The movement of the Yi-Ho-Tuan, or Boxers, -- as the Europeans called them because of the red ensign of the clenched fist, -- has an obscure origin. Chinese history is rich in secret societies and rebellions; Boxers' hallmark was their unquenchable hate of the "foreign devils" and their native stooges which had to be expunged at any cost.
Boxer groups began to spring up in 1899. They set up temples with sacrifices to local idols and hypnotic rites not much different from those practiced by modern occultists and New Agers. Their extensive battle drilling was similar to what is currently taught as Oriental martial arts. Thanks partially to suggestive techniques, partially to cheap fraud, Boxers were certain of their invincibility to enemy's bullets -- at least for the time being.
Boxer detachments consisted predominantly (if not exclusively) of village youth: gentry never took part in them, but in general were sympathetic. Observers testify with horror about the young age of Boxer fighters; Empress Tzu Hsi, on the contrary, welcomed "broad participation of children in the liberation of the country from the aliens". It is very important that anti-Christianity from the beginning to the end was the backbone of Boxer ideology, religious in nature and appearance: their propaganda tried to convince the people that ancient gods turned away from them, dismayed with the iniquities of alien worship. Along with the familiar image of an arrogant, aggressive and stupid foreigner, they exploited wild superstitions and absurd accusations of cannibalism, child abuse, and even "arson of water wells."