The First Sino-Japanese War (25 July 1894 to 17 April 1895) was a conflict between the Qing dynasty of China and the Empire of Japan primarily over influence in Joseon Korea. After more than six months of unbroken successes by Japanese land and naval forces and the loss of the port of Weihaiwei, the Qing government sued for peace in February 1895.
The war demonstrated the failure of the Qing dynasty’s attempts to modernise its military and fend off threats to its sovereignty, especially when compared with Japan’s successful Meiji Restoration. For the first time, regional dominance in East Asia shifted from China to Japan; the prestige of the Qing dynasty, along with the classical tradition in China, suffered a major blow. The humiliating loss of Korea as a tributary state sparked an unprecedented public outcry. Within China, the defeat was a catalyst for a series of political upheavals led by Sun Yat-sen and Kang Youwei, culminating in the 1911 Xinhai Revolution.
The war is commonly known in China as the War of Jiawu (Chinese: 甲午戰爭; pinyin: Jiǎwǔ Zhànzhēng), referring to the year (1894) as named under the traditional sexagenary system of years. In Japan, it is called the Japan-Qing War (Japanese: 日清戦争, Hepburn: Nisshin sensō). In Korea, where much of the war took place, it is called the Qing-Japan War (Korean: 청일전쟁; Hanja: 淸日戰爭).
Second Sino-Japanese War (1937 to 1945).
After two centuries, the Japanese policy of seclusion under the shōguns of the Edo period came to an end when the country was opened to trade by the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854. In the years following the Meiji Restoration of 1868 and the fall of the shogunate, the newly formed Meiji government embarked on reforms to centralise and modernise Japan. The Japanese had sent delegations and students around the world to learn and assimilate Western arts and sciences, with the intention of making Japan an equal to the Western powers. These reforms transformed Japan from a feudal society into a modern industrial state.
The Qing Dynasty had also started to undergo reform in both military and political doctrine, but was far from successful.
In January 1864, Cheoljong of Joseon died without a male heir, and through Korean succession protocols Gojong of Korea ascended the throne at the age of 12. However, as King Gojong was too young to rule, the new king’s father, Yi Ha-ŭng, became the Heungseon Daewongun, or lord of the great court, and ruled Korea in his son’s name as regent. Originally the term Daewongun referred to any person who was not actually the king but whose son took the throne. With his ascendancy to power the Daewongun initiated a set of reforms designed to strengthen the monarchy at the expense of the Yangban class. He also pursued an isolationist policy and was determined to purge the kingdom of any foreign ideas that had infiltrated into the nation. In Korean history, the king’s in-laws enjoyed great power, consequently the Daewongun acknowledged that any future daughters-in-law might threaten his authority. Therefore, he attempted to prevent any possible threat to his rule by selecting as a new queen for his son an orphaned girl from among the Yŏhŭng Min clan, which lacked powerful political connections. With Empress Myeongseong as his daughter-in-law and the royal consort, the Daewongun felt secure in his power. However, after she had become queen, Min recruited all her relatives and had them appointed to influential positions in the name of the king. The Queen also allied herself with political enemies of the Daewongun, so that by late 1873 she had mobilised enough influence to oust him from power. In October 1873, when the Confucian scholar Choe Ik-hyeon submitted a memorial to King Gojong urging him to rule in his own right, Queen Min seized the opportunity to force her father-in-law’s retirement as regent. The departure of the Daewongun led to Korea’s abandonment of its isolationist policy.
Opening of Korea
On 26 February 1876, after confrontations between the Japanese and Koreans, the Ganghwa Treaty was signed, opening Korea to Japanese trade. In 1880, the King sent a mission to Japan that was headed by Kim Hong-jip, an enthusiastic observer of the reforms taking place there. While in Japan, the Chinese diplomat Huang Zunxian presented him with a study called “A Strategy for Korea” (Chinese: 朝鮮策略; pinyin: Cháoxiǎn cèlüè). It warned of the threat to Korea posed by the Russians and recommended that Korea maintain friendly relations with Japan, which was at the time too economically weak to be an immediate threat, to work closely with China, and seek an alliance with the United States as a counterweight to Russia. After returning to Korea, Kim presented the document to King Gojong, who was so impressed with the document that he had copies made and distributed to his officials.
In 1880, following Chinese advice and breaking with tradition, King Gojong decided to establish diplomatic ties with the United States. After negotiations through Chinese mediation in Tianjin, the Treaty of Peace, Amity, Commerce, and Navigation was formally signed between the United States and Korea in Incheon on 22 May 1882. However, there were two significant issues raised by the treaty, the first concerned Korea’s status as an independent nation. During the talks with the Americans, the Chinese insisted that the treaty contain an article declaring that Korea was a dependency of China and argued that the country had long been a tributary state of China. But the Americans firmly opposed such an article, arguing that a treaty with Korea should be based on the Treaty of Ganghwa, which stipulated that Korea was an independent state. A compromise was finally reached, with Shufeldt and Li agreeing that the King of Korea would notify the US president in a letter that Korea had special status as a tributary state of China. The treaty between the Korean government and the United States became the model for all treaties between it and other Western countries. Korea later signed similar trade and commerce treaties with Great Britain and Germany in 1883, with Italy and Russia in 1884, and with France in 1886. Subsequently, commercial treaties were concluded with other European countries.
After 1879, China’s relations with Korea came under the authority of Li Hongzhang, who had emerged as one of the most influential figures in China after playing an important role during the Taiping Rebellion, and was also an advocate of the self-strengthening movement. In 1879, Li was appointed as governor-general of Zhili Province and the imperial commissioner for the northern ports. He was in charge of China’s Korea policy and urged Korean officials to adopt China’s own self-strengthening programme to strengthen their country in response to foreign threats, to which King Gojong was receptive. The Korean government, immediately after opening of the country to the outside world, pursued a policy of enlightenment aimed at achieving national prosperity and military strength through the doctrine of tongdo sŏgi (Eastern ways and Western machines). To modernise their country, the Koreans tried selectively to accept and master Western technology while preserving their country’s cultural values and heritage.
In January 1881, the government launched administrative reforms and established the T’ongni kimu amun (Office for Extraordinary State Affairs) which was modeled on Chinese administrative structures. Under this overarching organization, 12 sa or agencies were created. In 1881, a technical mission was sent to Japan to survey its modernized facilities. Officials travelled all over Japan inspecting administrative, military, educational, and industrial facilities. In October, another small group went to Tianjin to study modern weapons manufacturing, and Chinese technicians were invited to manufacture weapons in Seoul. Additionally, as part of their plan to modernise the country, the Koreans had invited the Japanese military attaché Lieutenant Horimoto Reizō to serve as an adviser in creating a modern army. A new military formation called the Pyŏlgigun (Special Skills Force) was established, in which eighty to one hundred young men of the aristocracy were to be given Japanese military training. The following year, in January 1882, the government also reorganised the existing five-army garrison structure into the Muwiyŏng (Palace Guards Garrison) and the Changŏyŏng (Capital Guards Garrison).
Japanese Insecurities over Korea
During the 1880s, discussions in Japan about national security focused on the issue of Korean reform. The political discourse over the two were interlinked, as the German military adviser Major Jacob Meckel stated, Korea was “a dagger pointed at the heart of Japan”. What made Korea of strategic concern was not merely its proximity to Japan but its inability to defend itself against outsiders. If Korea were truly independent, it posed no strategic problem to Japan’s national security but if the country remained backward and uncivilised it would remain weak and consequently would be inviting prey for foreign domination. The political consensus in Japan was that Korean independence lay, as it had been for Meiji Japan, through the importation of “civilisation” from the West. Korea required a programme of self-strengthening like the post-Restoration reforms that were enacted in Japan. The Japanese interest in the reform of Korea was not purely altruistic. Not only would these reforms enable Korea to resist foreign intrusion, which was in Japan’s direct interest, but through being a conduit of change they would also have opportunity to play a larger role on the peninsula. To Meiji leaders, the issue was not whether Korea should be reformed but how these reforms might be implemented. There was a choice of adopting a passive role which required the cultivation of reformist elements within Korean society and rendering them assistance whenever possible, or adopting a more aggressive policy, actively interfering in Korean politics to assure that reform took place. Many Japanese advocates of Korean reform swung between these two positions.
Japan in the early 1880s was weak, as a result of internal peasant uprisings and samurai rebellions during the previous decade. The country was also struggling financially, with inflation as a result of these internal factors. Subsequently, the Meiji government adopted a passive policy, encouraging the Korean court to follow the Japanese model but offering little concrete assistance except for the dispatch of the small military mission headed by Lieutenant Horimoto Reizo to train the Pyŏlgigun. What worried the Japanese was the Chinese, who had loosened their hold over Korea in 1876 when the Japanese succeeded in establishing a legal basis for Korean independence by ending its tributary status. Chinese actions appeared to be thwarting the forces of reform in Korea and re-asserting their influence over the country.
