By the dawn of the 20th century China was in a dreadful condition. A series of natural disasters and decades of rebellions and war had left the country unable even to feed itself, while the corrupt and inefficient government had shown itself incapable to making any real changes to improve things. Added to that a recent humiliating defeat at the hands of Japan and bullying by many great and some second-rate powers caused widespread dissatisfaction among the people. Sadly human nature being what it is the uneducated masses were easily persuaded that the problems were caused by foreigners, and the answer was to return to traditional values.
One manifestation of this was the growth of the Boxer movement, which had been around for a long time but rapidly expanded in the last years of the century. By early 1900 things had got out of control, with widespread murders of both foreigners and Chinese who co-operated with them, causing the foreign representatives to call for troops to protect them in Peking and Tientsin. The resulting clashes between 'western' troops and the Boxers were characterised by large numbers of fanatical peasants, who believed themselves invulnerable to harm at the hands of the 'devils', throwing themselves on the troops only to discover pure faith was no match for modern weaponry. As the conflict developed the Chinese military increasingly took over the Boxer mantle, diminishing their importance, but many kept fighting until their final defeat and outlawing.
As a purely spiritual and political movement the Boxers were ordinary civilians and had no uniform as such. Different sections of the Boxers were associated with different colours, but soon the wearing of something red - an apron, headband, cummerbund, scarf etc. - became the standard mark of allegiance. Once the Empress decided to support the Boxers many were 'adopted' as official militia and some even given new uniforms, but most fought in their ordinary clothes, and this is how they are usually depicted. Most of the figures in this set could be described as wearing ordinary civilian attire, and all of it is suitable for the period. The clothing is pretty diverse, as it should be, but there are some particular points of interest worthy of comment. The second figure in the top row seems to be intended as a Manchu Tigerman as he is correctly dressed as one, holds a properly-made shield and has a grappling hook on a chain tied around his body. As such he is part of the military establishment rather than a Boxer, but there was much sympathy with the Boxer ideals within the military so this figure is not out of place. Equally one man (with the trident in the bottom row) wears a mandarin hat, which is an indication of some status rather than just a peasant, but the Boxers did attract a following from all classes. Other figures too could easily be members of one of the many organised military units in Chinese society - their uniform was set by whoever employed them and often varied little from civilian costume. One figure is bareheaded, which incorrectly reveals a full head of hair as Boxers shaved the front of their skulls.
Having decided all things foreign were evil, the boxers could not then use western armaments or other technology, so their weaponry was mostly antique blades plus a few very old firearms. In fact as reality got the better of ideology some did use modern weaponry, but old items such as swords, knives and fearsome polearms remained the usual choice, and so it is here, with just one figure apparently holding a firearm of some sort. Two are using a grappling hook on a chain, which was a traditional weapon used to attack cavalry, although in the context of the Boxer Rebellion it seems doubtful that they made much use of such things. For the rest, a good mix of impressive blades gives these figures the required appearance. A third of the poses have been given a shield, and shields were certainly used, but they were often much more crude than these neat round examples.
The main Boxer tactic, if such it could be named, was simply to rush madly at the enemy as a mob. This was of course suicidal against well-armed and well-trained modern infantry, and some commentators at the time described this as 'very courageous', but it takes no courage if you believe you will come to no harm whatever happens. Many of these poses would work well as part of a charge, while some look to be in combat with their chosen weapon. Interestingly at least two look like they are being hit, which was the fate of so many Boxers. There are also a couple of standing figures, which is fine, so basically we liked the ideas behind all the poses, which seem well suited to the subject.
There is quite a rough quality to these figures as is to be expected from this manufacturer, and while the clothing makes few demands for fine detail we felt the basic impression of folds in clothing was not particularly well done. Faces are OK, but other smaller details are lacking and the proportions are nothing to get excited about either. On the subject of lacking, the third man in the second row lacks a right hand - not even the customary RedBox blob here, but instead a square end that looks like the sculptor forgot to sculpt that bit. There is quite a lot of flash, and in places the moulds are misaligned, so there are very obvious ridges in some places such as down the middle of a shield. With no assembly required (thankfully) all the figures are quite flat, but there are basic mistakes like the first figure in the last row, whose sword is greatly bent once it gets in front of the shield.
As mostly peasant warriors armed with edged weapons these figures can cope with the fairly poor sculpting more than uniformed figures, but it still leaves plenty to be desired. The fairly flat poses were perhaps inevitable, although again it could have been worse. Not a good set then, but still usable nonetheless.