The years 1899-1900 were terrible years in North China. The Boxers, a group so-called because of their fighting methods, arose in opposition to everything foreign and in support of the Qing dynasty. They had formed a belief that their protecting deity would keep them from harm by foreigner’s bullets or swords. So enraged and emboldened, they murdered hundreds of Chinese Christians and foreigners, including many missionaries. The Boxer’s originated in the Shandong province and surrounding areas, why weren’t all the missionaries killed?
Because…there was a person of peace who intervened – the governor of the province, Yuan Shikai. There is no indication Yuan was a Christian. On the other hand, he had grand military and political aspirations. He later served as successor to Sun Yatsen as president of the Republic of China and also tried to resurrect the monarchy with himself as Emperor. Overall, he was a politically savvy fellow. In the Spring of 1900, though, he was a hero to missionaries:
…coming, as he did, in the midst of the development [the Boxer Uprising] to be governor of Shantung, practically saved the situation there. It was he who changed the edict from the throne “Kill all foreigners,” so as to read, “Protect all foreigners,” and transmitted it so to all the officials under him. The Shantung missionaries owe their lives to him.
– Taken from C. W. Pruitt, “The North China Mission,” in Southern Baptist Foreign Missions, by T. B. Ray and others, 1910.