First Sino-Japanese War

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The First Sino–Japanese War was a war fought between Japan and Qing China between August 1, 1894 and April 1895


Genesis of the War

Korea under the Joseon Dynasty had traditionally been a tributary state of the Qing dynasty. In 1875 Qing had allowed Japan to recognise Korea as an independent state. However, Qing continued to try to assert its influence over Korea and public opinion in Korea split, with conservatives wanting to retain a close relationship with Qing while reformists wanted Korea to modernize and to have a closer relationship with Japan.

Following the assassination of a pro-Japanese reformist in 1894, a Korean religious sect, the Donghak, began the Donghak Peasant Revolution. The Korean government requested help from Qing in suppressing it. The Qing Dynasty informed the Japanese government of its decision to send troops to the Korean peninsula in accordance with of the Sino-Japanese Convention of Tientsin of 1885 in which the two sides agreed to: (a) pull their expeditionary forces out of Korea simultaneously; (b) not send military instructors for the training of the Korean army; and (c) notify the other side beforehand should one decide to send troops to Korea. Implicit in this arrangement to Japanese eyes was that any troops so deployed were to be withdrawn as soon as possible (a logical corollary to clause b).

Early Stage of the War

In early 1894, Yuan Shikai, a plenipotentiary from the Qing entered Korea with a sizable body of troops upon the request of the Emperor of korea to suppress a rebellion. For its part, Japan was ready to pounce upon any suitable opportunity for invasion. When Yuan Shikai retained troops at the request of Korean royalty, the Japanese government sent an expedition about three times the size of the Chinese Army in support of the reformists and subsequently seized the Emperor and the Royal Palace in Seoul by June, 1894. In an effort to increase its influence on the Korean peninsula, the Japanese government established a new Korean government and proposed a project for reform of the Korean governmental system. This was rejected by the Qing, who still regarded Korea as a dependent country. The new Korean government then granted Japanese Army the right to expel Chinese troops.

A Short, Victorious War

War between Japan and Qing was officially declared on August 1, 1894, though some naval fighting had already taken place. The modern Japanese army defeated the Chinese in a series of battles around Seoul and Pyeongyang, forcing them north, and by November 21 the Japanese had taken the fishing village of Lüshun (aka Port Arthur to westerners, now known as Lüshunkou, literally Lüshun Port) at the tip of the Liaodong Peninsula. Following the Chinese capitulation at Port Arthur it was widely reported that the Japanese army massacred thousands of the city's Chinese inhabitants in cold blood, an event that came to be called the Port Arthur massacre. Though excesses certainly occurred, the reports of wanton massacre seem to have been overplayed in the Western press. Most notable among the reports of a massacre were the dispatches of James Creelman of the New York World.

The Japanese navy devastated Qing's Beiyang fleet off the mouth of the Yalu River at the Battle of Yalu on September 17, 1894. The Chinese fleet having lost 8 out of 12 warships, retreated behind the fortifications of the Weihai naval base, and was soon afterwards caught by surprise when the Japanese landed troops they had staged at Port Arthur on the opposite Liaodong Peninsula outflanking the harbor defenses. The unexpected attack shattered the ships in harbour with shelling from the landward side. After Weihaiwei's fall on February 2 and an easing of harsh winter conditions, Japanese troops pressed into Manchuria.

Aftermath of war

Faced with these repeated defeats Qing signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki in April, 1895, agreeing by treaty to stay out of Korea and ceding a large portion of eastern Manchuria, including the Liaodong (literally: Eastern Liaoning) portion of the modern Liaoning province. Additionally, the island of Taiwan (Formosa) was also ceded to the Japanese. The defeat of Qing at the hands of Japan highlighted the failure of the Qing army to modernize adequately and resulted in increased calls within Qing for accelerated modernization and reform. It also drastically accelerated the Imperialist demands laid on the dynasty by western powers, in particular Britain, France, Germany, and Russia. For example, the latter, after the diplomatic slap in the face given to Japan in the Triple Intervention, moved almost immediately to occupy the entire Liaodong Peninsula and, especially to fortify Port Arthur despite vigorous protests from China, Japan, as well as the United States — all three favoring an Open Door Policy in Manchuria.

Historian Frank Theiss relates how the Chinese diplomat "Li Hongzhang pleaded with the Russians to lease the territory at least to save face for the Chinese" about the Liaodong (then Kwantung or Liaotung) de jure negotiations by at least signing a treaty (already in de facto control). He adds: "Russia consented to lease the Kwantung peninsula, but it actually amounted to annexation." France and Germany also took advantage of the weakened Chinese state, and gained port and trade concessions soon after the war's end. The Shandong Province was especially affected, being along the coast opposite Port Arthur. Qingdao was ceded to Germany in 1897, and Weihai, with some territory called Weihaiwei, to Britain in 1898.