In 1882, the Korean Peninsula experienced a severe drought which led to food shortages, causing much hardship and discord among the population. Korea was on the verge of bankruptcy, even falling months behind on military pay, causing deep resentment among the soldiers. There was also resentment towards the Pyŏlgigun on the part of the soldiers of the regular Korean army, as the formation was better equipped and treated. Additionally, more than 1000 soldiers had been discharged in the process of overhauling the army, most of them were either old or disabled and the rest had not been given their pay in rice for thirteen months.
In June of that year, King Gojong, being informed of the situation, ordered that a month’s allowance of rice be given to the soldiers. He directed Min Gyeom-ho, the overseer of government finances and the Queen Min’s nephew, to handle the matter. Min in turn handed the matter over to his steward who sold the good rice he had been given and used the money to buy millet which he mixed with sand and bran. As a result, the rice became rotten and inedible. The distribution of the alleged rice infuriated the soldiers. On July 23, a military mutiny and riot broke out in Seoul. Enraged soldiers headed for the residence of Min Gyeom-ho, who they had suspected of having swindled them out of their rice. Min, on hearing word of the revolt, ordered the police to arrest some of the ringleaders and announced that they would be executed the next morning. He had assumed that this would serve as a warning to the other agitators. However, after learning what had transpired, the rioters broke into Min’s house to take vengeance; as he was not at his residence the rioters vented their frustrations by destroying his furniture and other possessions.
The rioters then moved on to an armoury from which they stole weapons and ammunition, and then headed for the prison. After overpowering the guards, they released not only the men who had been arrested that day by Min Gyeom-ho but also many political prisoners as well. Min then summoned the army to quell the rebellion but it had become too late to suppress the mutiny. The original body of mutineers had been swelled by the poor and disaffected citizenry of the city, as a result the revolt had assumed major proportions. The rioters now turned their attention to the Japanese. One group headed to Lieutenant Horimoto’s quarters and killed him. Another group, some 3,000 strong headed for the Japanese legation, where Hanabusa Yoshitada the minister to Korea and twenty seven members of the legation resided. The mob surrounded the legation shouting its intention of killing all the Japanese inside. Hanabusa gave orders to burn the legation and important documents were set on fire. As the flames quickly spread, the members of the legation escaped through a rear gate, where they fled to the harbour and boarded a boat which took them down the Han River to Chemulpo. Taking refuge with the Incheon commandant, they were again forced to flee after word arrived of the events in Seoul and the attitude of their hosts changed. They escaped to the harbour during heavy rain and were pursued by Korean soldiers. Six Japanese were killed, while another five were seriously wounded. The survivors carrying the wounded, then boarded a small boat and headed for the open sea where three days later they were rescued by a British survey ship, HMS Flying Fish, which took them to Nagasaki. The following day, after the attack on the Japanese legation, the rioters forced their way into the royal palace where they found and killed Min Gyeom-ho, as well as a dozen other high-ranking officers. They also searched for Queen Min. The queen narrowly escaped, however, dressed as an ordinary lady of the court and was carried on the back of a faithful guard who claimed she was his sister. The Daewongun used the incident to reassert his power.
The Chinese then deployed about 4,500 troops to Korea, under General Wu Changqing, which effectively regained control and quelled the rebellion. In response, the Japanese also sent four warships and a battalion of troops to Seoul to safeguard Japanese interests and demand reparations. However, tensions subsided with the Treaty of Chemulpo, signed on the evening of 30 August 1882. The agreement specified that the Korean conspirators would be punished and ¥50,000 would be paid to the families of slain Japanese. The Japanese government would also receive ¥500,000, a formal apology, and permission to station troops at their diplomatic legation in Seoul. In the aftermath of rebellion, the Daewongun was accused of fomenting the rebellion and its violence, and was arrested by Chinese and taken to Tianjin. He was later carried off to a town about sixty miles southwest of Beijing, where for three years he was confined to one room and kept under strict surveillance.
Re-Assertion of Chinese Influence
After the Imo Incident, early reform efforts in Korea suffered a major setback. In the aftermath of the incident, the Chinese reasserted their influence over the peninsula, where they began to directly interfere in Korean internal affairs. After stationing troops at strategic points in the capital Seoul, the Chinese undertook several initiatives to gain significant influence over the Korean government. Two special advisers on foreign affairs representing Chinese interests were dispatched to Korea: the German Paul Georg von Möllendorff, a close confidant of Li Hongzhang, and the Chinese diplomat Ma Jianzhong. A staff of Chinese officers also took over the training of the army, providing the Koreans with 1,000 rifles, two cannons, and 10,000 rounds of ammunition. Furthermore, the Chingunyeong (Capital Guards Command), a new Korean military formation, was created and trained along Chinese lines by Yuan Shikai.
In October, the two countries signed a treaty stipulating that Korea was a dependency of China and granted Chinese merchants the right to conduct overland and maritime business freely within its borders. It also gave the Chinese substantial advantages over the Japanese and Westerners and also granted them unilateral extraterritoriality privileges in civil and criminal cases. Under the treaty the number of Chinese merchants and traders greatly increased, a severe blow to Korean merchants. Although it allowed Koreans reciprocally to trade in Beijing the agreement was not a treaty but was in effect issued as a regulation for a vassal. Additionally, during the following year, the Chinese supervised the creation of a Korean Maritime Customs Service, headed by von Möllendorff. Korea was reduced to a semi-colonial tributary state of China with King Gojong unable to appoint diplomats without Chinese approval, and with troops stationed in the country to protect Chinese interests.
Factional Rivalry and Ascendancy of the Min Clan
During the 1880s two rival factions emerged in Korea. One was a small group of reformers that had centred around the Gaehwadang, (Enlightenment Party) which had become frustrated at the limited scale and arbitrary pace of reforms. The members who constituted the Enlightenment Party were youthful, well-educated Koreans and most were from the yangban class. They were impressed by the developments in Meiji Japan and were eager to emulate them. Its members included Kim Ok-gyun, Pak Yung-hio, Hong Yeong-sik, Seo Gwang-beom, and Soh Jaipil. The group was also relatively young; Pak Yung-hio came from a prestigious lineage related to the royal family, was 23, Hong was 29, Seo Gwang-beom was 25, and Soh Jaipil was 20; with Kim Ok-gyun being the oldest at 33. All had spent some time in Japan, Pak Yung-hio had been part of a mission sent to Japan to apologise for the Imo incident in 1882. He had been accompanied by Seo Gwang-beom and by Kim Ok-gyun, who later came under the influence of Japanese modernisers such as Fukuzawa Yukichi. Kim Ok-gyun, while studying in Japan, had also cultivated friendships with influential Japanese figures and became the de facto leader of the group. They were also strongly nationalistic and desired to make their country truly independent by ending Chinese interference in Korea’s internal affairs.
The Sadaedang was a group of conservatives, which included not only Min Yeong-ik from the Min family but also other prominent Korean political figures that wanted to maintain power with China’s help. Although the members of the Sadaedang supported the enlightenment policy, they favoured gradual changes based on the Chinese model. After the Imo incident, the Min clan pursued a pro-Chinese policy. This was also partly a matter of opportunism as the intervention by Chinese troops led to subsequent exile of the rival Daewongun in Tianjin and the expansion of Chinese influence in Korea, but it also reflected an ideological disposition also shared by many Koreans toward the more comfortable and traditional relationship as a tributary of China. Consequently, the Min clan became advocates of the “dongdo seogi” (Adopting Western knowledge while keeping Eastern values) philosophy, this had originated from the ideas of moderate Chinese reformers who had emphasized the need to maintain the perceived superior cultural values and heritage of the Sino-centric world while recognising the importance of acquiring and adopting Western technology, particularly military technology, in order to preserve autonomy. Hence, rather than the major institutional reforms such as the adaptation of new values such as legal equality or introducing modern education like in Meiji Japan, the advocates of this school of thought sought piecemeal adoptions of institutions that would strengthen the state while preserving the basic social, political, and cultural order. Through the ascendancy of Queen Min to the throne, the Min clan had also been able to use the newly created institutions by the government as bases for political power, subsequently with their growing monopoly of key positions they frustrated the ambitions of the Enlightenment Party.
In the two years proceeding the Imo incident, the members of the Gaehwadang had failed to secure appointments to vital offices in the government and were unable to implement their reform plans. As a consequence they were prepared to seize power by all means necessary. In 1884, an opportunity to seize power by staging a coup d’état against the Sadaedang presented itself. In August, as hostilities between France and China erupted over Annam, half of the Chinese troops stationed in Korea were withdrawn. On 04 December 1884, with the help of the Japanese minister Takezoe Shinichiro who promised to mobilise Japanese legation guards to provide assistance, the reformers staged their coup under the guise of a banquet hosted by Hong Yeong-sik, the director of the General Postal Administration. The banquet was to celebrate the opening of the new national post office. King Gojong was expected to attend together with several foreign diplomats and high-ranking officials, most of whom were members of the pro-Chinese Sadaedang faction. Kim Ok-gyun and his comrades approached King Gojong falsely stating that Chinese troops had created a disturbance and escorted him to the small Gyoengu Palace, where they placed him in the custody of Japanese legation guards. They then proceeded to kill and wound several senior officials of the Sadaedang faction.
