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Ages of Conquest: a Kings and Generals Podcast

Oct 2, 2023

Last time we spoke about the 8 nation alliances occupation of Beijing, the flight of the royal family and the Boxer Protocol. You would think after taking the city, everything was won and done, but not necessarily. Empress Dowager Cixi with her faithful guardian Dong Fuxiang fled to the northwest of China. Meanwhile Peitang waited longer than most for their rescue, enduring an unbelievable amount of hardship during their siege. Poor Li Hongzhang was forced to endure another humiliation on behalf of the Qing Dynasty, negotiating peace with the western powers. The indemnity payments would last until world war two for China. Empress Dowager Cixi escaped any punishment, while other officials literally lost their heads. In a grandeur fashion, the empress returned to Beijing, performing a large spectacle. It was intentional and brilliant PR work. Things were going to dramatically change for China.


#68 The Russo-Chinese War Part 1: Manchuria rises up


Welcome to the Fall and Rise of China Podcast, I am your dutiful host Craig Watson. But, before we start I want to also remind you this podcast is only made possible through the efforts of Kings and Generals over at Youtube. Perhaps you want to learn more about the history of Asia? Kings and Generals have an assortment of episodes on history of asia and much more  so go give them a look over on Youtube. So please subscribe to Kings and Generals over at Youtube and to continue helping us produce this content please check out If you are still hungry for some more history related content, over on my channel, the Pacific War Channel where I cover the history of China and Japan from the 19th century until the end of the Pacific War.

As we have seen, as of June 1900 the eyes of the world were focused on Beijing. The foreign diplomats of numerous nations were under siege by the fanatical Boxers and Qing forces such as the Kansu army. The Boxer Rebellion as a whole is captured by this focus, go find any book on it, there are many. What you often come across, is the mention of Russian forces somewhat to the distance in Manchuria. Typically if anything is said at all, you get a few paragraphs stating when the escalations began, the Russians invaded Manchuria. Invaded Manchuria, that sounds like a hell of a story no? Its simply overshadowed by the events that played out around Beijing, but an entire other war really sprang up in Manchuria. The event is virtually unknown to the west. When the Boxers sprang up and expeditions emerged, the two closest powers were Japan and Russia and as we have seen when it came to the march upon Beijing, the Japanese sort of took the lionshare. Yet Russia was the most capable to rush troops to the scene, given her work on the Manchurian railways. 

The Boxer Rebellion was a bit awkward for Russia. Yes Russia took up the side of the western forces and joined the 8 nation alliance. However, her views on what exactly the Boxer Rebellion was, differed from the rest. Russia felt the Boxer movement was not directed against her, but rather at the Manchu dynasty. Russia in many ways intervened to save the Manchu dynasty from a full blown revolution. She saw the symptoms of the revolutionaries as a result of western economic and missionary encroachment in China. The Chinese often referred to westerners as “ocean devils”. The Russians did not come from the sea, they shared a vast border with the Chinese. Russia and China had a special relationship unlike the rest, one that had been going on for centuries. Russia typically acted with greater restraint and often spoke of Russo-Chinese friendship. But don’t get me wrong. Like Britain, Germany, France, Japan, etc, Russian was most definitely taking advantage of a weakened Qing dynasty, she certainly encroached, specifically in Manchuria. Their border was one of the longest frontiers in the world. Siberia was underpopulated and exposed to Chinese infiltration. A buffer zone existed in Manchuria and Mongolia. 

The trans-siberian railway’s construction began in 1891 for strategic and economic reasons. It was to be the worlds longest railroad, initially thought to wind along the Amur River up to Khabarovsk then south to Vladivostok. But the terrain proved hellish, the route too circuitous, thus a shortcut through Manchuria was strongly advised. In 1896 Russia obtained concessions from the Qing to begin construction of a station on the Trans Baikal section of the Siberian railway. Following her lease of Part Arthur and Dalien, Russian then sought to connect a new railway line to the main line of what would be called the Manchurian railway. Construction began from both ends simultaneously at a pace of 1.75 miles per day. Vladivostok and Port Arthur were linked up by July of 1900. It would not be too long until the Trans-Siberian railway and the Chinese eastern railway would bridge the land mass from the Baltic sea to the Pacific Ocean, giving the Russian empire an unbelievable toehold in the Asia-Pacific. 

