Thursday, 21 May 2015

Some Did It for Civilisation, Some Did It for Their Country

Some Did It for Civilisation, Some Did It for Their Country
A Revised view of the Boxer Rebellion
by Jane E. Elliott
Listed here on Amazon

Ms Elliott has certainly amassed a lot of information, and is clearly keen to expand the balance of knowledge and understanding away from the misguided views of the west and towards the truth (or maybe Truth) of what China really was in 1900.  

I have a certain sympathy with her views, because much reporting in the west certainly was biased, and chock-full of misunderstandings and errors. The behaviour of most of the western powers towards another sovereign nation was absolutely reprehensible by the standards of our time (and of that time too, as many cartoons illustrate). However writing a diatribe against the reportage of the time and since - as if press reporting today is so much more accurate and unbiased - and proclaiming, loudly and ad nauseam, an Orwellian "China Good, West Bad" is no way to redress the balance. 

She also is careless with the facts as regards the west where it suits her arguments. The British army had actually abolished the purchase and sale of commissions 30 years before, and so she is guilty of the same sins as those the rails against. Such carelessness (giving her the benefit of the doubt) also raises questionmarks about her reading and selection of previously-unpublished Chinese evidence.  

And that is a shame, because her book contains information that I have not seen elsewhere. There is much, for instance, on the Chinese army's actions against boxers prior to the Seymour Expedition, and the moral dilemmas that they faced.  

For me it was an intensely irritating read, and one which gives revisionist history a bad name. However if you can somehow suppress your critical reactions and search for the nuggets of information, then it is a useful document. 


  1. This is a very good review. I am very interested on this period but after reading this review, I am not sure I would buy this book. The main reason is that I agree with Clive that "... proclaiming, loudly and an nauseam, an Orwellian "China Good, West Bad" is no way to redress the balance..." Also I don't like the anti-West stance and the so-called revisionist history, especially if it is written "carelessly".

    1. It's an expensive buy, to be sure, but I wouldn't want to put anyone off on the basis of a single review. As of today's date there are two Amazon reviews; a 5* and a 1* (neither of which was by me), so it's clearly a book that provokes strong opinions. Thanks for looking in!