After the coup, the Gaehwadang members formed a new government and devised a program of reform. The radical 14-point reform proposal stated that the following conditions be met: an end to Korea’s tributary relationship with China; the abolition of ruling-class privilege and the establishment of equal rights for all; the reorganization of the government as virtually a constitutional monarchy; the revision of land tax laws; cancellation of the grain loan system; the unification of all internal fiscal administrations under the jurisdiction of the Ho-jo; the suppression of privileged merchants and the development of free commerce and trade, the creation of a modern police system including police patrols and royal guards; and severe punishment of corrupt officials.
However, the new government lasted no longer than a few days. Particularly, as the reformers were supported by no more than 140 Japanese troops who faced at least 1,500 Chinese garrisoned in Seoul, under the command of General Yuan Shikai. With the reform measures being a threat to her clans’ power, Queen Min secretly requested military intervention from the Chinese. Consequently, within three days, even before the reform measures were made public, the coup was suppressed by the Chinese troops who attacked and defeated the Japanese forces and restored power to the pro-Chinese Sadaedang faction. During the ensuing melee Hong Yeong-sik was killed, the Japanese legation building was burned down and forty Japanese were killed. The surviving Korean coup leaders including Kim Ok-gyun escaped to the port of Chemulpo under escort of the Japanese minister Takezoe. From there they boarded a Japanese ship for exile in Japan.
In January 1885, with a show of force the Japanese dispatched two battalions and seven warships to Korea, which resulted in the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1885, signed on 09 January 1885. The treaty restored diplomatic relations between Japan and Korea. The Koreans also agreed to pay the Japanese ¥100,000 for damages to their legation and to provide a site for the building of a new legation. Prime Minister Ito Hirobumi, in order to overcome Japan’s disadvantageous position in Korea followed by the abortive coup, visited China to discuss the matter with his Chinese counterpart, Li Hongzhang. The two parties succeeded in concluding the Convention of Tianjin on 31 May 1885. They also pledged to withdraw their troops from Korea within four months, with prior notification to the other if troops were to be sent to Korea in the future. After both countries withdrew their forces they left behind a precarious balance of power on the Korean Peninsula between the two nations. Meanwhile, Yuan Shikai remained in Seoul, appointed as the Chinese Resident and continued to interfere with Korean domestic politics. The failure of the coup also marked a dramatic decline in Japanese influence over Korea.
The Nagasaki incident was a riot that took place in the Japanese port city of Nagasaki in 1886. Four warships from the Qing Empire’s navy, the Beiyang Fleet, stopped at Nagasaki, apparently to carry out repairs. Some Chinese sailors caused trouble in the city and started the riot. Several Japanese policemen confronting the rioters were killed. The Qing government did not apologise after the incident, which resulted in a wave of anti-Chinese sentiment in Japan.
A poor harvest in 1889 led the governor of Korea’s Hamgyong Province to prohibit soybean exports to Japan. Japan requested and received compensation in 1893 for their importers. The incident highlighted the growing dependence Japan felt on Korean food imports.
Prelude to War
Kim Ok-Gyun Affair
On 28 March 1894, a pro-Japanese Korean revolutionary, Kim Ok-gyun, was assassinated in Shanghai. Kim had fled to Japan after his involvement in the 1884 coup and the Japanese had turned down Korean demands that he be extradited. Many Japanese activists saw in him potential for a future role in Korean modernisation, however, Meiji government leaders were more cautious; after some reservations they exiled him to the Bonin (Ogasawara) Islands. Ultimately, he was lured to Shanghai, where he was killed by a Korean, Hong Jong-u, in his room at a Japanese inn in the international settlement. After some hesitation, the British authorities in Shanghai concluded that rules against extradition did not apply to a corpse and turned his body over to Chinese authorities. His body was then taken aboard a Chinese warship and sent back to Korea, where it was cut up, quartered and displayed in all Korean provinces as a warning to other purported rebels and traitors.
In Tokyo, the Japanese government took this as an outrageous affront. Kim Ok-gyun’s brutal murder was portrayed as a betrayal by Li Hongzhang and a setback for Japan’s stature and dignity. Not only did the Chinese authorities refuse to press charges against the assassin, but he was even allowed to accompany Kim’s mutilated body back to Korea, where he was showered with rewards and honours. Kim’s assassination had also called Japan’s commitment to its Korean supporters into question. The police in Tokyo had foiled an earlier attempt during the same year to assassinate Pak Yung-hio, one of the other Korean leaders of the 1884 uprising. When two suspected Korean assassins received asylum at the Korean legation, it had also instigated a diplomatic outrage. Although the Japanese government could have immediately used Kim’s assassination to its advantage, it concluded that since Kim died on Chinese territory the treatment of the corpse was outside its authority. But the shocking murder of the Korean inflamed Japanese opinion, many in the country considered the Chinese supported actions as also being directed against Japan. To the Japanese, the Chinese had also showed their contempt for international law, when they set free the suspected assassin, who had been arrested by British authorities in Shanghai and then in accordance with treaty obligations turned over to the Chinese for trial. Nationalistic groups immediately began to call for war with China.
Tensions ran high between China and Japan but war was not yet inevitable and the furore in Japan over the Kim’s assassination began to dissipate. However, the following month in late April, the Donghak Rebellion erupted in Korea. Korean peasants rose up in open rebellion against oppressive taxation and incompetent financial administration of the Joseon government, it was the largest peasant rebellion in Korean history. However, on 01 June when rumours reached the Donghaks that the Chinese and Japanese were the verge of sending troops, the rebels agreed to a cease-fire in order to remove any grounds for foreign intervention.
On 02 June, the Japanese cabinet decided to reciprocally send troops to Korea if China did also. In May, the Chinese had taken steps to prepare for the mobilisation of their forces in the provinces of Zhili, Shandong and in Manchuria, as a result of the tense situation on the Korean peninsula. But these actions were planned more as an armed demonstration to strengthen their position in Korea, rather than as preparation for war with Japan. On 03 June, King Gojong on the recommendation of the Min clan and at the insistence of Yuan Shikai, requested aid from the Chinese government in suppressing the Donghak Rebellion. Although the rebellion was not as serious as it initially seemed and hence Chinese forces were not necessary. The decision was made to send 2,500 men under the command of General Ye Zhichao to the harbour of Asan, about 70 km (43 miles) from Seoul. The troops destined for Korea sailed on board three British owned steamers chartered by the Chinese government, arriving at Asan on 09 June. On 25 June, a further 400 troops had arrived. Consequently, by the end of June, Ye Zhichao had about 2,800-2,900 soldiers under his command at Asan.
Closely watching the events on the peninsula, the Japanese government had quickly become convinced that the Donghak Rebellion would lead to Chinese intervention in Korea. As a result, soon after learning of the Korean government’s request for Chinese military help, all Japanese warships in the vicinity were immediately ordered to Pusan and Chemulpo. By 09 June, Japanese warships had consecutively called at Chemulpo and Pusan. A formation of 420 sailors, selected from the crews of warships anchored in Chempulo was immediately dispatched to Seoul. There they served as a temporary counterbalance to the Chinese troops camped at Asan. Simultaneously, a reinforced brigade of approximately 8,000 troops(the Oshima Composite Brigade), under the command of General Oshima Yoshimasa, was also dispatched to Chemulpo by 27 June.
According to the Japanese, the Chinese government had violated the Convention of Tientsin by not informing the Japanese government of its decision to send troops, but the Chinese claimed that Japan had approved this. The Japanese countered by sending an expeditionary force to Korea. The first 400 troops arrived on 09 June en-route to Seoul, and 3,000 landed at Incheon on 12 June.
However, Japanese officials denied any intention to intervene. As a result, the Qing viceroy Li Hongzhang “was lured into believing that Japan would not wage war, but the Japanese were fully prepared to act”. The Qing government turned down Japan’s suggestion for Japan and China to cooperate to reform the Korean government. When Korea demanded that Japan withdraw its troops from Korea, the Japanese refused.
In early June 1894, the 8,000 Japanese troops captured the Korean king Gojong, occupied the Gyeongbokgung in Seoul and, by 25 June, replaced the existing Korean government with members of the pro-Japanese faction. Even though Qing forces were already leaving Korea after finding themselves unneeded there, the new pro-Japanese Korean government granted Japan the right to expel Qing forces while Japan dispatched more troops to Korea. The Qing Empire rejected the new Korean government as illegitimate.
Status of Combatants
Japanese reforms under the Meiji government gave significant priority to the creation of an effective modern national army and navy, especially naval construction. Japan sent numerous military officials abroad for training and evaluation of the relative strengths and tactics of Western armies and navies.
