About the Boxer Movement

1. Unknown Origins:

Two main theories of Boxer origins are from George Nye Steiger and Lao Naixuan. Steiger argued that the Boxers were a legal militia that was responding to the call of the imperial court during a time of turmoil and banditry, as had been in previous dynasties. This theory comes under fire because of the timing of the Uprising and the efforts of the court to bring the Boxers into the militia system to better control them. The Boxes were also operating before the declaration for instituting militias was drafted, making it unlikely that they were a response to it.

Lao Naixuan, a magistrate in Zhili Province wrote a pamphlet in 1899 voicing his findings on the history of the Boxers who he called Yihechuan which means Righteous Harmony Fists. He argued that they were a secret society that had ties to various other societies such as the White Lotus Society, Big Sword Society, Red Fist Society and the 8 Diagram Sect.
They were based out of Shantung province, the province Confucius was from, and were driven by social and religious motives.

2. Unorthodox Fighting:

The Boxers did not have access to many firearms and usually carried swords, spears or knives which were decorated with red cloth. They also wore red sashes, scarves and hats. They lacked any military training but it was believed that they studied Yihe Boxing and used this training to prepare themselves for battle. They used rituals and what has been described as gymnastic workouts to try and make themselves invincible to bullets. They also carried magical amulets for this purpose. This may have had some effect on the Boxers for many reports have surfaced claiming that it would take several shots to bring a Boxer down, though this is more likely due to the small caliber bullets that were popular at the time.
They believed that they could summon spirits to help them in battle. They held public displays of their skill, which gained great fame, and created boxing grounds in temple precincts which became focal points for the movement.

3. Siege of Beijing:

Not so much a siege of the city as it was a siege of the foreign Legations within the city. It started on June 15th, 1900 and ended with 20,000 Allied soldiers marching on the city on August 14th, 1900. The Boxers goals to kill all the Christians and expel the foreigners were not realized and their actions actually had the effect of weakening the dynasty. Boxers tried to fade back into the shadows although many were caught tried and executed and their heads were displayed as a show of power by the government. The government had to pay large sums of money to the foreign nations involved and showed how weak the government was to stop uprisings within its borders. The Boxers had a lot of help from the Imperial Army and certain camps within the court; otherwise they would never have been that much of a threat.

4. Elaboration of Influences:

The Big Sword was a vigilante group of southwestern Shantung after the Sino-Japanese War. After the war came anarchy and banditry; and the Big Sword supposedly protected lives and property, in their own way. Members of the Big Sword believed with a combination of deep breathing exercises, magical formulas, and the swallowing of charms they could make their bodies invulnerable to bullets.
The Spirit Boxers were impoverished people of the countryside of northwestern Shantung. They also used martial arts, like the Big Sword, and spell and charms, but unlike the Big Sword which was more of a Secret, the Spirit Boxers held public boxing matches. They also practiced mass spirit possession, calling upon their gods to protect them. This was the most influential aspect of the Spirit Boxers to the Boxers.