wikipedia | The Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists, known by foreigners as the Boxers, or "Yihe Magic Boxing", was a secret society founded in the northern coastal province of Shandong consisting largely of people who had lost their livelihoods due to imperialism and natural disasters. The group originated from the Lí sect of the Ba gua religion group. Foreigners came to call the well-trained, athletic young men "Boxers" due to the martial arts and calisthenics they practiced. The Boxers' primary feature was spirit possession, which involved "the whirling of swords, violent prostrations, and chanting incantations to Taoist and Buddhist spirits."
The Boxers believed that through training, diet, martial arts, and prayer they could perform extraordinary feats, such as flight. Further, they popularly claimed that millions of spirit soldiers would descend from the heavens and assist them in purifying China of foreign influences. The Boxers consisted of local farmers/peasants and other workers who were made desperate by disastrous floods and widespread opium addiction and laid the blame on Christian missionaries, Chinese Christians, and the Europeans colonizing their country. Missionaries were protected under the policy of extraterritoriality. Chinese Christians were alleged also to have filed false lawsuits. The Boxers called foreigners "Guizi" (鬼子, literally: demons), a deprecatory term, and condemned Chinese Christian converts and Chinese working for foreigners. The Boxers were only lightly armed with rifles and swords, claiming supernatural invulnerability towards blows of cannon, rifle gunshots, and knife attacks. The Boxers were typical of millennarian movements, such as the American Indian Ghost Dance, often rising in societies under extreme stress.
Several secret societies in Shandong predated the Boxers. In 1895, Yuxian, a Manchu who was then prefect of Caozhou and would later become provincial governor, acquired the help of the Big Sword Society in fighting against bandits. Although the Big Swords had heterodox practices, they were not seen as bandits by Chinese authorities. Their efficiency in defeating banditry led to a flood of cases overwhelming the magistrates' courts, to which the Big Swords responded by executing the bandits that were apprehended. The Big Swords relentlessly hunted the bandits, but the bandits converted to Catholic Christianity, gaining them legal immunity from prosecution and also placed them under the protection of the foreigners. The Big Swords responded by attacking bandit Catholic churches and burning them. As a result, Yuxian executed several Big Sword leaders, but did not punish anyone else. More secret societies started emerging after this.
The early years saw a variety of village activities, not a broad movement or a united purpose. Like the Red Boxing school or the Plum Flower Boxers, the Boxers of Shandong were more concerned with traditional social and moral values, such as filial piety, than with foreign influences. One leader, for instance, Zhu Hongdeng (Red Lantern Zhu), started as a wandering healer, specializing in skin ulcers, and gained wide respect by refusing payment for his treatments. Zhu claimed descent from Ming dynasty Emperors, since his surname was the surname of the Ming Imperial Family. He announced that his goal was to "Revive the Qing and destroy the foreigners" ("Fu Qing mie yang").