China-India relations: 1899-1901

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The Boxer Rebellion

Parul Kulshrestha, September 7, 2020: The Times of India

Members of Jodhpur Lancers in China in 1901. Prominent among them were Sir Pratap Singh, Amar Singh and Hari Singh (Hurjee)
From: Parul Kulshrestha, September 7, 2020: The Times of India
Seating (L to R) Lt Col Thakur Deep Singh (commanding officer, Ganga Risala), Maharaja Ganga Singh and Col Thakur Gopal Singh of Malasar
From: Parul Kulshrestha, September 7, 2020: The Times of India
Maharaja of Bikaner Maharaja Lal Singh raised the Bikaner Camel Corps, which was also known as Ganga Risala
From: Parul Kulshrestha, September 7, 2020: The Times of India

Boxer Rebellion: When Indian soldiers went to China to crush a rebellion - Times of India

JAIPUR: Long before tension escalated between India and China in Himalayan region in the 1960s, Indian forces have had the experience of fighting the Chinese deep inside their territory around 120 years ago.

Boxer Rebellion was a peasant uprising against all foreign powers in China during 1899-1901. To crush this rebellion, where many Christian missionaries were killed in northern China as they were seen as intruders, the armies of eight countries from Allied Forces landed in China in 1899 to crush the rebellion.

The Battle of Boxer

Boxer is the name given to a Chinese secret society Yihequan (Righteous and Harmonious Fist) by the foreign powers in China. The name was given because the rebels, who were trying to recruit people on the basis of Chinese nationalism, were actually Kung-Fu fighters and were practicing some kind of boxing and calisthenic rituals. The countries that participated to crush the rebellion included United Kingdom, US, Germany, Italy, Japan, France, Russia, Austria and Hungary.

Jodhpur Lancers, Bikaner Ganga Risala and 1 Rajput units from Rajasthan stayed in China for months trying to contain the situation there.

Jodhpur Lancers was represented by Sir Pratap Singh of Idar and Bikaner Risala by Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner.

According to documents provided by Bikaner State Archives, when Ganga Singh was informed about the need to dispatch Indian forces to China, he voluntarily offered his services.

Director of Rajasthan State Archives, Bikaner, Mahendra Khadgawat explained, “Documents in our archives say Ganga Singh ji left for China on September 1, 1900 and reached Hong Kong on September 14. In Tienstin, he was in command of Ganga Risala Camel Corps. Later, he took active part in various battles including the siege of Potingfu and victory of Pitang.”

Documents further mentions that when he returned to Calcutta in December 1900, he was given a public reception on the orders of Viceroy Lord Curzon.

The rebellion came to an end after the defeat of Boxers by the foreign armies and eventual signing of the Boxer Protocol on September 7, 1901.

Why the rebellion took place

  • Interference by foreign powers in China
  • Christian missionaries were seen as people interfering in Chinese tradition
  • Attacks on churches and priests (Americans and Germans) infuriated Western powers
  • Western powers were shoring up in China for economic opportunities
  • Foreign powers had given special privileges to Chinese Christians
  • Foreigners and foreign companies were accorded special privileges, extra-territorial rights and immunities from Chinese law
  • Qing dynasty, then rulers of China, supported the Boxers

How did the rebellion end

23,000 Rajasthani troops participated in crushing the Boxer rebellion. It came to an end on September 7, 1901 with the signing of the Boxer protocol or agreement between both sides. The Manchu government agreed to pay $330 million in damages and reparations. Along with that, the Chinese agreed to execute some of the leaders of the rebellion. In large part because of the humiliating conclusion to the rebellion, the Qing dynasty collapsed little more than a decade later.

Though the troops from Rajasthan fought for their British counterparts, the atrocities inflicted upon the Chinese by the Allied Forces were opposed by them.

Amar Singh Rathore, protegee of Sir Pratap Singh, in his personal diary, the excerpts of which were later on published in a book, expressed discontent regarding the treatment of local Chinese by Russians. Amar Singh mentioned about the rape of Chinese women by members of the Allied Forces and barbaric torture of the local Chinese population.

He wrote, “There is I think not much to write except the cruelty and mismanagement of Russians. To my opinion, they are quite heartless and brutal. Russians have very bad management and cannot live without plunder.” In one important incident, Hari Singh (Hurjee) officer of Jodhpur Lancers rescued Chinese women from being paraded naked by Russian soldiers. Military historian Major Chandrakant Singh (retd.) explained that in the biography of Sir Pratap Singh it is mentioned that Hari Singh ordered the Russians to let the women go free. When they refused, his men captured the Russian soldiers and brought them to the headquarters. This rebellion was possibly the first incident of Indian and Chinese face-off which should be remembered during current times when tension between two nations in Ladakh are escalating. Deep Singh : The gallant officer who commanded Ganga Risala in China

Lt. Col Rai Bahadur Deep Singh was born in Garhsisar village of Bikaner state in 1870. He completed his studies from Mayo College in 1888 and was later appointed as the guardian of Yuvraj Ganga Singh by then Maharaja of Bikaner Maharaja Lal Singh.

It was on his behest, the Bikaner Camel Corps also known as Ganga Risala was raised. For his exemplary services in the armed forces, Deep SIngh was awarded Order of British Empire in 1910.

Major Chandrakant Singh (retd.), a military historian and the great-grandson of Deep Singh, said his great grandfather’s legacy inspired his family to take up career in armed forces. “Armed forces have always been the first choice for people in my family. Deep Singh’s youngest son, i.e. my cousin grandfather, joined the army and received the Mahavir Chakra in 1947 for the Kashmir battle. I fought in the Bangladesh war in 1971 and received Veer Chakra. We have lived in his shadow and are trying to keep his legacy alive,” said Singh.

Deep Singh was a commanding officer of Bikaner State Forces in China during the Boxer Rebellion. “After returning to India, both of them were among the founding members of the Imperial Cadet Corps in 1903 which functioned till 1914 in Dehradun. Its purpose was to train Indians to become officers in the army. Sir Pratap Singh was the patron of Cadet Corps and Deep Singh was an adjutant. Later, on the same premises, Prince of Whales Royal Military College was opened up which is now being run as a public school under Rashtriya Indian Military College,” said Singh.

Today, the legacy of Deep Singh and thousands of such soldiers who fought in foreign land has been forgotten but their contribution to the Indian armed forces will always be remembered.

Photo Credit: General Amar Singh Library Museum and Trust, Castle Kanota, Jaipur

See also

1962 war: Gist of the Henderson Brooks Report

1962 war: Henderson Brooks Report: An Introduction

1962 war: The Chinese perspective

1962 war: history

China-India relations: 1899-01

China-India relations: 1900-1999

China-India relations, 2000 onwards

China-India economic relations

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