The Nation was strongly anti-imperialist as soon as the question of American expansion and interference abroad became a major national question in the early 1890s, but did not always express that opinion for what we would consider today the most enlightened reasons. This editorial on the first stirrings of the Boxer Rebellion, “The Ferment in China” (June 21, 1900), which began in earnest 115 years ago today, demonstrates an ambiguity about colonialism which is neither reflexively antagonistic nor wholly supportive.

The rationale of the troubles in China is beginning to appear in a clearer light as events move on. That a formidable reaction is shaking the Empire has been obvious enough, but it has not been plainly seen that it has a domestic side as well as an international aspect. The truth is, however, that the movement of which the “Boxers” have taken the murderous lead, is directed against not only foreign interlopers, but native reformers as well. These are normally the two phases of the agitation. The revolt is one against modern ideas and methods, whether imposed from without or advocated from within. Missionaries are murdered and foreigners hunted on exactly the same principle that led to the execution of six native reformers at Pekin, and sent [constitutional monarchist] Kang-Yu and other educated Chinamen, hospitable to the new enlightenment, fleeing from the land for safety.

June 20, 1900

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