The line passing through Manchuria was under the control of a private corporation, the Chinese eastern railway company. The majority stakeholder was Russian, but there were also Qing investments. Now the protection of the railway, its workers and other infrastructure was not going to be defended by standard Russian troops. Instead the company hired special military forces. The engineers were nearly all Russian, the laborers, 100,000 or so, were Chinese coolies. The project was done in collaboration between the two empires, it heavily depended on China. If the Qing were to, let's say, pull back the laborers, the construction efforts would stop dead. Worse, what if the Chinese began sabotaging the construction? Well both of these things began in 1900. 

A railway guard named Konstantin Kushakov had been in southern Manchuria for two and a half years. He witnessed the shooting of a Russian captain and two Cossacks by Qing soldiers in April 1900. In May at the small city of Hsiungyuehcheng, placards were erected stating the local populace should help exterminate the foreigners. The Boxer movement was hitting Manchuria. Locals told Konstantin not to be alarmed and the Qing commanders stated the placards were just the work of youthful pranksters. Then one evening, Konstantin saw Chinese wearing yellow sashes and headbands speaking through interpreters to Russian commanders. When Konstantin approached for a closer look the Chinese had their lips, cheeks and eyebrows painted, one of them was doing bizarre gymnastic exercises and shouting furiously. A nearby Cossack remarked “that has to be a Boxer”. One of the interpreters stated that was not true, there were no Boxers in this part of China. The next morning, more Boxer youths emerged doing gymnastics in the open, then the local merchants began to quickly sell whatever arms they had in stock and blacksmiths began forging knives, swords and spears. Sabotage work began to occur. Russian telegraph lines were being repeatedly cut, attempts were made to derail trains by lifting up rails or pilling up stuff on tracks. It seemed to all the Russian-Chinese cooperation was falling apart. Countless interpreters, servants, laborers quit their jobs. Russian supervisors and foremen who were notoriously cruel to their Chinese workers, no longer lashed out at them, instead they walked around armed to the teeth. The Russians also noticed an increased in Qing soldiers, many of whom were not recognized from the area. But the Russian commanders believed the Chinese were a submissive and inoffensive people, so they took all these signs with a grain of salt.

The situation became worse, more railway guards were needed, but as you can imagine, Manchuria is an enormous place. Konstantin had roughly 240 men to guard a sector of around 172 miles. Thus to strengthen one post would weaken another. There were troops in the Kwantung region on the southern tip of the Liaodong Peninsula guarding Port Arthur and Dalien. Colonel Mishchenko, commander of the railway guards along the Port Arthur Line requested further troops from Vice Admiral Evgenii Alekseev the commander in chief of the Russian land forces in the Kwantung region and naval forces for the far east. He was denied, because Chief Engineer Iugovich stated on July 2nd that the Chinese were peaceful and wanted to continue the joint project. There was also the belief, if they sent more troops the Qing would be more inclined to the Boxer cause.

On May 23rd, a mob attacked 3 Cossacks that Konstantin had sent to purchase supplies for a kitchen, the men escaped having to saber down a few Chinese. The populace was in an uproar, the Qing commander at Hsiungyeuhcheng demanded Russian troops be barred from the city. In June Boxers were out in the open screaming for violence against the foreigners. Many Qing officials refused to collaborate with the Boxers and were run out of towns. Boxers were taking control over large areas and recruiting a militia. The Boxers began to assemble around Mukden. On July 2nd, Mishchenko telegraphed Konstantin that the northern outposts were in serious danger and ordered him to rush over to Liaoyang with all the guards that could be spared from southern outposts. A detachment of 56 soldiers and 20 cavalrymen was raised. Konstantin tried to use a locomotive, but the Qing switchman sabotage it. Soon Konstantin heard word Qing detachments and Boxers were sabotaging multiple railway stations, outposts were under attack. Konstantin ordered all construction efforts to cease and for all Russians to prepare themselves at posts for attacks. He promised the men reinforcements would soon arrive from the south, many replied they didn't need the help to face off against “Boxer riff-raff, whom we would soon teach how to fight”. Konstantin worried not for the outposts with 15-20 men, but some only had a handful of guards. He recalled “I kept thinking, what will they die for? It is too dear a sacrifice to the stubbornness of 3, 4 high railway agents. To die for the Tsar, to die for the glory of the fatherland, that is an enviable death; but to let honorable and selfless soldiers perish for the sake of stubbornness or mistake would be regrettable indeed”. He ordered the smallest outposts to be abandoned, and for the men to rush to the nearest larger outpost. 