Imperial Japanese Navy
The Imperial Japanese Navy was modelled after the British Royal Navy, at the time the foremost naval power. British advisors were sent to Japan to train the naval establishment, while Japanese students were in turn sent to Britain to study and observe the Royal Navy. Through drilling and tuition by Royal Navy instructors, Japan developed naval officers expert in the arts of gunnery and seamanship. At the start of hostilities, the Imperial Japanese Navy comprised a fleet of 12 modern warships, (the protected cruiser Izumi being added during the war), eight corvettes, one ironclad warship, 26 torpedo boats, and numerous auxiliary/armed merchant cruisers and converted liners. During peacetime, the warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy were divided among three main naval bases at Yokosuka, Kure and Sasebo and following mobilisation, the navy was composed of five divisions of seagoing warships and three flotillas of torpedo boats with a fourth being formed at the beginning of hostilities. The Japanese also had a relatively large merchant navy, which at the beginning of 1894 consisted of 288 vessels. Of these, 66 belonged to the Nippon Yusen Kaisha shipping company, which received national subsidies from the Japanese government to maintain the vessels for use by the navy in time of war. As a consequence, the navy could call on a sufficient number of auxiliaries and transports.
Japan did not yet have the resources to acquire battleships and so planned to employ the Jeune École doctrine, which favoured small, fast warships, especially cruisers and torpedo boats, with the offensive capability to destroy larger craft. The Japanese naval leadership, on the eve of hostilities, was generally cautious and even apprehensive, as the navy had not yet received the warships ordered in February 1893, particularly the battleships Fuji and Yashima and the protected cruiser Akashi. Hence, initiating hostilities at the time was not ideal, and the navy was far less confident than the army about the outcome of a war with China.
Many of Japan’s major warships were built in British and French shipyards (eight British, three French and two Japanese-built) and 16 of the torpedo boats were known to have been built in France and assembled in Japan.
Imperial Japanese Army
The Meiji government at first modelled their army after the French Army. French advisers had been sent to Japan with two military missions (in 1872-1880 and 1884), in addition to one mission under the shogunate. Nationwide conscription was enforced in 1873 and a Western-style conscript army was established; military schools and arsenals were also built. In 1886, Japan turned toward the German-Prussian model as the basis for its army, adopting German doctrines and the German military system and organisation. In 1885 Klemens Meckel, a German adviser, implemented new measures, such as the reorganisation of the command structure into divisions and regiments; the strengthening of army logistics, transportation, and structures (thereby increasing mobility); and the establishment of artillery and engineering regiments as independent commands. It was also an army that was equal to European armed forces in every respect.
On the eve of the outbreak of the war with China all men between the ages of 17 and 40 years were eligible for conscription, but only those who turned 20 were to be drafted while those who had turned 17 could volunteer. All men between the ages of 17 and 40, even those who had not received military training or were physically unfit, were considered part of the territorial militia or national guard (kokumin). Following the period of active military service (gen-eki), which lasted for three years, the soldiers became part of the first Reserve (yōbi) and then the second Reserve (kōbi). All young and able-bodied men who did not receive basic military training due to exceptions and those conscripts who had not fully met the physical requirements of military service, became third Reserve (hojū). In the time of war, the first Reserve (yōbi) were to be called up first and they were intended to fill in the ranks of the regular army units. Next to be called up were the kōbi reserve who were to be either used to further fill in the ranks of line units or to be formed into new ones. The hojū reserve members were to be called up only in exceptional circumstances, and the territorial militia or national guard would only be called up in case of an immediate enemy attack on or invasion of Japan.
The country was divided into six military districts, (headquarters Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Sendai, Hiroshima and Kumamoto) with each being a recruitment area for a square infantry division consisting of two brigades of two regiments. Each of these divisions contained approximately 18,600 troops and 36 artillery pieces when mobilised. There was also an Imperial Guard division which recruited nationally, from all around Japan. This division was also composed of two brigades but had instead two-battalion, not three-battalion, regiments, consequently its numerical strength after mobilisation was 12,500 troops and 24 artillery pieces. In addition, there were fortress troops consisting of approximately six battalions, the Colonial Corps of about 4,000 troops which was stationed on Hokkaido and the Ryukyu Islands, and a battalion of military police in each of the districts. In peacetime the regular army had a total of fewer than 70,000 men, while after mobilisation the numbers rose to over 220,000. Moreover, the army still had a trained reserve, which, following the mobilisation of the first-line divisions, could be formed into reserve brigades. These reserve brigades each consisted of four battalions, a cavalry unit, a company of engineers, an artillery battery and rear-echelon units. They were to serve as recruiting bases for their front-line divisions and could also perform secondary combat operations, and if necessary they could be expanded into full divisions with a total of 24 territorial force regiments. However, formation of these units was hindered by a lack of sufficient amounts of equipment, especially uniforms.
Japanese troops were equipped with the 8mm single-shot Murata Type 18 breech-loading rifle. The improved eight-round-magazine Type 22 was just being introduced and consequently in 1894, on the eve of the war, only the Imperial Guard and 4th Division were equipped with these rifles. The division artillery consisted of 75mm field guns and mountain pieces manufactured in Osaka. The artillery was based on Krupp designs that were adapted by the Italians at the beginning of the 1880s; although it could hardly be described as modern in 1894, in general it still matched contemporary battlefield requirements.
By the 1890s, Japan had at its disposal a modern, professionally trained Western-style army which was relatively well equipped and supplied. Its officers had studied in Europe and were well educated in the latest strategy and tactics. By the start of the war, the Imperial Japanese Army could field a total force of 120,000 men in two armies and five divisions.
The prevailing view in many Western circles was that the modernized Chinese military would crush the Japanese. Observers commended Chinese units such as the Huai Army and Beiyang Fleet. The German General Staff predicted a Japanese defeat and William Lang, who was a British advisor to the Chinese military, praised Chinese training, ships, guns, and fortifications, stating that “in the end, there is no doubt that Japan must be utterly crushed”.
Imperial Chinese Army
The Qing Dynasty did not have a unified national army, but was made up of three main components, with the so-called Eight Banners forming the elite. The Eight Banners forces were segregated along ethnic lines into separate Manchu, Han Chinese, Mongol, Hui (Muslim) and other ethnic formations. Bannermen who made up the Eight Banners got higher pay than the rest of the army while the Manchu received further privileges. In total, there were 250,000 soldiers in the Eight Banners, with over 60 per cent kept in garrisons in Beijing, while the remaining 40% served as garrison troops in other major Chinese cities. The Green Standard Army was a 600,000-strong gendarmerie-type force that was recruited from the majority Han Chinese population. Its soldiers were not given any peacetime basic military training, but were expected to fight in any conflict. The third component was an irregular force called the Braves, which were used as a kind of reserve force for the regular army, and which were usually recruited from the more distant or remote provinces of China. They were formed into very loosely organised units from the same province. The Braves were sometimes described as mercenaries, with their volunteers receiving as much military training as their commanders saw fit. With no fixed unit organisation, it is impossible to know how many battle-ready Braves there actually were in 1894. There were also other, smaller number of military formations, one of which was the Huai Army, which was under the personal authority of the politician, general and diplomat Li Hongzhang and was created originally to suppress the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864). The Huai Army had received limited training by Western military advisors; numbering nearly 45,000 troops, it was considered the best armed military unit in China.
Although the Chinese had established arsenals to produce firearms, and a large number of them had been imported from abroad, 40% of Chinese troops at the outbreak of the war were not issued with rifles or even muskets. Instead they were armed with a variety of swords, spears, pikes, halberds, and bows and arrows. Against well-trained, well-armed, and disciplined Japanese troops, they would have little chance. Those units that did have firearms were equipped with a heterogeneity of weapons, from a variety of modern rifles to old-fashioned muskets; this lack of standardisation led to a major problem with the proper supply of ammunition.
The Imperial Chinese Army in 1894 was a heterogeneous mixture of modernised, partly modernised, and almost medieval units which no commander could have led successfully, leading to poor leadership among Chinese officers. Chinese officers did not know how to handle their troops and the older, higher-ranking officers still believed that they could fight a war as they had during the Taiping Rebellion of 1850-1864. This was also the result of the Chinese military forces being divided into largely independent regional commands. The soldiers were drawn from diverse provinces that had no affinity with each other. Chinese troops also suffered from poor morale, largely because many of the troops had not been paid for a long time. The low prestige of soldiers in Chinese society also hindered morale, and the use of opium and other narcotics was rife throughout the army. Low morale and poor leadership seriously reduced the effectiveness of Chinese troops, and contributed to defeats such as the abandonment of the very well-fortified and defensible Weihaiwei. Additionally, military logistics were lacking, as the construction of railroads in Manchuria had been discouraged. Huai Army troops, although they were a small minority in the overall Imperial Chinese Army, were to take part in the majority of the fighting during the war.
The Beiyang Fleet was one of the four modernised Chinese navies in the late Qing dynasty. The navies were heavily sponsored by Li Hongzhang, the Viceroy of Zhili who had also created the Huai Army. The Beiyang Fleet was the dominant navy in East Asia before the First Sino-Japanese War. The Japanese themselves were apprehensive about facing the Chinese fleet, especially the two German-built battleships – Dingyuan and Zhenyuan – to which the Japanese had no comparable counterparts. However, China’s advantages were more apparent than real as most of the Chinese warships were over-age and obsolescent; the ships were also not maintained properly and indiscipline was common among their crews. The greater armour of major Chinese warships and the greater weight of broadside they could fire were more than offset by the number of quick-firing guns on most first-line Japanese warships, which gave the Japanese the edge in any sustained exchange of salvos. The worst feature of both Chinese battleships was actually their main armament; each was armed with short-barrelled guns in twin barbettes mounted in echelon which could fire only in restricted arcs. The short barrels of the Chinese main armament meant that the shells had a low muzzle velocity and poor penetration, and their accuracy was also poor at long ranges.
