On the last day of 1899, Chinese reactionaries abducted Sidney Brooks, a 24-year-old missionary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. They tortured him for hours and then murdered him. British authorities acted swiftly; two culprits were executed and an indemnity was demanded. But if the British thought this would quell the rising Chinese resentment, they were wrong.

Within six months, thousands of angry Chinese came screaming out of the villages of North China, twirling swords and chanting, "Burn, burn, burn! Kill, kill, kill!" They tore down chapels, cathedrals, orphanages, hospitals, and schools, and murdered missionaries and Chinese Christians. The uprising is called the Boxer Rebellion, and it dealt the modern Protestant missionary movement its most severe blow ever.

Shanghai mentality

The causes of the uprising were many and complex, but the arrogance of foreigners is as good a summation as any.

Since the 1840s, foreigners had forced China's hand in treaty after treaty, gaining control of large parts of the country. The English, Americans, French, Dutch, Spanish, German, and, the largest group, Japanese, had divided up the country as if they were playing the board game Risk. Foreigners sometimes owned whole cities.

Worse, they swaggered through China knowing they could not be arrested for any crime. If a drunken sailor killed a prostitute or his captain set fire to a trading junk, they were protected by the extraterritoriality that is granted high-ranking diplomats.

Too many missionaries (though hardly Hudson Taylor) adopted a "Shanghai mentality," which regarded the world beyond their enclave as a "heathen colossus." In some places, missionaries were more intimate with British authorities, ...

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