The Russians saw multiple villages emptied of women and children, railway lines likewise were abandoned. Konstantin arrived to Liaoyang with 76 men on July 3rd, he quickly made way to the nearby village of Baitouzi where the 2nd company headquarters and Mishchenko were. Konstantin was informed hostilities had begun in the region. On June 27th, a railroad bridge and barracks near Liaoyang were razed to the ground, the men there chased off by gunfire from local Qing forces. Two Cossacks and their horses were killed, the telegraph lines were being damaged constantly, coal mines were attacked, Mishchenko bitterly complained that Port Arthur refused to send reinforcements and instead berated them for their lack of cooperation with the Qing. Suddenly a Cossack messenger arrived to the HQ reporting 400 Qing soldiers with 100 cavalrymen and mountain guns were engaging a forces of 50 Cossacks, casualties were already mounting. Mishchenko immediately took 56 railway guards of the 6th company under Konstantin and 25 men of the 2nd company led by Shchekin to go save the force. 

They arrived at the scene of a battle, the Qing were moving around the Russian’s eastern side trying to cut them off from Liaoyang. The Qing were trying to push the Russians towards their main force, over 3000 men strong who were advancing upon Mukden. Konstantin jumped off the train with his men to hit the right flank of the enemy, but the Qing diverted over to a local village to better prepare defenses against them. The Russian lines advanced quickly and once they were 300 paces from the enemy, Shchekin and his men took the train directly to the village, leapt off and charged with bayonets fixed. The men screamed “ura!” as they stormed the Qing who fell into a rout quickly galloping towards Mukden. Many Chinese were killed in hand to hand combat, volleys also took lives as they fled. The Russians reported 200 dead while receiving 4 deaths and 5 wounded in return. The victorious Russians returned by train to Liaoyang, reflecting on how the situation had changed. A force of nearly 3000 regular Qing soldiers were most definitely in league with the Boxers. They had even brought artillery, they would most likely hit Mukden soon where they could join possibly 10 newly formed Qing battalions. What were the Russians to do in the face of such numbers?

On the way back to Liaoyang, Boxers were seen burning bridges over the Sha river, 12 miles south of the city. Russians rushed over to put out the fires and sent patrols to hunt down Boxers, but found none. As they approached Liaoyang station, the Chinese switchmen sabotaged the rails and fled. Engineer Girschman, the chief of railway construction for the southern section that passed through Liaoyang was ordered by Mishchenko to inform Port Arthur of the recent clashes and to again request reinforcements. Girschman still thought there was no cause for alarm, he asserted over 5000 taels had been given to the local Manchu General in charge of Liaoyang who promised they were safe to work. Thus Girschman ordered railway employees back to work. Girshman’s train was to be the last train from Liaoyong as on July 6th the bridge south of the station was destroyed. Liaoyang was cut off. Girshman was left behind with 104 civilian employees and their families. The Qing offered Mishchenko free passage for all Russians, but he refused to leave Liaoyang. Instead he ordered Shtabs-kapitan Sakharov with the 3rd Sotnia to join up with him and demand of Port Arthur more reinforcements. He dispatched Cossacks to the various northern posts to spread word of what was going on and if they could run to him, or Harbin. 

Mishchenko decided to fortify a wooden, iron roofed isolated barracks near Baitouzi. His men numbered 204, exhausted from endless patrolling of a vast region. They were enclosed by a 7 foot earth wall, which the Russians with Chinese labor help, added breastworks. Their shelter was an ice house, where the families were taking cover. Meanwhile the Qing forces were digging their own trenches on nearby hills to the north, east and south. The Russians could see them working, multiple Qing scouts came over to look at what the Russian were doing. Chinese were torching all buildings the Russians had previously utilized in the villages around Liaoyang. Any Russians caught at isolated posts were tortured, many beheaded. Barracks, stations, railway lines, coal mines all were burnt down.