Tactically, Chinese naval vessels entered the war with only the crudest set of instructions – ships that were assigned to designated pairs were to keep together and all ships were to fight end-on, as far forward from the beam as possible, a tactic dictated by the obsolescent arrangement of guns aboard Chinese warships. The only vague resemblance of a fleet tactic was that all ships were to follow the visible movements of the flagship, an arrangement made necessary because the signal book used by the Chinese was written in English, a language with which few officers in the Beiyang Fleet had any familiarity.
When it was first developed by Empress Dowager Cixi in 1888, the Beiyang Fleet was said to be the strongest navy in East Asia. Before her adopted son, Emperor Guangxu, took over the throne in 1889, Cixi wrote out explicit orders that the navy should continue to develop and expand gradually. However, after Cixi went into retirement, all naval and military development came to a drastic halt. Japan’s victories over China has often been falsely rumoured to be the fault of Cixi. Many believed that Cixi was the cause of the navy’s defeat because Cixi embezzled funds from the navy in order to build the Summer Palace in Beijing. However, extensive research by Chinese historians revealed that Cixi was not the cause of the Chinese navy’s decline. In actuality, China’s defeat was caused by Emperor Guangxu’s lack of interest in developing and maintaining the military. His close adviser, Grand Tutor Weng Tonghe, advised Guangxu to cut all funding to the navy and army, because he did not see Japan as a true threat, and there were several natural disasters during the early 1890s which the emperor thought to be more pressing to expend funds on.
Contemporaneous Wars Fought by the Qing Empire
While the Qing Empire was fighting the First Sino-Japanese War, it was also simultaneously engaging rebels in the Dungan Revolt in northwestern China, where thousands lost their lives. The generals Dong Fuxiang, Ma Anliang and Ma Haiyan were initially summoned by the Qing government to bring the Hui troops under their command to participate in the First Sino-Japanese War, but they were eventually sent to suppress the Dungan Revolt instead.
Early Stages of the War
- 01 June 1894:
- The Donghak Rebel Army moves toward Seoul.
- The Korean government requests help from the Qing government to suppress the revolt.
- 06 June 1894:
- About 2,465 Chinese soldiers are transported to Korea to suppress the Donghak Rebellion.
- Japan asserts that it was not notified and thus China has violated the Convention of Tientsin, which requires that China and Japan must notify each other before intervening in Korea.
- China asserts that Japan was notified and approved of Chinese intervention.
- 08 June 1894:
- First of about 4,000 Japanese soldiers and 500 marines land at Jemulpo (Incheon).
- 11 June 1894:
- End of the Donghak Rebellion.
- 13 June 1894:
- The Japanese government telegraphs the commander of the Japanese forces in Korea, Ōtori Keisuke, to remain in Korea for as long as possible despite the end of the rebellion.
- 16 June 1894:
- Japanese foreign minister Mutsu Munemitsu meets with Wang Fengzao, the Qing ambassador to Japan, to discuss the future status of Korea.
- Wang states that the Qing government intends to pull out of Korea after the rebellion has been suppressed and expects Japan to do the same.
- However, China retains a resident to look after Chinese primacy in Korea.
- 22 June 1894:
- Additional Japanese troops arrive in Korea. Japanese prime minister Itō Hirobumi tells Matsukata Masayoshi that since the Qing Empire appear to be making military preparations, there is probably “no policy but to go to war”.
- Mutsu tells Ōtori to press the Korean government on the Japanese demands.
- 26 June 1894:
- Ōtori presents a set of reform proposals to the Korean king Gojong. Gojong’s government rejects the proposals and instead insists on troop withdrawals.
- 07 July 1894:
- Failure of mediation between China and Japan arranged by the British ambassador to China.
- 19 July 1894:
- Establishment of the Japanese Combined Fleet, consisting of almost all vessels in the Imperial Japanese Navy. Mutsu cables Ōtori to take any necessary steps to compel the Korean government to carry out a reform programme.
- 23 July 1894:
- Japanese troops occupy Seoul, capture Gojong, and establish a new, pro-Japanese government, which terminates all Sino-Korean treaties and grants the Imperial Japanese Army the right to expel the Qing Empire’s Beiyang Army from Korea.
- 25 July 1894:
- First battle of the war: the Battle of Pungdo/Hoto-oki kaisen.
Events during the War
By July 1894, Chinese forces in Korea numbered 3,000-3,500 and were outnumbered by Japanese troops. They could only be supplied by sea through Asan Bay. The Japanese objective was first to blockade the Chinese at Asan and then encircle them with their land forces. Japan’s initial strategy was to gain command of the sea, which was critical to its operations in Korea. Command of the sea would allow Japan to transport troops to the mainland. The army’s Fifth Division would land at Chemulpo on the western coast of Korea, both to engage and push Chinese forces northwest up the peninsula and to draw the Beiyang Fleet into the Yellow Sea, where it would be engaged in decisive battle. Depending on the outcome of this engagement, Japan would make one of three choices; If the Combined Fleet were to win decisively, the larger part of the Japanese army would undertake immediate landings on the coast between Shan-hai-kuan and Tientsin in order to defeat the Chinese army and bring the war to a swift conclusion. If the engagement were to be a draw and neither side gained control of the sea, the army would concentrate on the occupation of Korea. Lastly, if the Combined Fleet was defeated and consequently lost command of the sea, the bulk of the army would remain in Japan and prepare to repel a Chinese invasion, while the Fifth Division in Korea would be ordered to hang on and fight a rearguard action.
Sinking of the Kow-shing
Refer to Battle of Pungdo (1894).
On 25 July 1894, the cruisers Yoshino, Naniwa and Akitsushima of the Japanese flying squadron, which had been patrolling off Asan Bay, encountered the Chinese cruiser Tsi-yuan and gunboat Kwang-yi. These vessels had steamed out of Asan to meet the transport Kow-shing, escorted by the Chinese gunboat Tsao-kiang. After an hour-long engagement, the Tsi-yuan escaped while the Kwang-yi grounded on rocks, where its powder-magazine exploded.
The Kow-shing was a 2,134-ton British merchant vessel owned by the Indochina Steam Navigation Company of London, commanded by Captain T.R. Galsworthy and crewed by 64 men. The ship was chartered by the Qing government to ferry troops to Korea, and was on her way to reinforce Asan with 1,100 troops plus supplies and equipment. A German artillery officer, Major von Hanneken, advisor to the Chinese, was also aboard. The ship was due to arrive on 25 July.
The Japanese cruiser Naniwa, under Captain Tōgō Heihachirō, intercepted the Kow-shing and captured its escort. The Japanese then ordered the Kow-shing to follow Naniwa and directed that Europeans be transferred to Naniwa. However, the 1,100 Chinese on board, desperate to return to Taku, threatened to kill the English captain, Galsworthy, and his crew. After four hours of negotiations, Captain Togo gave the order to fire upon the vessel. A torpedo missed, but a subsequent broadside hit the Kow Shing, which started to sink.
In the confusion, some of the Europeans escaped overboard, only to be fired upon by the Chinese. The Japanese rescued three of the British crew (the captain, first officer and quartermaster) and 50 Chinese, and took them to Japan. The sinking of the Kow-shing almost caused a diplomatic incident between Japan and Great Britain, but the action was ruled in conformity with international law regarding the treatment of mutineers (the Chinese troops). Many observers considered the troops lost on board the Kow-shing to have been the best the Chinese had.
The German gunboat Iltis rescued 150 Chinese, the French gunboat Le Lion rescued 43, and the British cruiser HMS Porpoise rescued an unknown number.
Conflict in Korea
Refer to Battle of Seonghwan (1894) and Battle of Pyongyang (1894).
Commissioned by the new pro-Japanese Korean government to forcibly expel Chinese forces, on 25 July Major General Ōshima Yoshimasa led a mixed brigade numbering about 4,000 on a rapid forced march from Seoul south toward Asan Bay to face Chinese troops garrisoned at Seonghwan Station east of Asan and Kongju.
The Chinese forces stationed near Seonghwan under the command of General Ye Zhichao numbered about 3,880 men. They had anticipated the impending arrival of the Japanese by fortifying their position with trenches, earthworks including six redoubts protected by abatis and by the flooding of surrounding rice fields. But expected Chinese reinforcements had been lost on board the British-chartered transport Kowshing. Units of the Chinese main force were deployed east and north-east of Asan, near the main road leading to Seoul, the key positions held by the Chinese were the towns of Seonghwan and Cheonan. Approximately 3,000 troops were stationed at Seonghwan, while 1,000 men along with General Ye Zhichao headquarters were at the Cheonan. The remaining Chinese troops were stationed in Asan itself. The Chinese had been preparing for a pincer movement against the Korean capital by massing troops at Pyongyang in the north and Asan in the south.
