At the end of the 19th century any foreigner in China was aware that they were not universally welcome. Undeniable humiliations imposed on China by many foreign powers combined with problems at home to encourage the growth of the violent anti-foreigner Righteous Harmony Society, which advocated cleansing Chinese society of all foreign influence. Initially this was directed at missionaries attempting to introduce foreign religions, and at those bringing in foreign technology such as the railways. As a result those foreigners involved in such tasks were frequently subject to attacks and many were murdered. When events escalated in 1900 many more such civilians found themselves in immediate danger, even those in large communities such as Tientsin and Peking. The defence of both those places was primarily a military matter, but particularly in Peking the shortage of soldiers meant many civilians volunteered for active duty defending the perimeter, and while many were of modest military value they were nonetheless an element in the events of those desperate days.
Finding weapons for such civilians were difficult enough, and any semblance of uniform was quite out of the question. Therefore all these figures wear ordinary clothes of the time, with many wearing both jackets and hats (which was the fashion despite the heat of Northern China), although a couple of men are more casually dressed in shirt sleeves. One man is surprising in that he is wearing a long coat (strange indeed during the Chinese summer) while another wears a flat cap, which was probably quite unusual given the sort of people who found themselves in danger during the Boxer Rebellion, although by no means impossible.
The final two figures are of women. Both are in the long skirts that were the norm at the time, and one wears a bonnet which again was considered part of dressing properly as well as offering some shade from the sun. As with the men all the clothing is appropriate for the subject.
The poses of the men are little different from a set of soldiers for the same period. All are handling guns - mostly rifles - in various ways, and so are clearly meant to be manning the defences. None of the poses excite any particular interest nor are worthy of special comment, but they are at least reasonably suitable.
Women, so we are told, never had to take up arms in their defence during the siege of the legations in Peking, and the same is likely to be true of the fighting around Tientsin. Nevertheless woman made an invaluable contribution to the operations in many ways, from tending the sick and wounded to ensuring hygiene was maintained. The first woman in our photo seems to be running and carrying something which we cannot recognise. Turning to page 70 of the Osprey book 'Peking 1900' reveals what seems to be an identical figure carrying water bottles, although in truth even assuming this is what the RedBox figure is carrying we still cannot recognise it as such. The second woman is brandishing a rifle. True she is not necessarily using it, but she does give the more aggressive impression of the two. Even if you take the view that women did not handle rifles during the Peking siege it is easy to imagine some isolated mission or compound where women had to handle and use firearms to try and defend themselves.
RedBox sculpting tends to be well below the best standards around today and these are no different. Although there is no great requirement for detail the general appearance of the figures is fairly clunky and some of the simple folds in the clothing do not look good. Some of the weapons are lacking in features and the faces are vague. We also found some of the figures had been poorly moulded, so for example the first figure in the top row leans greatly to his left in an impossible pose due to plastic missing in his right knee, while others have gaps that might be air bubbles in the mould. Whether these faults are present in all examples of this set we cannot say, and the same goes for the amount of flash, which as can be seen is extensive here. If this set is typical then a lot of work is needed to make the most of these figures.
Sets of armed civilians are all too rare, although for this period other possibilities might include figures of Boers or American 'Wild West' civilians. Equally these figures could be put to use as armed criminals, for example. However while it is good to see RedBox continuing to produce such sets the quality of this one leaves much to be desired, with better detail needed along with work on improving the mould.