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Japan-China Relations - Meiji Period

Adopiting a policy of complete isolation in 1600, the Tokugawa Shoguns devoting all their energy to the perfection of that feudal system which only fell in 1868. The Portuguese discovered Japan, and gave her slave-traders and the Jesuits; the Spaniards sent friars, slavers, and conspirators; the Dutch ignobly kept alive knowledge of Japan during her hermit life; the Russians, after noble and base failures to open the country, harried her shores. Then came Perry, and the United States introduced Japan to the world, though her opening could not have been long delayed. In 1853, when the treaty with the United States was made, a contemptible deception of the American envoy and foreigners was practiced by the shogun calling himself "Tycoon" (Great King, or Sovereign of Japan).

The Dutch secured the abolition of insults to Christianity. To the English was reserved a quiet victory and a mighty discovery, second to none achieved on the soil of the mysterious islands. English scholarship first discovered the true source of power, exposed the counterfeit government in Yedo, read the riddle of ages, and rent the veil that so long hid the truth. It was the English minister, Sir Harry Parkes, who first risked his life to find the truth; stripped the shogun of his fictitious title of "majesty;" asked for at home, obtained, and presented credentials to the mikado, the sovereign of Japan recognized the new National Government, and thus laid the foundation of true diplomacy in Japan.

Korea had been long regarded as a tributary nation but, as in Formosa, little trouble was taken with the government so long as Korea did not embroil China with other powers. Unfortunately this was just what happened not infrequently. The persecution of Christianity in Korea involved the murder of some French missionaries in 1866; an American ship was burned and its crew murdered; and Japan had commercial grievances of long standing. As China seemed very anxious to disclaim responsibility the Japanese cleverly took advantage of the situation and concluded a treaty directly with Korea in which the independence of the principality was assumed. China, thus outwitted, endeavored to regain lost ground by means of intrigue and factions arose leading to so unsatisfactory a condition that the two countries were brought more than once to the very verge of war. Ultimately, following upon several tragic episodes, a modus vivendi was found by Li Hung-chang and Count Ito, by which the troops of the nations were withdrawn. This agreement kept the peace until 1894. It was further agreed that, in case either nation felt it necessary to send troops into Korea, due notice of the intention should be given.

Some years before, Li Hungchang had written the words: "It is above all things necessary to strengthen our country's defenses, to organize a powerful navy, and not to undertake aggressive steps against Japan in too great a hurry." Unfortunately for China the recommendations of the great statesman were only half followed. The division of the fleet into Northern and Southern without mutual responsibility proved to be disastrous and in 1894 all the prestige gained by China in the contest with France was dissipated like a morning mist.

The causes of this memorable war may be summarized somewhat as follows: 1. The rankling sense of injustice created in 1884; 2. The assassination of the Korean statesman, Kim Ok-kuin, who had been decoyed from Japan by Korean emissaries and murdered in Shanghai; 3. The feeling that, as Japan had opened Korea to the world, her influence should be something more than nominal; 4. The unrest in Japan/which made foreign war an easy way out of a difficult domestic situation. The actual determining cause for the unsheathing of the sword was the sending of Chinese troops into Korea without prompt notice given to Japan.

Hostilities actually began with the sinking of the English steamer Kowshimg, which was being used as a transport for the Chinese troops, on July 25, 1894. War was declared August 1 and troops were hurried to the Yalu. The battle of Pingyang was fought September 15, six thousand Chinese being slain and the remainder fleeing northward in a most demoralized condition. It was in this battle that the Chinese general, who had ascended a hill to direct the fight with his fan, learned, and the Chinese government through him, that the old order in the Orient was doomed. Two days later the naval battle of the Yalu was fought on somewhat more equal terms. The Chinese made a good fight, but lost four ships.

The actual invasion of China commenced October 24, with the Japanese forces under Count Oyama. The advance was marked by great military skill and the desire to gain, so far as possible, the good will of the populace by whom they passed. The famous fortress of Port Arthur was stormed on November 21, with a loss of only four hundred men, a victory which was marred by a cruel massacre such as sadly tarnished the luster of the Japanese arms. In the advance into Manchuria the Japanese forces had been equally successful, and it was becoming plain that it might be well to consider terms of peace. Mr. Detring was sent to Japan on November 27 to open up negotiations, but he had no proper credentials and was not received. Before a second attempt could be made the capture of Hatching and Kaipmg made the Japanese masters of the whole of the Liaotung peninsula. Two Chinese emissaries had meanwhile been sent to treat for peace, but they too were insufficiently accredited.

The great battle of Weihaiwei followed in February, 1895, and by land and by sea the Japanese forces were completely victorious. The one Chinese hero of the war, Admiral Ting, after hoisting his flag of surrender, committed suicide in his cabin. The Southern fleet, which all the while was anchored in the Yangtse Kiang, according to the theory that the war concerned the North exclusively, might have turned the scale of the war had it chosen to intervene. The capture of Yinkow in Manchuria now brought the hitherto despised " dwarf men " so near the gates of Peking that a serious effort for peace had become imperative.

The emissary this time was no other than Li Hung-chang himself. He left for Japan on March 15 and soon after arrival was shot at by an over-zealous Japanese patriot. The shot, which fortunately was not fatal, cost Japan a good deal, since it led to the granting of an armistice of some weeks (except in the case of the campaign in Formosa), and undoubtedly helped to secure for China more favorable terms than she could otherwise have expected. A treaty was drawn up and signed at Shimonoseki on April 17. It was ratified at Chifu on May 8 and provided for the independence of Korea, the cession of the Liaotung peninsula, Formosa and the Pescadores, the payment of two hundred million taels indemnity, and the opening of certain ports in Hupeh, Szechwan, Kiangsu and Chehkiang. Afterwards, on pretense of maintaining the integrity of China, the three powers of Russia, Germany and France stepped in to rob Japan of the fruits of her victory, so far as the Continental acquisitions were concerned. The Liaotung peninsula was given up and a further indemnity of thirty million taels accepted instead.

So came to its close a campaign in which China's reputation for military and naval strength collapsed like a pricked balloon. The collapse of China before the new might of Japan had aroused the greed of the nations who regarded "the slicing of the melon" as an inevitable operation in which he who came earliest was likely to get most. Hence the conclusion of peace with Japan inaugurated a period of aggression which led in time to dire results.

Russia having posed as China's friend in the saving of the Liaotung peninsula and in the provision by loan of the means for paying the indemnity, felt entitled to repay herself, by means of the so-called Cassini Convention, in the leasing of Port Arthur, March, 1898. Germany had already taken her reward in the seizure of the Bay of Kiaochao in Shantung, November, 1897. The reason given was the murder of two German missionaries who had been slain as a matter of fact to get the local magistrate into trouble. Great Britain countered the Russian move by obtaining a lease of Weihaiwei 4 on April 2, 1898, and France, on May 2, obtained Kwangchouwan. "By 1899," writes Mr.A.J. Brown, "in all China's three thousand miles of coast line, there was not a harbor in which she could mobilize her own ships without the consent of the hated foreigner." Yet Italy had the assurance to demand the Bay of Sammen in Chehkiang and might have obtained it had not the power by this time passed once more into the vigorous hands of the great Empress Dowager.




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