On the morning of 27-28 July 1894, the two forces met just outside Asan in an engagement that lasted till 07:30 am, the next morning. The battle began with a diversionary attack by Japanese troops, followed by the main attack which quickly outflanked the Chinese defences. The Chinese troops, witnessing that they were being outflanked, left their defensive positions and fled towards the direction of Asan. The Chinese gradually lost ground to the superior Japanese numbers, and finally broke and fled towards Pyongyang abandoning arms, ammunition and all its artillery. The Japanese took the city of Asan on 29 July, breaking the Chinese encirclement of Seoul. The Chinese suffered 500 killed and wounded while the Japanese suffered 88 casualties.
Comparative Outlooks of the Japanese and Chinese Emperors
On 1 August, war was officially declared between China and Japan. The rationale given by the rulers of both nations might best be assessed by the comparison of the declarations issued from each; the language and tone being markedly different. In the case of Japan:
We, by the grace of Heaven, Emperor of Japan, seated on a Throne occupied by the same dynasty from time immemorial, do hereby make proclamation to all our loyal and brave subjects, as follows:
We hereby declare war against China, and we command each and all our competent authorities, in obedience to our wish and with a view to the attainment of the national aim, to carry on hostilities by sea and by land against China, with all the means at their disposal, consistently with the Law of Nations.
During the past three decades of our reign our constant aim has been to further the peaceful progress of the country in civilization; and, being sensible of the evils inseparable from complications with foreign states, it has always been our pleasure to instruct our Minister of State to labour for the promotion of friendly relations with our Treaty Powers. We are gratified to know that the relations of our Empire with those Powers have yearly increased in good will and in friendship. Under the circumstances, we were unprepared for such a conspicuous want of amity and of good faith as has been manifested by China in her conduct towards this country in connexion with the Korean affair.
Korea is an independent state. She was first introduced into the family of nations by the advice and guidance of Japan. It has, however, been China’s habit to designate Korea as her dependency, and both openly and secretly to interfere with her domestic affairs. At the time of the recent insurrection in Korea, China despatched troops thither, alleging that her purpose was to afford a succour to her dependent state. We, in virtue of the treaty concluded with Korea in 1882, and looking to possible emergencies, caused a military force to be sent to that country.
Wishing to procure for Korea freedom from the calamity of perpetual disturbance, and thereby to maintain the peace of the East in general, Japan invited China’s cooperation for the accomplishment of the object. But China, advancing various pretexts, declined Japan’s proposal. Thereupon Japan advised Korea to reform her administration so that order and tranquillity might be preserved at home, and so that the country might be able to discharge the responsibilities and duties of an independent state abroad. Korea has already consented to undertake the task. But China has secretly and insidiously endeavoured to circumvent and to thwart Japan’s purpose. She has further procrastinated and endeavoured to make warlike preparations both on land and at sea.
When those preparations were completed she not only sent large reinforcements to Korea, with a view to the forcible attainment of her ambitious designs, but even carried her arbitrariness and insolence to the extent of opening fire upon our ships in Korean waters. China’s plain object is to make it uncertain where the responsibility resides of preserving peace and order in Korea, and not only to weaken the position of that state in the family of nations – a position obtained for Korea through Japan’s efforts – but also to obscure the significance of the treaties recognizing and confirming that position. Such conduct on the part of China is not only a direct injury to the rights and interests of this Empire, but also a menace to the permanent peace and tranquillity of the Orient. Judging from her actions, it must be concluded that China from the beginning has been bent upon sacrificing peace to the attainment of her sinister object. In this situation, ardent as our wish is to promote the prestige of the country abroad by strictly peaceful methods, we find it impossible to avoid a formal declaration of war against China. It is our earnest wish that, by the loyalty and valour of our faithful subjects, peace may soon be permanently restored and the glory of the Empire be augmented and completed.
Given this 1st day of the eighth month of the 27th year of Meiji…
Proclamation of the Japanese Meiji Emperor.
Issued in the name of the Meiji Emperor, the tenor of the Japanese declaration of war appears to have had at least one eye fixed on the wider international community; using phrases such as ‘Family of Nations’, the ‘Law of Nations’ and making additional references to international treaties. This was in sharp contrast to the Chinese approach to foreign relations, (historically noted for refusing to treat with other nations on a diplomatic footing, and instead insistent on such foreign powers paying tribute to the Chinese Emperor as vassals – refer to Tributary system of China). In keeping with the traditional Chinese approach to its neighbours, the Guangxu Emperor thus proclaimed:
Korea has been our tributary for the past two hundred odd years. She has given us tribute all this time, which is a matter known to the world. For the past dozen years or so Korea has been troubled by repeated insurrections and we, in sympathy with our small tributary, have as repeatedly sent succour to her aid, eventually placing a Resident in her capital to protect Korea’s interests. In the fourth moon (May) of this year another rebellion was begun in Korea, and the King repeatedly asked again for aid from us to put down the rebellion. We then ordered Li Hung-Chang [Li Hongzhang] to send troops to Korea; and they having barely reached Yashan the rebels immediately scattered. But the Wojen, without any cause whatever, suddenly sent their troops to Korea, and entered Seoul, the capital of Korea, reinforcing them constantly until they have exceeded ten thousand men. In the meantime the Japanese forced the Korean king to change his system of government, showing a disposition every way of bullying the Koreans.
It was found a difficult matter to reason with the Wojen. Although we have been in the habit of assisting our tributaries, we have never interfered with their internal government. Japan’s treaty with Korea was as one country with another; there is no law for sending large armies to bully a country in this way, and compel it to change its system of government. The various powers are united in condemning the conduct of the Japanese, and can give no reasonable name to the army she now has in Korea. Nor has Japan been amenable to reason, nor would she listen to the exhortation to withdraw her troops and confer amicably upon what should be done in Korea. On the contrary, Japan has shown herself bellicose without regard to appearances, and has been increasing her forces there. Her conduct alarmed the people of Korea as well as our merchants there, and so we sent more troops over to protect them. Judge of our surprise then when, halfway to Korea, a number of the Wojen ships suddenly appeared, and taking advantage of our unpreparedness, opened fire upon our transports at a spot on the sea-coast near Yashan, and damaged them, thus causing us to suffer from their treacherous conduct, which could not be foretold by us. As Japan has violated the treaties and not observed international laws, and is now running rampant with her false and treacherous actions commencing hostilities herself, and laying herself open to condemnation by the various powers at large, we therefore desire to make it known to the world that we have always followed the paths of philanthropy and perfect justice throughout the whole complications, while the Wojen, on the other hand, have broken all the laws of nations and treaties which it passes our patience to bear with.
Hence we have commanded Li Hung-Chang [Li Hongzhang] to give strict orders to our various armies to hasten with all speed to root the Wojen out of their lairs. He is to send successive armies of valiant men to Korea in order to save the Koreans from the dust of bondage. We also command the Manchu generals, viceroys and governors of the maritime provinces, as well as the commanders-in-chief of the various armies, to prepare for war and to make every effort to fire on the Wojen ships if they come into our ports, and utterly destroy them. We exhort our generals to refrain from the least laxity in obeying our commands in order to avoid severe punishment at our hands. Let all know this edict as if addressed to themselves individually.
Proclamation of the Chinese Guangxu Emperor.
In the latter declaration of the Chinese Emperor, the palpable disdain for the Japanese can be surmised from the repeated use of the term Wojen, (which translates to the intentionally-offensive term ‘dwarf’ ). This use of the pejorative to describe a foreign nation was not unusual for Chinese official documents of the time; so much so, that a major bone of contention between Imperial China and the Treaty Powers of the day had previously been the habitual use of the Chinese character 夷, (‘Yi’…which literally meant ‘barbarian’), to refer to those termed otherwise as ‘Foreign Devils’, (typically, those powers occupying the Treaty Ports). The use of the term ‘Yi’ (夷) by Chinese Imperial officials had in fact been considered so provocative by the Treaty Powers, that the collective bundle of accords known as the Treaty of Tientsin, (negotiated in 1858 to end the Second Opium War), explicitly proscribed the Chinese Imperial Court from using the term ‘Yi’ – to refer to officials, subjects, or citizens of the four belligerent powers, (namely, the Russian Empire, France, Great Britain and the United States of America); the signatories seemingly feeling it necessary to extract this specific demand from the Xianfeng Emperor’s representatives. In the thirty-five years elapsing since the Treaty of Tientsin, however, the language of the Chinese Emperors would appear to change little with regards to its neighbour, Japan.
After the Declarations
By 04 August, the remaining Chinese forces in Korea retreated to the northern city of Pyongyang, where they were met by troops sent from China. The 13,000-15,000 defenders made defensive repairs to the city, hoping to check the Japanese advance.
On 15 September, the Imperial Japanese Army converged on the city of Pyongyang from several directions. The Japanese assaulted the city and eventually defeated the Chinese by an attack from the rear; the defenders surrendered. Taking advantage of heavy rainfall overnight, the remaining Chinese troops escaped Pyongyang and headed northeast toward the coastal city of Uiju. Casualties were 2,000 killed and around 4,000 wounded for the Chinese, while the Japanese casualties totalled 102 men killed, 433 wounded, and 33 missing. In the early morning of 16 September, the entire Japanese army entered Pyongyang.
