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Sino-Japanese War 1894-1895

Friction between China and Japan over Korea proved tenacious, since the peninsula furnished easy access to Manchuria, the cradle of the Manchu dynasty. But while seeking to maintain the old-time relations with Korea, Chinese statesmen clung uniformly to traditional methods. They refrained from declaring Korea a dependency of China, yet they sought to keep up "the romance of ultimate dependency and intermediate sovereignty." It was thus that, in 1876, Korea was allowed to conclude with Japan a treaty describing the former as "an independent State enjoying the same rights as Japan," nor did the Peking Government make any protest when the United States, Great Britain, and other powers concluded similar treaties.

To exercise independence in practice, however, was not permitted to Korea. A Chinese resident was stationed in Seoul, the Korean capital, and he quickly became an imperium in imperio. Thenceforth Japan, in all her dealings with the Peninsular Kingdom, found the latter behaving as a Chinese dependency, obeying the Chinese resident in everything. Again and again, Japanese patience was tried by these anomalous conditions, and although nothing occurred of sufficient magnitude to warrant official protest, the Tokyo Government became sensible of perpetual rebuffs and humiliating interferences at China's hands. Korea herself suffered seriously from this state of national irresponsibility. There was no security of life and property, or any effective desire to develop the country's resources. If the victims of oppression appealed to force, China readily lent military assistance to suppress them, and thus the royal family of Korea learned to regard its tenure of power as dependent on ability to conciliate China.

On Japan's side, also, the Korean question caused much anxiety. It was impossible for the Tokyo statesmen to ignore the fact that their country's safety depended largely on preserving Korea from the grasp of a Western power. They saw plainly that such a result might at any moment be expected if Korea was suffered to drift into a state of administrative incompetence. Once, in 1882, and again, in 1884, when Chinese soldiers were employed to suppress reform movements which would have impaired the interests of the Korean monarch, the latter's people, counting Japan to be the source of progressive tendencies in the East, destroyed her legation in Seoul, driving its inmates out of the city. Japan was not yet prepared to assert herself forcibly in redress of such outrages, but in the ensuing negotiations she acquired titles that "touched the core of China's alleged suzerainty." Thus, in 1882, Japan obtained recognition of her right to protect her legation with troops; and, in 1885, a convention, signed at Tientsin, pledged each of the contracting parties not to send a military force to Korea without notifying the other. In spite of these agreements China's arbitrary and unfriendly interference in Korean affairs continued to be demonstrated to Japan. Efforts to obtain redress proved futile, and even provoked threats of Chinese armed intervention.

The ostensible starting-point of the trouble that resulted in hostilities was a local insurrection which broke out in May 1894 in one of the southern provinces of Korea [aka Corea]. The cause of the insurrection was primarily the misrule of the authorities, with possibly some influence by the quarreling court factions at the capital. The Corean king applied at once to China as his suzerain for assistance in subduing the insurgents. In response to this appeal from the Royal family, China sent twentyfive hundred troops, who went into camp at Asan, on the southwest coast of the peninsula. Notice was duly given to the Tokyo Government, which now decided that Japan's vital interests as well as the cause of civilization in the East required that an end must be put to Korea's dangerous misrule and to China's arbitrary interference. Japan did not claim for herself anything that she was not willing to accord to China. But the Tokyo statesmen were sensible that to ask their conservative neighbor to promote in the Peninsular Kingdom a progressive program which she had always steadily rejected and despised in her own case, must prove a chimerical attempt, if ordinary diplomatic methods alone were used.

Japan, thereupon, claiming that Corea was an independent state and that China had no exclusive right to interfere, promptly began to pour large forces into Corea, to protect Japanese interests. By the middle of June 1894 a whole Japanese army corps was at Seoul, the Corean capital, and the Japanese minister soon formulated a radical scheme of administrative reforms which he demanded as indispensable to the permanent maintenance of order in the country. This scheme was rejected by the conservative faction which was in power at court, whereupon, on 23 July 1894, the Japanese forces attacked the palace, captured the king and held him as hostage for the carrying out of the reforms.

