On the last day of 1899, the nude body of Sidney Brooks, twenty-four, was found in a ditch in northern China, his head sawed off and his limbs rent apart. He was the first victim of Boxer fighters, who lusted after the blood of foreign missionaries, whom they blamed for China’s humiliation by Western powers. Claiming immunity to bullets and other supernatural abilities, the Boxers attacked Beijing months later, illuminating their warpath with the kerosene-soaked, burning bodies of captured Chinese Christians.

The Boxer Rebellion did not end until eight colonial powers, enraged by the attacks on their embassies and missionaries, shipped an expeditionary force to China, ending a fifty-five-day rebel siege of Beijing’s Legation Quarter. By then, the Boxers had slaughtered two hundred Western missionaries and tens of thousands of Chinese Christians. Peace was won with a lopsided treaty that infuriated the Chinese, especially in the context of the concessions already imposed after the nineteenth century’s Opium Wars.

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