The history books tell us that the Boxers and Red Lanterns Shining had no magic powers. But what if the history books are wrong?

This novel is a historically accurate portrayal of the Seymour Expedition, but one in which the Chinese "magic powers" really do exist. This is NOT an Alternate History; the events, battles and travails in the novel really did happen as shown, and their outcomes are a matter of human record. But during those battles, Boxers were repeatedly shot down ... and yet got back up again. The people who actually saw this happen wondered if the Boxer magic might just be real. In this novel, the historical record remains true, but with the addition of the magic being real.

It is the tale of a US Marine lieutenant and a Red Lantern witch leading opposing forces, with their story seen through both Western eyes (Science!) and Eastern eyes (Magic!). China was being overrun with foreigners bringing in alien machines and alien religions, upsetting the very gods themselves. A vicious year-long drought caused widespread famine across North China. The Boxers said it was happening because the gods were displeased by the foreigners. Their answer? Kill all the foreign devils.

American Guns, Chinese Magic is a fictional dramatization of a true story -- the Seymour Expedition's rescue mission to Peking, China in 1900. The Boxer rebels were threatening the foreign Legations (embassies) in Peking, and an ad hoc expeditionary force was thrown together by the navies of eight different nations to go and rescue them. The common Chinese people saw this as an invading army, and moved to stop it with their heavenly magic. Their story is told as seen through the eyes of two participants fighting on opposite sides of the conflict: one an American Marine oficer, the other a Chinese Red Lantern sorceress.

Background to the story

The Boxers

The Red Lanterns

The plot of the novel~

The true origins of the Boxers have long been a matter of debate, but they were an active force in North China by 1899, destroying foreign property, attacking fellow Chinese who had converted to Christianity, and murdering the missionaries who led the converts. Calling themselves the I Ho Ch’üan ("Fists of Righteous Harmony"), Westerners called them "Boxers" after their use of martial arts, which in the 19th Century were known in the West as "Chinese boxing".

The all-male Boxers were spirit mediums as well as martial artists. They engaged in a number of secret, sacred rituals in which a god was invited to come down and enter the body of the Boxer, possessing him and making him invulnerable to blades, bullets, and even cannon fire. They used rituals, chants, magic amulets, and even ate paper with spells written on them in order to strengthen their magic powers of invulnerability.

Blaming the ongoing drought on the foreigners infesting China and offending the gods, the Boxers began a campaign of attacking everything to do with the West--the foreign religion, the foreign trade goods, even the foreigners themselves. They insisted that if the converts recanted, that if all the foreigners and their strange, alien religion were driven out of China once and for all, that the gods would stop punishing the people and bring back the rains and national prosperity.

By the time that the novel begins, the Boxers have been growing bolder in their attacks and have been churning churches, killing foreign missionaries, and attacking native converts, telling them to recant their alien religion or else be killed. Rumor has it that soon they will attack the foreign Legations inside Peking and the foreign Concessions outside Tientsin. The powderkeg that is North China is about to be ignited.

The all-male Boxers were aided in their fight by an all-female group of teenage girls who were called the Hung Têng Chao, the "Red Lanterns Shining". This is rather incredible, for in China women were seen as worthless creatures -- roughly 1 in 3 were killed by their disappointed parents at birth -- and those who lived were often shut away at home. What's more, the Boxers were forbidden by their rituals to have any contact with women, because the female (Yin) influence would pollute and ruin their male (Yang) magic. Yet despite this prohibition, bands of all-female Red Lanterns arose and aided the Boxers during the uprising, often fighting side-by-side with them.

Like the Boxers, the Red Lanterns practiced martial arts and ritual magic, but went even farther and claimed to be able to cast fire with the wave of a fan, disable foreign cannons from a distance, walk on water, and even fly, using their magic to command powerful sorcery. They were girls ranging in age from 12 to 18 who were said to be taught in secret by powerful magic women, who then sent them out to destroy the foreigners.

The rampages of the Boxers against foreign missionaries and native converts were noted by the foreign Legations (embassies) in Peking, but little was done about it. However, when the Boxers reached Peking and burned down a grandstand of the foreigners' racecourse outside the city walls, the diplomats panicked and screamed for help. As warships from eight foreign nations were riding at anchor off the coast, an ad hoc international rescue force was formed from sailors & marines from the warships of Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Russia, and Japan.

American Guns, Chinese Magic follows the efforts of the rescue force, as well as the Boxers and Red Lanterns opposing them, and thus alternates between the very different worldviews of the two main characters, one a "scientific" American and one a "magical" Chinese. It is a tale in which real history is followed at all times, but many of the things recorded in the history books are explained by the so-called "magic powers" of the Boxers and the Red Lanterns being very real. It is a serious novel in which the real world collides with the magical one ... where modern guns try to defeat ancient magic.

American Guns, Chinese Magic

The paperback version
Boxer brandishing a ta-tao sword
Red Lantern fighting Russian officer
The paperback version of the novel

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Copyright 2021 Joseph Benedetto Jr.