The Chinese were meanwhile putting forth great efforts to make up for the advantage that their rivals had gained in the race for control of Corea, and to strengthen their forces in that kingdom. On the 25th of July 1894 a Chinese fleet carrying troops to Corea became engaged in hostilities with some Japanese war vessels, and one of the transports was sunk. On August 1, the Emperor of Japan made a formal declaration of war on China, basing his action on the false claim of the latter to suzerainty over Corea, and on the course of China in opposing and thwarting the plan of reforms which were necessary to the progress of Corea and to the security of Japanese interests there. The counter-proclamation of the Chinese Emperor denounced the Japanese as wanton invaders of China's tributary state, and as aiming at the enslaving of Corea.

In having recourse to military aid, China's nominal purpose was to quell the Tonghak insurrection, and Japan's motive was to obtain a position such as would strengthen her demand for drastic treatment of Korea's malady. In giving notice of the despatch of troops, China described Korea as her "tributary State," thus emphasizing a contention which at once created an impossible situation. During nearly twenty years Japan had treated Korea as her own equal, in accordance with the terms of the treaty of 1876, and she could not now agree that the Peninsular Kingdom should be officially classed as a tributary of China. Her protests, however, were contemptuously ignored, and Chinese statesmen continued to apply the offensive appellation to Korea, while at the same time they asserted the right of limiting the number of troops sent by Japan to the peninsula as well as the manner of their employment.

Still desirous of preserving the peace, Japan proposed a union between herseli and China for the purpose of restoring order in Korea and amending that coun try's administration. China refused. "She even expressed supercilious sur prise that Japan, while asserting Korea's independence, should suggest the idet of peremptorily reforming its administration. The Tokyo Cabinet now an nounced that the Japanese troops should not be withdrawn without" some understanding that would guarantee the future peace, order, and good government o Korea," and as China still refused to come to such an understanding, Japai undertook the work single-handed.

The Tonghak rebellion, which Chinese troops were originally sent to quell, had died of inanition before they landed. The troops, therefore, had been withdrawn. But China kept them in Korea, her avowed reason being the presence of the Japanese military force near Seoul. In these circumstances, Peking was notified that a despatch of re-enforcements on China's side must be construed as an act of hostility. Notwithstanding this notice, China not only sent a further body of troops by sea to encamp at Asan, but also despatched an army overland across the Yalu. These proceedings precipitated hostilities. Three Chinese warships, convoying a transport with twelve hundred soldiers on board, met and opened fire on two Japanese cruisers. The result was signal. One of the Chinese warships was captured; another was so riddled with shot that she had to be beached and abandoned; the third escaped in a dilapidated condition, and the transport, refusing to surrender, was sent to the bottom. These things happened on the 25th of July, 1894, and war was declared by each empire six days subsequently.

The Japanese took the initiative. They despatched from Seoul a column of troops and routed the Chinese entrenched at Asan, many of whom fled northward to Pyong-yang, a town on the Tadong River, memorable as the scene of a battle between a Chinese and a Japanese army in 1592. Pyong-yang offered great facilities for defence. The Chinese massed there a force of seventeen thousand men, and made preparations for a decisive contest, building parapets, mounting guns, and strengthening the position by every device of modern warfare. Their infantry had the advantage of being armed with repeating rifles, and the configuration of the ground offered little cover for an attacking army. Against this strong position the Japanese moved in two columns; one marching northward from Seoul, the other striking westward from Yuensan. Forty days elapsed before the Japanese forces came into action, and one day's fighting sufficed to carry all the Chinese positions, the attacking armies having only seven hundred casualties and the defenders, six thousand.

On August 26 a treaty of offensive and defensive alliance against China was made between Japan and Corea. A severe engagement at PingYang, September 16, resulted in the route of the Chinese and the loss of their last stronghold in Corea. The next day, September 17th, Japan achieved an equally conspicuous success at sea. The hostile fleets had a pitched battle off the mouth of the Yalu River, with the result that the Japanese were left in full control of the adjacent waters. Fourteen Chinese warships and six torpedo-boats, steering homeward after convoying a fleet of transports to the mouth of the Yalu River, fell in with eleven Japanese war-vessels cruising in the Yellow Sea. The Chinese squadron was not seeking an encounter.

The Chinese commanding officer did not appear to appreciate the value of sea-power. His fleet included two armored battle-ships of over seven thousand tons' displacement, whereas the Japanese had nothing stronger than belted cruisers of four thousand. Therefore a little enterprise on China's part might have severed Japan's maritime communications and compelled her to evacuate Korea. The Chinese, however, used their warvessels as convoys only, keeping them carefully in port when no such duty was to be performed. It is evident that, as a matter of choice, they would have avoided the battle of the Yalu, though when compelled to fight they fought stoutly. After a sharp engagement, four of their vessels were sunk, and the remainder steamed into Weihaiwei, their retreat being covered by torpedo-boats.

