China Relief Expedition

China Relief Expedition

The China Relief Expedition was the name of an expedition in China undertaken by the United States Armed Forces to the rescue of United States citizens, European nationals, and other foreign nationals during the latter years of the Boxer Rebellion, which lasted from between 1898 and 1901. The China Relief Expedition was a multi-national military effort; the United States contributed troops to the effort between 1900 and 1901. Towards the close of the expedition, the focus shifted from rescuing non-combatants to suppressing the rebellion. By 1902, at least in the city of Peking, the Boxer Rebellion had been effectively controlled.



The American annexation of the Philippines resulting from the Spanish-American War stimulated a growing American interest in China for both commercial and humanitarian reasons. A notable argument for retaining the Philippines advanced at the time posited that the island nation would serve as a convenient way point for trade with the Manchu Empire; furthermore it was argued that the Philippines would be of use in the protection of American interests in the Pacific. The dominant problem in China at the end of the nineteenth century was its threatened partition by the Great Powers. Both the United States and the British opposed this, and in September 1899 the United States announced it had secured agreement from the interested powers for maintenance of an Open Door policy in their relations with China.

Many younger Chinese resented the extensive foreign intervention in China. This discontent coalesced into the nucleus of a secret group called the Righteous Harmony Society' (義和團 - Yìhétuán); Westerners called members of this Righteous Harmony Society Boxers. The Boxers, with tacit support of the Empress Dowager Cixi, undertook a campaign against foreign influences and foreigners. By early 1900 this movement had brought much of China to the verge of revolution. Boxers in the northern provinces attacked and killed hundreds of Chinese Christians and foreigners, mostly missionaries. The wave of unrest came to an apex following the assassination of Clemens von Ketteler, the German ambassador plenipotentiary, on June 20. Most remaining foreigners as well as many Chinese converts fled to the foreign legations in Peking,In fear for their lives in what appeared to be the beginning of a general uprising. The Foreign Legations were defended by a composite force of some 600 soldiers and civilians. The legations were soon besieged by a much larger force of Boxers, assisted by Chinese Imperial troops.

Although the McKinley administration disliked the idea of becoming involved in an international incident during an election year with overtones of entangling foreign alliances, President McKinley agreed to join with the other powers in taking such steps as deemed necessary to rescue their beleaguered nationals.

Seymour Expedition

An international column of sailors and marines, the Seymour Expedition, including 112 Americans, made a hurried attempt to go to the relief of Peking, but met with severe resistance after it left Tientsin and failed to get through (10–26 June).

Skirmishes around Tiensine

As a result of the Philippine Insurrection, the United States had forces available nearby in the Philippines. The United States of America was therefore in a position contribute one of the larger contingents to the international relief expedition. The first contribution of American forces from the Philippines came on June 14 when it was deemed necessary to send a detachment of 107 Marines to China to protect American lives and property; this detachment was drawn from the 1st Marine Infantry Regiment stationed at Cavite in the Philippines.[1] This detachment steamed toward Taku aboard the USS Newark, arriving on June 18, where the detachment was joined by another detachment of 32 Marines aboard the USS Nashville.[1] The Marine detachment, under the command of Major Littleton W.T. Waller, landed at Taku the next day and proceeded to advance toward Tientsin. Although General Arthur MacArthur, Jr., commanding in the Philippines, was reluctant to weaken his already overextended forces, he agreed to dispatch to China the 9th Infantry Regiment which would depart from Manilla on June 27. On June 17, the United States Navy's China Squadron, under Rear Admiral Louis Kempff, declined to join foreign naval forces in the Battle of Taku Forts which guarded the river approach to Tientsin, the nearest port city to Peking. On July 6, the 9th Infantry Regiment arrived at Taku.[2][3] Colonel Emerson H. Liscum, commander of the 9th Infantry Regiment, disembarked the regiment's 1st and 2nd Battalions and proceeded to march on Tientsin. On 13 July 1900, elements of this force, participated in the attack on Tientsin troops from several other nations. The city of Tientsin surrendered on the same day.

By the beginning of August, the American forces were reinforced by the 14th Infantry Regiment, and Battery F of the 5th Artillery Regiment.[4] Major-General Adna R. Chaffee, Sr arrived in Nagasaki, Japan on July 24. [4] Within two days of his arrival, General Chaffee received orders to proceed to Taku and assume command of the American forces there; his new command was designated the China Relief Expedition.

Other units, including the 6th Cavalry Regiment, were deployed directly from the mainland United States. Using Manila as a base and Nagasaki, Japan, as an advance port, the United States eventually assembled some 2,500 soldiers and marines in China, officially designated the China Relief Expedition,.

Formed into a rescue column, including more than a hundred Americans, this force had encountered overwhelming opposition and failed to break through to Peking. The powers then had taken immediate steps to organize a large relief expedition to drive through to the Chinese capital.

Battle of Tientsin

China Relief Expedition Streamer

The movement against Westerners in Peking reached a climax on 20 June 1900 when the German minister was murdered. About 3,500 foreigners and Chinese Christians, fearing for their safety, took refuge in the foreign legation compound, where they were besieged by thousands of Chinese. A composite military force of 407 men (including 56 Americans) plus about 200 civilians defended the compound.

The Great Powers took immediate steps to organize a large relief expedition for Peking, to stamp out what came to be known as the Boxer Rebellion. Using Manila as a main base, the United States promptly dispatched to China Regulars intended for use in the Philippine Insurrection. The 9th Infantry and a Marine battalion landed at Taku Forts on 7 July 1900. Two battalions of the 9th joined contingents of other powers in an attack on Tientsin, which fell on 13 July, the Americans suffering 95 casualties.

