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Unpublished Paper
Accountability for “Crimes against the Laws of Humanity in Boxer China: the experiment with international justice at Paoting-Fu
ExpressO (2015)
  • Benjamin E. Brockman-Hawe

This paper covers a significant but generally unknown and understudied caesure in the development of international criminal law occurred during the Boxer Rebellion, an anti-Western and anti‑Christian peasant insurgency mostly located in Northeast China. During the early stages of the Chinese intervention, at a time when the relief force was still bogged down in Beijing, approximately seventy Christians were gruesomely murdered in Paoting-fu. Securing and “punishing” the city became a priority for Western military forces, who began the necessary short march southward once Beijing’s Legation Quarter was cleared of Boxers. The Poating-fu operation could have taken the form of the other “punitive expeditions” organized by the allied forces, which were characterized by extreme violence on the part of European and American troops toward any Boxers (or unlucky civilians who came from villages suspected of harboring Boxers) without trial. Instead, when the foreign armies reached Paoting-fu in mid‑October 1900 they established an “International Commission” to “make inquiry into the treatment of the foreigners of various nations who had suffered.” The French, German, Italian and British commissioners collected evidence for seven days and ultimately recommended death by beheading for three Chinese officials, removal from office for another and an additional trial in Tien-tsin for a fifth. The proceedings were widely regarded as fair and hailed as “one of the most satisfactory aspects of the campaign.”

Publication Date
August 26, 2015
Citation Information
Benjamin E. Brockman-Hawe. "Accountability for “Crimes against the Laws of Humanity in Boxer China: the experiment with international justice at Paoting-Fu" ExpressO (2015)
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