Qing Hui Muslim general Zuo Baogui, from Shandong province, died in action in Pyongyang from Japanese artillery in 1894 while securing the city. A memorial to him was constructed.
Defeat of the Beiyang fleet
Refer to the Battle of the Yalu River (1894).
In early September, Li Hongzhang decided to reinforce the Chinese forces at Pyongyang by employing the Beiyang fleet to escort transports to the mouth of the Taedong River. About 4,500 additional troops stationed in the Zhili were to be redeployed. On 12 September, half of the troops embarked at Dagu on five specially chartered transports and headed to Dalian where two days later on 14 September, they were joined by another 2,000 soldiers. Initially, Admiral Ding wanted to send the transports under a light escort with only a few ships, while the main force of the Beiyang Fleet would locate and operate directly against Combined Fleet in order to prevent the Japanese from intercepting the convoy. But the appearance of the Japanese cruisers Yoshino and Naniwa on a reconnaissance sortie near Weihaiwei thwarted these plans. The Chinese had mistaken them for the main Japanese fleet. Consequently, on 12 September, the entire Beiyang Fleet departed Dalian heading for Weihaiwei, arriving near the Shandong Peninsula the next day. The Chinese warships spent the entire day cruising the area, waiting for the Japanese. However, since there was no sighting of the Japanese fleet, Admiral Ding decided to return to Dalian, reaching the port in the morning of 15 September. As Japanese troops moved north to attack Pyongyang, Admiral Ito correctly guessed that the Chinese would attempt to reinforce their army in Korea by sea. On 14 September, the Combined Fleet steamed northwards to search the Korean and Chinese coasts in order to bring the Beiyang Fleet to battle.
The Japanese victory at Pyongyang had succeeded in pushing Chinese troops north to the Yalu river, in the process removing all effective Chinese military presence on the Korean Peninsula. Shortly before the convoy’s departure, Admiral Ding received a message concerning the battle at Pyongyang informing him about the defeat. Subsequently, it made the redeployment of the troops to the mouth of the Taedong river unnecessary. Admiral Ding then correctly assumed that the next Chinese line of defence would be established on the Yalu River, and decided to redeploy the embarked soldiers there. On 16 September, the convoy of five transport ships departed from the Dalian Bay under escort from the vessels of the Beiyang Fleet which included the two ironclad battleships, Dingyuan and Zhenyuan. Reaching the mouth of the Yalu River, the transports disembarked the troops, and the landing operation lasted until the following morning.
On 17 September 1894, the Japanese Combined Fleet encountered the Chinese Beiyang Fleet off the mouth of the Yalu River. The naval battle, which lasted from late morning to dusk, resulted in a Japanese victory. Although the Chinese were able to land 4,500 troops near the Yalu River by sunset the Beiyang fleet was near the point of total collapse, most of the fleet had fled or had been sunk and the two largest ships Dingyuan and Zhenyuan were nearly out of ammunition. The Imperial Japanese Navy destroyed eight of the ten Chinese warships, assuring Japan’s command of the Yellow Sea. The principal factors in the Japanese victory was the superiority in speed and firepower. The victory shattered the morale of the Chinese naval forces. The Battle of the Yalu River was the largest naval engagement of the war and was a major propaganda victory for Japan.
Invasion of Manchuria
With the defeat at Pyongyang, the Chinese abandoned northern Korea and took up defensive positions in fortifications along their side of the Yalu River near Jiuliancheng. After receiving reinforcements by 10 October, the Japanese quickly pushed north toward Manchuria.
On the night of 24 October 1894, the Japanese successfully crossed the Yalu River, undetected, by erecting a pontoon bridge. The following afternoon of 25 October at 17:00, they assaulted the outpost of Hushan, east of Jiuliancheng. At 20:30 the defenders deserted their positions and by the next day they were in full retreat from Jiuliancheng.
With the capture of Jiuliancheng, General Yamagata’s 1st Army Corps occupied the nearby city of Dandong, while to the north, elements of the retreating Beiyang Army set fire to the city of Fengcheng. The Japanese had established a firm foothold on Chinese territory with the loss of only four killed and 140 wounded.
The Japanese 1st Army Corps then split into two groups with General Nozu Michitsura’s 5th Provincial Division advancing toward the city of Mukden (present-day Shenyang) and Lieutenant-General Katsura Tarō’s 3rd Provincial Division pursuing fleeing Chinese forces west along toward the Liaodong Peninsula.
By December, the 3rd Provincial Division had captured the towns of Tatungkau, Takushan, Xiuyan, Tomucheng, Haicheng and Kangwaseh. The 5th Provincial Division marched during a severe Manchurian winter towards Mukden.
The Japanese 2nd Army Corps under Ōyama Iwao landed on the south coast of Liaodong Peninsula on 24 October and quickly moved to capture Jinzhou and Dalian Bay on 06-07 November. The Japanese laid siege to the strategic port of Lüshunkou (Port Arthur).
Fall of Lüshunkou
Refer to Battle of Lushunkou (1894) and Port Arthur Massacre (China) (1894).
By 21 November 1894, the Japanese had taken the city of Lüshunkou (Port Arthur) with minimal resistance and suffering minimal casualties. Describing their motives as having encountered a display of the mutilated remains of Japanese soldiers as they invaded the town, Japanese forces proceeded with the unrestrained killing of civilians during the Port Arthur Massacre with unconfirmed estimates in the thousands. An event which at the time was widely viewed with scepticism as the world at large was still in disbelief that the Japanese were capable of such deeds that seemed more likely to have been exaggerated propagandist fabrications of a Chinese government to discredit Japanese hegemony. In reality, the Chinese government itself was unsure of how to react and initially denied the occurrence of the loss of Port Arthur to the Japanese altogether.
As we entered the town of Port Arthur, we saw the head of a Japanese soldier displayed on a wooden stake. This filled us with rage and a desire to crush any Chinese soldier. Anyone we saw in the town, we killed. The streets were filled with corpses, so many they blocked our way. We killed people in their homes; by and large, there wasn’t a single house without from three to six dead. Blood was flowing and the smell was awful. We sent out search parties. We shot some, hacked at others. The Chinese troops just dropped their arms and fled. Firing and slashing, it was unbounded joy. At this time, our artillery troops were at the rear, giving three cheers [banzai] for the emperor. Makio Okabe, diary.
By 10 December 1894, Kaipeng (present-day Gaizhou) fell to the Japanese 1st Army Corps.
Fall of Weihaiwei
Refer to Battle of Weihaiwei (1895) and Battle of Yingkou (1895).
The Chinese fleet subsequently retreated behind the Weihaiwei fortifications. However, they were then surprised by Japanese ground forces, who outflanked the harbour’s defenses in coordination with the navy. The Battle of Weihaiwei was a 23-day siege with the major land and naval components taking place between 20 January and 12 February 1895. Historian Jonathan Spence notes that “the Chinese admiral retired his fleet behind a protective curtain of contact mines and took no further part in the fighting.” The Japanese commander marched his forces over the Shandong peninsula and reached the landward side of Weihaiwei, where the siege was eventually successful for the Japanese.
After Weihaiwei’s fall on 12 February 1895, and an easing of harsh winter conditions, Japanese troops pressed further into southern Manchuria and northern China. By March 1895 the Japanese had fortified posts that commanded the sea approaches to Beijing. Although this would be the last major battle fought; numerous skirmishes would follow. The Battle of Yinkou was fought outside the port town of Yingkou, Manchuria, on 05 March 1895.
Occupation of the Pescadores Islands
Refer to Pescadores Campaign (1895).
Even before the peace negotiations were set to begin at Shimonoseki, the Japanese had begun preparations for the capture of Taiwan. However, the first operation would be directed not against the island itself, but against the Pescadores Islands, which due to their strategic position off the west coast would become a stepping stone for further operations against the island. On 06 March, a Japanese expeditionary force consisting of a reinforced infantry regiment with 2,800 troops and an artillery battery were embarked on five transports, sailed from Ujina to Sasebo, arriving there three days later. On 15 March, the five transports were escorted by seven cruisers and five torpedo boats of the 4th Flotilla, left Sasebo heading south. The Japanese fleet arrived at the Pescadores during the night of 20 March, but encountered stormy weather. Due to the poor weather, the landings were postponed until 23 March, when the weather cleared.
On the morning 23 March, the Japanese warships began the bombardment of the Chinese positions around the port of Lizhangjiao. A fort guarding the harbor was quickly silenced. At about midday, the Japanese troops began their landing. Unexpectedly, when the landing operation was underway, the guns of the fort once again opened fire, which caused some confusion among the Japanese troops. But they were soon silenced again after being shelled by the Japanese cruisers. By 2:00 pm, Lizhangjiao was under Japanese control. After reinforcing the captured positions, the following morning, Japanese troops marched on the main town of Magong. The Chinese offered token resistance and after a short skirmish they abandoned their positions, retreating to nearby Xiyu Island. At 11:30 am, the Japanese entered Magong, but as soon as they had taken the coastal forts in the town, they were fired upon by the Chinese coastal battery on Xiyu Island. The barrage went unanswered until nightfall, as the Chinese had destroyed all the guns at Magong before they retreated, and Japanese warships feared entering the strait between the Penghu and Xiyu Islands due to the potential threat posed by mines. However, it caused no serious casualties among the Japanese forces. During that night, a small naval gunnery crew of 30, managed to make one of guns of the Magong coastal battery operational. At dawn, the gun began shelling the Chinese positions on Xiyu, but the Chinese guns did not respond. Subsequently, the Japanese crossed the narrow strait reaching Xiyu, discovering that the Chinese troops had abandoned their positions during the night and escaped on board local vessels.