Mishchenko was livid that Port Arthur was not sending more men. He was unable to hold on indefinitely and could not hope to cut his way through, he had nowhere to turn. His Cossack scouts reported on July 6th, in all directions Qing forces were seen erecting barricades, moving artillery and fortifying. From Liaoyang the Chinese began taking potshots at the Russians, but they were too far away to hit anything. The Chinese were not advancing, too busy plundering what was left behind at Baitouzi. Firecrackers and celebrations could be heard, as Qing troops arrived from Mukden. Konstantin was talking to an interpreter on July 6th who told him he heard rumors the Chinese would attack the next morning. The next morning began with an artillery bombardment. Mishchenko watched using binoculars from a breastwork and proclaimed ‘they have begun their advance. Forbid the men to shoot needlessly. Instead, begin to fire platoon volleys at those cannons there. They have already adjusted their fire well, and must be silenced”.

Suddenly grenades were lobbed into the inner courtyard, one ripped open the stomach of a horse and wounded some men. Rifle fire was cracking from Baitouzi and nearby hills. Konstantin was commanding the southern defenses, Shchekin and Sotnik Mamonov the east, Denisov the north, Mishchenko held overall command. The Russians remained calm, taking orders for targets. Mishchenko walked the perimeter encouraging men, he never was killed twice by rifle fire and grenades. Konstantin directed guns at the Qing artillery. It took a dozen or so volleys to get the Qing to move their positions. Suddenly a private yelled ‘Sir! The Chinese are crawling already from the railway embankment nearby!”. The Chinese were nearly 400 paces, Mishchenko ordered volleys and the well-aimed rapid fire drove them back. At 10am, the Chinese were advancing on foot and upon horse using large carts to cover themselves from fire. The Qing hit the Russian right flank hard, killing a few, wounding many. The Qing artillery was performing something akin to a creeping barrage, and soon the Qing riflemen were crawling towards the Russian lines. When the Chinese appeared, the Russians opened fire. The defensive lines were small, around 350 square feet. Blood, corpses and body parts littered the area. 

The Qing launched several consecutive attacks, but the Russians gutted their offensives. Suffering heavy casualties the Qing were cautious in their approaches until they withdrew from Baitouzi to Liaoyang. They had no idea the Russians were on the brink of collapse. Russian munitions had shrunk to 20 cartridges per a man, the men were exhausted, men were literally falling asleep as the battles began. The Russian positions at Baitouzi was critical, they could not survive another attack, there was zero indication Port Arthur was sending help, thus Mishchenko called for a meeting of all commanders. They decided their only hope was to fight their way south towards the Kuan Cossack Sotnia of Shtabs-Kapitan Strakhov, who at that time was battling their way towards them. That night they buried 9 men before abandoning countless costly railway equipment, a ton of silver taels which were dumped into a local well and other personal belongings. 

Upon seeing the activity the Qing began another attack. The Russians threw up volleys dangerously as they had only so much ammunition left. Their bayonets were fixed at all times. Instead of waiting for a Chinese wave to close in on them, Mishchenko ordered a feint attack. The 2nd company of Malinov and Shchekin charged screaming hurrahs at the Chinese. This was a brilliant move for it saved them all. The Qing fled back to Liaoyang to defend the city allowing the Russians to quickly move south. Konstantin led the vanguard, the civilians were in a panic, countless Cossacks got off their horses and gave them to women, children and wounded. It was a grueling trek as they marched 2 miles west of the railroad trying to avoid detection. Only twice were shots made upon them, but they did not respond and simply carried on quicker. On July 8th they reached the Sha River to see its bridge, the Russian barracks and other buildings over at Shahotzu had been burned down. There were Chinese corpses and expelled shell casings indicated a battle had occurred. It would turn out to be the work of a local guard post of 12 Russians, they were besieged by roughly 200 Chinese. They locked themselves in their stone walled barracks, kept the enemy at bay until their ammunition ran out. Then Boxers came and began burning the doors and windows. Miraculously a train came nearby and began firing upon the position shrilling its whistle. The Russians stormed out with bayonets, attacked the Chinese and fled for the train to escape to Anshanchan. Back over at the Sha River area, the Russians saw Strakhov with 70 Kuban Cossacks of his 3rd Sotnia alongside 40 infantry of the 2nd company coming forward. They had fought their way from Yingkou to Liaoyang station only to find Mishchenko’s party gone. They had missed each other en route because Strakhov had followed the railroad tracks. Strakhov reported seeing the Qing plundering the Russian barracks, some local christian Chinese told Strakhov that Mishchenko and the rest fled south, so he came looking for them. Their numbers were thus bolstered to 307 railway guards and 102 civilians, some of whom were armed and would have to fight.

