The Web of Conflict: A Rare Medal Pertaining to the Boxer Rebellion

As recounted in one of our previous blog posts, the tensions between westerners and their Chinese hosts reached an untenable level by the summer of 1900, with the Empress Dowager Cixi (the real power behind the Qing dynasty) siding with the "boxers" in what would become known as the Boxer Rebellion. Tired of what they viewed as meddlesome invaders from the west, the alliance between imperial forces and the band of boxers declared war and eventually laid siege to the Legation Quarter in Beijing (Peking), where numerous foreign nationals from many western powers were stationed. After nearly two months, the siege was broken by an eight-nation alliance, with the Qing dynasty being greatly weakened in the aftermath. While many coins date to this period, even more historical appeal is offered by a rare and exceedingly attractive medal in our April Hong Kong auction.

Struck at the request of Arthur D. Brent, an employee of the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank, the "Siege of Peking" medal was given to others present during the aforementioned siege, the group comprising Europeans, Japanese, and Christian Chinese taking refuge in the Legation Quarter. One such member was the recipient of the medal in question—Basil Kroupensky (Василий Николаевич Крупенский), a Russian diplomat in the middle of his stint as 1st Secretary of the Russian delegation in Peking. He would also serve in similar positions as the Russian ambassador to the United States, the Republic of China, and Japan.

The medal features great intricacy in its iconography and design elements, with the obverse legend referring to an inscription illuminated in Balshazzar’s Feast, a painting by Rembrandt. On the wall depicted in the painting, the Hebrew phrase that is transliterated on the medal became an English expression used for foreshadowing doom – "the writing is on the wall" – the idea that one’s fate has been sealed. In the context of the medal, the glory and good times enjoyed by Europeans within the legation had seemingly come to an ominous end at the hands of the Chinese beyond their walls. Within the obverse legend, one sees female allegories of Germany and Great Britain standing facing one another and clasping hands along with allegory of Japan in background; at their feet, they tread upon a coiled dragon emblematic of the Qing Empire and the Boxers laying siege from outside. The reverse displays the dates of the siege and a frontal view of the Qianmen (Zhengyangmen) Gate, under siege and engulfed in a plume of smoke slightly zoomorphized as a snarling dragon. The end result is an engaging and important piece of artistry that masterfully captures the chaos that raged during this very pivotal period in modern Chinese history.

To view our auction schedule and future offerings, please visit where you may register and participate in this and other forthcoming sales.

We are always seeking coins, medals, and paper money for our future auctions, and are currently accepting submissions for our June Collector’s Choice Online (CCO) auction as well as our Official Auction of the ANA World’s Fair of Money in August and our Hong Kong Auction in October. If you would like to learn more about consigning, whether a singular item or an entire collection, please contact one of our consignment directors today and we will assist you in achieving the best possible return on your material.

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