By this victory the maritime route to China lay open to Japan. On the 26th of October the Japanese land forces brushed aside with slight resistance the Chinese on the Yalu, which is the boundary between Corea and China, and began their advance through the Chinese province of Manchuria, apparently aiming at Pekin. She could now attack Talien, Port Arthur, and Weihaiwei, naval stations on the Liaotung and Shantung peninsulas, where strong permanent fortifications had been built under the direction of European experts. These forts fell one by one before the assaults of the Japanese troops as easily as the castle of Pyong-yang had fallen.

On November 3, Port Arthur being then invested by the Japanese land and naval forces, while Marshal Yamagata, the Japanese commander, continued his victorious advance through Manchuria, Prince Kung made a formal appeal to the representatives of all the powers for their intervention, acknowledging the inability of China to cope with the Japanese. On November 21, Port Arthur, called the strongest fortress in China, was taken, after hard fighting from noon of the previous day. In retaliation for the murder and mutilation of some prisoners by the Chinese, the Japanese gave no quarter, and were accused of great atrocities.

To the advance of the Japanese armies in the field, the Chinese opposed comparatively slight resistance, in several engagements of a minor character, until December 19, when a battle of decided obstinacy was fought at Kungwasai, near Hai-tcheng. The Japanese were again the victors. Overtures for peace made by the Chinese government proved unavailing; the Japanese authorities declined to receive the envoys sent, for the reason that they were not commissioned with adequate powers. Nothing came of an earlier proffer of the good offices of the government of the United States.

In the first month of 1895 the successes of the Japanese were renewed. Kaiphing was taken on January 10; a vigorous Chinese attack was repulsed, near Niuchuang, on January 16; a landing of 25,000 troops on the Shantung peninsula was effected on the 20th, and a combined attack by army and navy on the strong forts which protected the important harbor of Wei-hai-wei, and the Chinese fleet sheltered in it, was begun on the 30th of the month.

Only by the remains of the Chinese fleet at Weihaiwei was a stubborn resistance made, under the command of Admiral Ting. But, after the entire squadron of torpedo craft had been captured, and after three of the largest Chinese ships had been sent to the bottom by Japanese torpedoes, and one had met the same fate by gunfire, the remainder surrendered. The attack was ended on February 13, when the Chinese admiral Ting-Juchang, rejecting all overtures from the Japanese, gave up the remnant of his fleet and then killed himself. The Chinese general, Tai, had committed suicide in despair on the third night of the fighting. There was further fighting around Niuchuang and Yingkow during February and part of March, while overtures for peace were being made by the Chinese government.

The fall of Weihaiwei ended the war. It had lasted seven and a half months, and during that time the Japanese had operated with five columns aggregating 120,000 men. "One of these columns marched northward from Seoul, won the battle of Pyong-yang, advanced to the Yalu, forced its way into Manchuria, and moved towards Mukden by Feng-hwang, fighting several minor engagements, and conducting the greater part of its operations amid deep snow in midwinter. The second column diverged westward from the Yalu, and, marching through southern Manchuria, reached Haicheng, whence it advanced to the capture of Niuchwang. The third landed on the Liaotung peninsula, and, turning southward, carried Talien and Port Arthur by assault. The fourth moved up the Liaotung peninsula, and, having seized Kaiping, advanced against Niuchwang, where it joined hands with the second column. The fifth crossed from Port Arthur to Weihaiwei, which it captured." In all these operations the Japanese casualties totalled 1005 killed and 4922 wounded; the deaths from disease aggregated 16,866, and the monetary expenditure amounted to twenty millions sterling, about $100,000,000. It had been almost universally believed that, although Japan might have some success at the outset, she would ultimately be shattered by impact with the enormous mass and the overwhelming resources of China. Never was forecast more signally contradicted by events.

Li Hung-chang, the famous viceroy of Pehchili, whose troops had been chiefly engaged during the war, and who had been mainly responsible for the diplomacy that had led up to it, was sent by China to Japan as plenipotentiary to discuss terms of peace, with full powers to conclude a treaty. Negotiations were interrupted at the outset by a foul attack on the Chinese ambassador by a Japanese ruffian, who shot and seriously wounded him in the cheek. But the mikado ordered an armistice. The conference took place at Shimonoseki, Japan being represented by Marquis (afterwards Prince) Ito, and on the 17th of April, 1895, the treaty was signed.