Battle of Yang-tsun

[File:China Expedition Streamer.png|thumb|China Relief Expedition Streamer]] On 4 August 1900 an allied force of eighteen or nineteen thousand men began an advance on Peking, 70 miles (110 km) distant. The American contingent, some 2,500 men under Major-General Adna R. Chaffee, Sr., consisted of the 9th Infantry and 14th Infantry, elements of the 6th Cavalry, the 5th Artillery, and a Marine battalion. High points of the fighting en route were at Pei-tsang, which fell on 5 August, and a severe engagement for American and British contingents at Yang-tsun on 6 August.

Battle of Peking

In the seizure of the Outer City of Peking on 14 August, elements of the 14th Infantry scaled the Tartar Wall, planted the first foreign flag ever to fly there, and opened the way for British units to relieve the legation compound. On the following day "Reilly's Battery" (Captain Henry J. Reilly's Light Battery F, 5th Artillery) blasted open the gates on the American front in the assault on the Inner City. By early August, a multinational coalition of 19,000 soldiers, including British, French, Japanese, Russian, German, Austrian, Italian, and American troops, was ready to move out of Tientsin toward Peking, some seventy miles distant. Fighting a number of sharp skirmishes en route, this force reached the Manchu capital on 12 August 1900 and prepared immediately to assault the gates leading into the Outer City. Lacking effective central direction, the relief expedition's attack was poorly executed. The Russian contingent prematurely forced an entrance into the Outer City on 10 August only to be thrown into confusion and require rescue by other allied troops. The next day, in a more carefully coordinated assault, elements of the U.S. 14th Infantry scaled the so-called Tartar Wall and provided cover for the British as they entered the Outer City in force, relieving the legations compound. Then on 15 August, Captain Henry J. Reilly's Light Battery F of the U.S. 5th Artillery shattered the gates leading into the Inner City with several well-placed salvos, opening the way for the allied troops to occupy the center of Peking. Although American troops had suffered comparatively light losses—slightly more than 200 killed and wounded—they did not take part in subsequent military operations, which consisted primarily of suppressing scattered Boxer elements and rescuing foreigners in the provinces. The McKinley administration, anxious to avoid further involvement in China, wanted to get Army units back to the Philippines before winter.

Most American units were withdrawn to Manila before winter, and mopping up operations in the provinces were left to the other Powers. A few American Regulars remained to form part of an allied occupation force and a small guard for the United States Legation in Peking.

Aftermath of the China Relief Expedition

The Boxer Protocol of 7 September 1901, negotiated by the Great Powers with China, included provisions for a fortified legation quarter, foreign garrisons along the Tientsin-Peking railway, and a large indemnity. In 1908 the United States remitted a portion of its share of the indemnity, which the Chinese Government diverted to educational purposes. In a few months all resistance had ended and the Dowager Empress sued for peace, offering to pay an indemnity and reaffirm previously existing commercial concessions. During prolonged negotiations an international army of occupation to which the United States contributed a small contingent of Regulars remained in north China. It was withdrawn in September 1901 under terms of the Boxer Protocol. This agreement also provided that the powers maintain a fortified legation in Peking, garrison the Tientsin-Peking railway—an American contingent served as a part of this force until 1938—and receive reparations of $333 million. Of this amount the United States claimed only $25 million. In a few years it became apparent that even this sum was more than was needed to indemnify claims of American nationals and in 1907, and again in 1924, the United States returned portions totaling nearly $17 million to China, which placed the money in a trust fund for education of Chinese youths in both countries.

The participation of the United States in the Boxer Uprising at the beginning of the 20th century marked the first time since the American Revolution that the country had joined with other powers in an allied military operation. The intervention in China represented one more instance of the gradual change taking place at the turn of the century in the traditional policies and attitudes of the United States in world affairs as a result of the triumph of imperialism. Most Americans still believed, despite the acquisition of overseas colonies, the nation could continue to adhere to its doctrine of isolationism as the nation entered a new century. Developments in the early years of the 20th century would demonstrate, however, that the nation had to make changes and adjustments in many long-established institutions and policies—including those relating to military defense of the country—to meet the requirements of its new status as a world power.

United States Military Medals

For serving during the China Relief Expedition, the United States military created the China Campaign Medal and the China Relief Expedition Medal.

US Units involved:


The China Relief Expedition streamer is yellow with a narrow blue stripe on each side.

  • The color yellow was restricted for use only by the Manchu rulers of China during the Ts'ing dynasty (1644–1911).
  • The color blue is emblematic of the east and of the blue dragon depicted on the yellow imperial and other Manchu standards.

See also


  1. ^ a b "Marines in China: The Relief Expedition" (in Englishj). Report of the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps. United States Navy History and Heritage Command. Retrieved 21 September 2011. 
  2. ^ Fawver, LeAnn (28). "China Relief Expedition" (in English). U.S. Army Military History Institute. Retrieved 21 September 2011. 
  3. ^ Leonhard, Robert. R.. "China Relief Expedition: Joint Coalition Warfare in China" (in English). John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Retrieved 21 September 2011. 
  4. ^ a b Leonhard, pg. 35.
  • American military history: Emergence to World Power, 1898-1902; Chapter 15; Office of the Chief of Military History, United States Army

 This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Army Center of Military History document "U.S. Army Campaigns:China Relief Expedition".

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