Mishchenko’s force continued along the railway to Anshanchan to find its bridge and pump house had been destroyed. However the telegraph line and railway to Port Arthur was still intact from Anshanchan. He dispatched an officer to Port Arthur to give a detailed report of the situation and to purchase more ammunition. Meanwhile the wounded and civilians were escorted to Tashishciao where Colonel Dombrovskii had a detachment of men. On July 11th, another 100 men from the southern railway posts led by Poruchiks Gulevich and Rozhalin joined Mishchenko to bolster him to 450 men. Now Mishchenko was prepared to play the role of a forward detachment and execute army orders. However Port Arthur  was not recognize Mishcheckno’s detachment as a regular army force, and thus would not supply him with artillery or additional troops for any offensive actions. Instead Port Arthur ordered him to withdraw to Tashishciao within army protection. The next day native Chinese sympathizers reported to Mishchenko that 200 Qing troops were approaching, they were a patrol for a much larger army. Soon Russian scouts were reporting that several hundred Chinese were approaching. The Russians had no provisions, nor tents, thus a siege was not going to favor them. They soon found out from the chief of Haicheng station that over 2000 Qing soldiers had threatened his station and the railway line there. It seemed senseless to hold out at Anshanchan, better to rush over to Haicheng to save it from the fate befalling other stations.

At 7pm when they were just about to depart, Cossack scouts rode up reporting that a large Qing detachment with artillery were near the eastern heights and had engaged some of their patrols. Mischchenko dispatched Rozhalin with a half sotnia to the eastern heights to distract the enemy attention away from their departure. 

Dawn the next day the Russians made it to Haicheng station. Friendly locals urged Mishchenk to avoid Haicheng because a large Qing force was present, but he was confident in his force after their string of victories. Mishchenko requested aid from the 7th company of the 7th east siberian rifle regiment led by Dombrovskii. Dombrovskii sent them via train from Tashihciao and they arrived an hour after Mishchenko. The western heights near Haicheng was occupied the Qing troops who had to be cleared out if the trains were to come closer to Haicheng. The Russians took cover behind the railway embankment and began advancing up the height shooting from ridges as they did. The Russians eventually began to charge hitting the Qing right flank, sending them scattering. Cossack cavalry ran many down before being called back to protect against a possible assault from the city. The Russians placed 4 artillery pieces on the height and dug in, they now held a good overlooking view of the city.

At 9am on the 14th, Dombrovskii came over with an additional company of his regiment and a half battery. The company was led by Captain Ivanov, the artillery by Shtabs Kapitan Petrenko and COlonel Nikolai Desenko held overall command of the whole detachment. Mishchenko sent word to the civilians in Haicheng to warn them a battle was soon to take place. But before the Russians could launch their assault, Qing forces stormed out of the city to hit their flanks. The 7th company, 7th regiment stayed to defend the artillery while company of the 11th regiment took the right flank, the 2nd and 6th companies took the left. Russian volleys and artillery rained hell on the incoming Qing. Petrenko led an excellent bombardment, spraying shrapnel across the Qing formations. Soon the artillery began to bombard Haicheng as the Qing rushed out of its east gate heading for nearby hills. Haicheng fell to the Russians mercy quickly, but Dombrovskii gave strict orders not to go on the offensive, the Russians did not press into the city. 