The terms of the treaty come under three heads: the surrender of territory, the payment of an indemnity, and the concession of commercial facilities and rights, while the first article of all provided for the full and complete independence and autonomy of Corea. The surrender of territory was to comprise the islands of Formosa and tbe Pescadores and the southern part of the province of Shingking [Feng-tien], including the Leaoutung or Regent's Sword Peninsula and the important naval harbour and fortress of Port Arthur. As indemnity, China was to pay 200 million Kupinc taels in eight instalments with interest at the rate of 5 per cent, on the unpaid instalments. The commercial concessions included the admission of ships under the Japanese flag to the different rivers and lakes of China, and the appointment of consuls.

The terms of peace imposed on China were certainly onerous, but considering the completeness of the Japanese triumph they could not be termed excessive. If they had not seriously disturbed the balance of power in the Far East they would no doubt have been allowed to stand, as no Government was disposed to take up the cause of China from disinterested motives. The British Government, with the largest commercial stake in the question, was by no means inclined to fetter the Japanese when they placed freedom of trade at the head of their programme. It wished China to be opened to external and beneficial influences, and that was exactly what the Japanese proposed to do. Moreover, Japan had shown throughout tbe war every wish to consider British views, and to respect their interests. Shanghai, in the first place, and the Yangtse Valley afterwards, were ruled outside the sphere of military operations. The identity of interests between England and Japan was clear to the most ordinary intelligence, and certainly the British Government was not the one that would seek to fetter the legitimate and beneficial expansion of the bold islanders of the Far East.

But other Powers did not regard the matter from the same point of view, and Russia saw in the appearance of the Japanese on tbe Pacific freeboard a specter for the future. The Russian Government could not tolerate the presence of the Japanese on the mainland, and especially in a position which enabled them to command Pekin. They therefore resorted to a diplomatic move unprecedented in the East, and which furnished evidence of how closely European affairs were reacting on Asia. The then unwritten alliance between France and Russia was turned into a formal arrangement for the achievement of definite ends, and the powerful co-operation oi Germany was secured for the attainment of the same object, viz., the arrest of Japan in her hour of triumph. This movement was destined to produce the most pregnant consequences, but for the moment it signified that a Triple Alliance had superseded Great Britain in the leading role she had filled in the Far East since the Treaty of Nankin.

Tbe ink was scarcely dry on the Treaty of Shimonoseki when Japan found herself confronted by the Three Powers, with a demand couched in polite language to waive that part of the Treaty which provided for the surrender of Port Arthur and the Leaoutung peninsula. The demand was clearly one that could not be rejected without war. and Japan could have no possible chance in coping with an alliance so formidable on land and sea. Japan gave way with a good grace, and negotiations followed which resulted in the resignation of her claim to the Leaoutung peninsula in return for an increase in the indemnity by the sum of six millions sterling. Wei-Hai-Wei was to be retained as bail, pending the payment of the indemnity; and the final payment in May, 1898 released all Chinese territory on the mainland from the hands of the victors in the war of 1894-5.

The Chinese campaign had exhausted Japan's treasury as well as her supplies of war material, and it would have been hopeless to oppose a coalition of three great European powers. She showed no sign of hesitation. On the very day of the ratified treaty's publication, the Emperor of Japan issued a rescript, in which, after avowing his devotion to the cause of peace, he "yielded to the dictates of magnanimity, and accepted the advice of the three powers."

Of all China's foreign wars, the one with Japan had the most disastrous effect. It swept away her equipment as a military power; reduced her prestige to the lowest ebb; revealed her weakness to the world; and burdened her for the first time with a foreign debt of 50,000,000. When Admiral Ito wrote to Admiral Ting asking him to capitulate he was able to say, "it is not the fault of one man." Again he remarked in the same letter: "The blame must rest upon the errors of a government that has long administered affairs. She selects her servants by competitive examination and literary attainments are the test. The result was that the officials through whom the government is administered are all literati, and literature is honored above everything." Indeed, one might go a step further and say that the blame also rested upon the system of philosophy which taught every Chinese to love his family instead of his nation. For this teaching China had but the Sung philosophers and their adherents to blame.

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Page last modified: 16-01-2014 19:26:36 ZULU