Discover the strange story of when Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show performed a major Chinese uprising
In April 1901, at Madison Square Garden, New York City, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show performed a re-enactment of an episode in the Boxer Rebellion, the fierce anti-Christian uprising that had triggered an international invasion of China, involving troops marching behind the flags of eight different nations and empires, including Britain, the United States, Russia, Germany and Japan. The entertainment essentially reworked earlier re-enactments of the ‘Ghost Dance Rising’, with the Native American cast members now playing Chinese militants, and the white cowboys on horseback becoming cavalry from different lands.
Historian Jeffrey Wasserstrom digs deeper into this fascinating cultural moment, and compares it to an Earl’s Court re-enactment of related Chinese events that was staged the same spring. He uses examination of these shows to explore the complex and distinctive ways America’s growing interest(s) in China were understood and articulated at the beginning of the 20th century. Some audience members, who had been scandalised by reports of the Boxers’ killing of Christians, were delighted to see the insurgents bested on stage. Others were less comfortable with this version of events, including Mark Twain, who viewed the Boxers as ‘traduced patriots’ and left the opening night performance in disgust. Join Professor Wasserstrom as he tells the story of Buffalo Bill’s imaginary trip to China, and reflect on what this episode teaches about America’s relationship to China, then and now.
Sponsored by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library
Image: English and French troops attack the Boxers. Colour-printed battle scene, China, woodblock printed in the style of a new-year print. Originally published/produced in China, c.1900.