The half battery and company of the 11th regiment departed via train back to Tashihciao, half an hour later the company of the 7th regiment began loading upon another train. When the Qing troops saw this they began swooping down the hills, and set fire to the train station buildings, the pump house and railway bridge. The Qing cavalry even attempted attacking the locomotive carts, but Russian volleys kept them away. Slowly the trains moved south, with Cossacks patrolling their flanks. When they were around 6 miles from Tashihciao, Chinese militia forces and Boxers with antiquated rifles attacked the trains. Russians leapt off the carts and took cover while returning fire. Rozhalin led his Kuban Cossack squadron to run down the enemy killing many. By 8pm Mishchenko and his men reached Tashihciao. At Tashihciao was the south Manchurian detachment consisting of a regiment, a company, a Cossack sotnia and field battery there; there was also another unit from Hsiungyuehcheng consisting of 3 rifle regiments with some stronger batteries from Port Arthur, 86 fortress guns at Jinzhou and some men of a Cossack regiment were patrolling the railway line. This was all of course welcomed, but Mishchenko was still livid to learn no additional troops nor ammunition had departed Port Arthur to help them. 170 miles of railroad north of Tashihciao was in the hands of the Qing, who continuously argued there was no conflict and no destruction of railways was taking place. Konstantin estimated property damage incurred by Russia at this point amounted to some 18 million rubles on the southern line alone. Mishchenko had lost 62 men dead, 53 wounded, 12 missing in action. 

Over in province of Fentien, was a Manchu General who was very much against the Boxer cause. He was well educated, and realized China did not at the time wield the necessary power to drive out the foreigners and the Boxer’s and their supporters were adding to China’s plight. He was zealous persecuting the Boxers in his province, many were arrested, many executed. He then decided he was going to expose their professed invulnerability spells in front of his people. He gathered 400 arrested Boxers and proclaimed a large execution would take place. The Boxers would be killed by firing squad, obviously to showcase how their spell would not work against the bullets. He entrusted the execution operation to a General in the army, unbeknownst to him, there were many Boxers within his army and the General was one of them. The General secretly removed the bullets from the cartridges for the firing squad weapons. Thus at the appointed time the crowds gathered alongside the military governor to watch several volleys fail to kill the Boxers. The Manchu General in fury ever ran up, grabbed a rifle and fired 6 times doing no harm to the boxers. The Boxers stood and bowed politely to the crowd. People began to cheer them on. The Manchu General kept up his anti-boxer campaigns, but the public was dissatisfied with them and his own military was becoming quite insubordinate. The Manchu General reported to Beijing his plight before handing over control to local forces, walking away from his duty. 

The railway station located about 10 miles from Mukden was guarded by the 2nd Transcaspian rifle battalion of Poruchik Valevskii. Valevskii received a report on July 5th, the Qing forces were gathering artillery and digging in near his station. He ordered neighboring outposts to join hi mat once and the next day the Qing unleashed an artillery bombardment upon his barracks. The Russians estimated the Qing had 3000 infantry and 5000 cavalry. The Russians trapped in the barracks watched as they fired on the enemy as they cut the telegraph lines and burned bridges and buildings around them. At 1am 14 Russians from a neighboring outpost came rushing in from the north fighting their way to the barracks. The Russians received word from Chinese christians that all the outposts were under attack. Valevskii gathered all the troops and civilians and made a dash over to the Mukden station to find Qing forces plundering it. From there they fled south to the station of Su-chia-tun only to find it burned down, with Russian corpses littering the area. Next Valevskii led them to Yentai station where they ran into Qing forces coming over from Liaoyang. They defeated the Qing forces in two engagements and made their way to Liaoyang. 

By this point, Valevskii was trying to reconnoiter the enemy positions and find Colonel Mishchenko who had given out orders for all forces in the region to come to him. From a captured Qing soldiers they learnt Mishchenko’s detachment had fled the area and was being pursued. The railway lines appeared to be destroyed, there was no aid coming from Port Arthur. Valevskii announced they would turn eastward to try to get to Yingkou where perhaps Russian ships could get them to somewhere safe. They traveled east along the Taitzu river, running into small Qing forces along the way. Valevskii was hit with a rifle bullet to the chest. Pilipenko took over command and announced they would proceed to Korea for safety. It was a long and arduous journey, they lost many civilians and soldiers. Their story was to be one of many, Manchuria was falling into chaos. 

I would like to take this time to remind you all that this podcast is only made possible through the efforts of Kings and Generals over at Youtube. Please go subscribe to Kings and Generals over at Youtube and to continue helping us produce this content please check out If you are still hungry after that, give my personal channel a look over at The Pacific War Channel at Youtube, it would mean a lot to me.

The Boxer Rebellion had spread to Manchuria. Railway station, barracks, anything foreign was being destroyed, countless isolated Russian pockets were now under threat, not just by the Boxers, but by a angry and vengeful Manchu populace.