The Japanese warships entered the strait the next day and, upon discovering that there were no mine fields, they entered Magong harbour. By 26 March, all the islands of the archipelago were under Japanese control, and Rear Admiral Tanaka Tsunatsune was appointed the governor. During the campaign the Japanese lost 28 killed and wounded, while the Chinese losses were almost 350 killed or wounded and nearly 1,000 taken prisoner. This operation effectively prevented Chinese forces in Taiwan from being reinforced, and allowed the Japanese to press their demand for the cession of Taiwan in the peace negotiations.
End of the War
Treaty of Shimonoseki
The Treaty of Shimonoseki was signed on 17 April 1895. China recognised the total independence of Korea and ceded the Liaodong Peninsula, Taiwan and Penghu Islands to Japan “in perpetuity”. The disputed islands known as “Senkaku/Diaoyu” islands were not named by this treaty, but Japan annexed these uninhabited islands to Okinawa Prefecture in 1895. Japan asserts this move was taken independently of the treaty ending the war, and China asserts that they were implied as part of the cession of Taiwan.
Additionally, China was to pay Japan 200 million taels (8,000,000 kg/17,600,000 lb) of silver as war reparations. The Qing government also signed a commercial treaty permitting Japanese ships to operate on the Yangtze River, to operate manufacturing factories in treaty ports and to open four more ports to foreign trade. Russia, Germany and France in a few days made the Triple Intervention, however, and forced Japan to give up the Liaodong Peninsula in exchange for another 30 million taels of silver (equivalent to about 450 million yen).
After the war, the Qing government paid 200 million Kuping taels, or 311,072,865 yen, making the war a net profit for Japan, as their war fund was only 250,000,000 yen.
Japanese Invasion of Taiwan
Refer to Japanese invasion of Taiwan (1895).
“The cession of the island to Japan was received with such disfavour by the Chinese inhabitants that a large military force was required to effect its occupation. For nearly two years afterwards, a bitter guerrilla resistance was offered to the Japanese troops, and large forces — over 100,000 men, it was stated at the time — were required for its suppression. This was not accomplished without much cruelty on the part of the conquerors, who, in their march through the island, perpetrated all the worst excesses of war. They had, undoubtedly, considerable provocation. They were constantly ambushed by enemies, and their losses from battle and disease far exceeded the entire loss of the whole Japanese army throughout the Manchurian campaign. But their revenge was often taken on innocent villagers. Men, women, and children were ruthlessly slaughtered or became the victims of unrestrained lust and rapine. The result was to drive from their homes thousands of industrious and peaceful peasants, who, long after the main resistance had been completely crushed, continued to wage a vendetta war, and to generate feelings of hatred which the succeeding years of conciliation and good government have not wholly eradicated.” The Cambridge Modern History, Volume 12.
Several Qing officials in Taiwan resolved to resist the cession of Taiwan to Japan under the Treaty of Shimonoseki, and on 23 May declared the island to be an independent Republic of Formosa. On 29 May, Japanese forces under Admiral Motonori Kabayama landed in northern Taiwan, and in a five-month campaign defeated the Republican forces and occupied the island’s main towns. The campaign effectively ended on 21 October 1895, with the flight of Liu Yongfu, the second Republican president, and the surrender of the Republican capital Tainan.
Aftermath and Legacy
The Japanese success during the war was the result of the modernisation and industrialisation embarked upon two decades earlier. The war demonstrated the superiority of Japanese tactics and training from the adoption of a Western-style military. The Imperial Japanese Army and Imperial Japanese Navy were able to inflict a string of defeats on the Chinese through foresight, endurance, strategy and power of organisation. Japan’s prestige rose in the eyes of the world, and the victory reflected the success of the Meiji Restoration. Japan only suffered a small loss of lives and treasure in return for the dominance of Taiwan, the Pescadores and the Liaotung Peninsula in China. Their decisions of abandoning the policy of isolation and learning advanced policy from Western countries also became a good example for other Asian countries to follow. As a result of this war, Japan started to have equal status with the powers of the West, and the victory established Japan as the dominant power in Asia. It also heightened their ambitions of aggression and military expansion in Asia. Because Japan had benefited a lot from the Treaty, it stimulated Japanese ambition to continue to invade China. It made the Chinese national crisis unprecedentedly serious. The degree of semi-colonisation was greatly deepened. After Japan’s victory, the other Imperialist powers thought they could also get benefits from China. Then these Imperialist powers started to partition China over the next few years.
For China, the war revealed the high level of corruption present in the government and policies of the Qing administration. Traditionally, China viewed Japan as a subordinate part of the Chinese cultural sphere. Although China had been defeated by European powers in the 19th century, defeat at the hands of an Asian power was a bitter psychological blow. Anti-foreign sentiment and agitation grew, which would later culminate in the form of the Boxer Rebellion five years later. The Manchu population was devastated by the fighting during the First Sino-Japanese War and the Boxer Rebellion, with massive casualties sustained during the wars and subsequently being driven into extreme suffering and hardship in Beijing and northeast China.
Although Japan had achieved what it had set out to accomplish and ended Chinese influence over Korea, Japan had been forced to relinquish the Liaodong Peninsula, (Port Arthur), in exchange for an increased financial indemnity. The European powers (especially Russia) had no objection to the other clauses of the treaty but felt that Japan should not gain Port Arthur, for they had their own ambitions in that part of the world. Russia persuaded Germany and France to join in applying diplomatic pressure on Japan, resulting in the Triple Intervention of 23 April 1895.
Although Japan had succeeded in eliminating Chinese influence over Korea, it was Russia who reaped the benefits. Korea proclaimed itself the Korean Empire and announced its independence from the Qing Empire. The Japanese-sponsored Gabo reforms (Kabo reforms) of 1894-1896 transformed Korea: legal slavery was abolished in all forms; the yangban class lost all special privileges; outcastes were abolished; equality of law; equality of opportunity in the face of social background; child marriage was abolished, Hangul was to be used in government documents; Korean history was introduced in schools; the Chinese calendar was replaced with the Gregorian calendar; education was expanded and new textbooks written.
In 1895, a pro-Russian official tried to remove the King of Korea to the Russian legation and failed, but a second attempt succeeded. Thus, for a year, the King reigned from the Russian legation in Seoul. The concession to build a Seoul-Inchon railway that had been granted to Japan in 1894 was revoked and granted to Russia. Russian guards guarded the King in his palace even after he left the Russian legation.
China’s defeat precipitated an increase in railway construction in the country, as foreign powers demanded China make railway concessions.
In 1898, Russia signed a 25-year lease on the Liaodong Peninsula and proceeded to set up a naval station at Port Arthur. Although that infuriated the Japanese, they were more concerned with the Russian encroachment in Korea than that in Manchuria. Other powers, such as France, Germany and Britain, took advantage of the situation in China and gained land, port, and trade concessions at the expense of the decaying Qing dynasty. Qingdao was acquired by Germany, Guangzhouwan by France, and Weihaiwei and the New Territories by Britain.
Tensions between Russia and Japan would increase in the years after the First Sino-Japanese War. During the Boxer Rebellion, an eight-member international force was sent to suppress and quell the uprising; Russia sent troops into Manchuria as part of this force. After the suppression of the Boxers, the Russian government agreed to vacate the area. However, by 1903, it had actually increased the size of its forces in Manchuria.
Negotiations between the two nations (1901-1904) to establish mutual recognition of respective spheres of influence (Russia over Manchuria and Japan over Korea) were repeatedly and intentionally stalled by the Russians. They felt that they were strong and confident enough not to accept any compromise and believed Japan would not go to war against a European power. Russia also had intentions to use Manchuria as a springboard for further expansion of its interests in the Far East. In 1903, Russian soldiers began construction of a fort at Yongnampo but stopped after Japanese protests.
In 1902, Japan formed an alliance with Britain, the terms of which stated that if Japan went to war in the Far East and that a third power entered the fight against Japan, then Britain would come to the aid of the Japanese. This was a check to prevent Germany or France from intervening militarily in any future war with Russia. Japan sought to prevent a repetition of the Triple Intervention that deprived it of Port Arthur. The British reasons for joining the alliance were to check the spread of Russian expansion into the Pacific area, to strengthen Britain’s focus on other areas, and to gain a powerful naval ally in the Pacific.
Increasing tensions between Japan and Russia were a result of Russia’s unwillingness to compromise and the prospect of Korea falling under Russia’s domination, therefore coming into conflict with and undermining Japan’s interests. Eventually, Japan was forced to take action. This would be the deciding factor and catalyst that would lead to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.