of the siege. The cover sold for a little over £120. Postcards depicting scenes from the rebellion are also to be found, as are a wide range of provisional and overprinted stamps used during the chaotic period.
Following the introduction of forces from eight foreign countries, the rebellion came to an end in the autumn of 1901, but not before atrocities were committed on both sides, with many thousands of Catholic Christians losing their lives. In September of that year a peace treaty was signed and reparations were paid by China to the foreign countries. The rebellion had ultimately failed, but at least changed the attitudes of foreign powers in the country, as they chose to work with Empress Dowager Cixi Dynasty, rather than attempt to govern the Chinese themselves. By the time World War One had added yet more sombre drama on the world, the foreign influence in China had dwindled and this complex period of postal services came to an end.
Article first published in the Postal History section of the March 2011 issue of Stamp & Coin Mart.
For an in-depth guide to Foreign Post Offices in China don't miss the August issue of Stamp & Coin Mart.