TODAY is the feast day of The Martyrs of China, some 30,000 Catholics slaughtered in the Boxer uprising. In the mid-19th century "Forbidden China", in order to secure trade agreements with Europe, had guaranteed toleration of Christianity, and missionaries came in their hundreds. The opponents of this liberality formed a secret society called Yi Ho Chuan or "Righteous and Harmonious Boxers" who, in 1900, took up arms against the opium trade, disadvantageous trading terms and foreign interference. Among the Christians persecuted and killed were 200 or so foreigners. These Britons, Americans and Italians are best known as the protagonists in a Hollywood film, 55 Days At Peking, recording the Boxer siege of their Peking compound, during which Ava Gardner and Charlton Heston fall in love. The siege was relieved, in the film and in reality, by the US army, but by then thousands of Chinese converts had been slaughtered.
9 July, 1797: Edmund Burke (above), writer and statesman, died. Born and educated in Dublin, he came to London to practise law in his early thirties. He entered Parliament as a Whig for the pocket borough of Wendover but his chief period of political activity was in opposition to Lord North's corrupt and reactionary government. This period generated his best writing, particularly on the repressive administration of the American colonies. But his best-known work, Reflections On the Revolution in France, (he opposed it), alienated him from fellow Whigs. Soon he was writing pamphlets urging suppression of free opinion at home and though always a Whig was identified with Conservative rather than liberal philosophy.