The degree to which Western powers were emboldened can be inferred by examining the actions of the powers in the Boxer Rebellion (18971900), where they all but fell over in the rush to blame the Qing government for the rebellion of the resentful Chinese population. The result was further humiliating concessions from the by-then moribund Chinese Empire.

Reasons for the Qing defeat

The Japanese government undertook many political reforms, such as the Meiji constitution, a naval construction program and effective modernization of both its army and navy. Japan had sent hordes of diplomatic and military officials abroad, imported French and German advisors for their army after evaluating the relative strengths of European armies, and did the same for the navy with British and American advisors. Many of her newer ships were built in US shipyards, especially Philadelphia. After the Triple Intervention she did even more of this cultural importation, to the eventual shock and dismay of the Imperial Russian court. Qing followed traditional policies, feeling secure in the strength of superior numbers. Qing was plagued with corruption as well. Corrupt politicians had systematically embezzled funds of the Qing Navy, even during the war. Therefore, the Qing state was neither able to win against the Japanese navy or army. For example, in the middle of the Battle of Yalu, many units of the Qing navy ran out of gunpowder, and were sunk while defenseless, trying to flee.

Chronicle of the War

Genesis of the war

June 1, 1894 : The rebellion army conquered the capital of Korean province Jeollado, moved towards Seoul. The Korean government requested help from Chinese(Qing) government to suppress the rebellion force.

June 6, 1894: Chinese government informed Japanese government under the obligation of Convention of Tientsin of its military operation. 2465 Chinese soldiers were shipped to Korea within several days.

June 8, 1894: Korean Foreign Minister failed to stop Japan from sending troops to Korea. Around 4000 Japanese Army soldiers and 500 Marines landed in Korea between June 8 and June 10.

June 11, 1894: Peace treaty was signed by the rebels and the Korean government. Rebellion army retreated.

June 13, 1894: Japanese government telegraphed Keisuke Ootori (大鳥圭介), Commander of the Japanese Force in Korea, to remain the military presence in Korea for as long as possible.

June 16, 1894: Mutsu Munemitsu (陸奥宗光), Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, met with Wang Fengzao (汪凤藻), Chinese ambassador to Japan, to discuss the future status of Korea. Wang stated that Chinese government intended to pull out from Korea after the rebellion had been suppressed and expected Japanese troops to do so as well.

June 22, 1894: Japan refused to pull out, sending reinforcement instead in protection of Japanese interest in Korea. Munemitsu informed Wang for this decision, which was known as "Japan's first breach in contact with China".

July 03, 1894: Ootori proposed a project for reform of the Korean political system, which was objected by the conservative Korean cabinet.

July 07, 1894: Chinese and Japanese diplomats failed to reach an agreement about pulling out from Korea in a series of meetings arranged by British ambassador to China.

Early stage of the war (on Korean soil)

July 19, 1894: Japanese military headquarters decided on starting a war with China. The Joint Fleet was established, consisting almost all vessels in the Japanese Imperial Navy.

July 23, 1894: Japanese troops entered Seoul and seized the Korean Emperor. A new government was established under Japanese influence. The new Korean government terminated all Sino-Korean treaties and granted Japanese Amy the right to expel Chinese troops.

July 25, 1894 : The first cannon ball in Sino-Japanese War was fired in a naval engagement between Japanese Joint Fleet and Chinese transporters carrying the reinforcement, sunk two vessels in the Chinese fleet including a leased British transporter. Japanese land troops advanced to Chinese army's front in Asan.

Aug. 1, 1894: Japan and China declared war.

Sept. 15, 1894: Battle broke between Japan and China near PyongYang.

Sept. 17, 1894: Battle of Yalu broke out between Japanese Navy and Chinese Navy. It was the main naval engagement in the First Sino-Japanese War.

Sino-Japanese war on Chinese soil

Oct. 24, 1894: Japanese First Army under the command of Aritomo Yamagata (山県有朋) invaded Manchurian (Northeastern part of China).

Nov. 21, 1894: Japanese troops took Lüshunkou (Port Aurther), killed 18,000 people in Lüshunkou city, leaving only 36 alive to dig graves for the dead.

Jan. 1, 1895: Chinese navy was annihilated in the Battle of the Weihaiwei.

Aftermath of the war

April 17, 1895: Treaty of Shimonoseki was signed by Japan and China. China ceded the Liaotung peninsula (the southern portion of Fengtian, modern Liaoning province), the islands of Taiwan (Formosa) and the Pescadores to Japan. China also paid Japan a war indemnity of 200 million Kuping taels.

May 12, 1895: Taiwan declared independence in opposition to the cession to Japan.

May, 28, 1895: Japanese expedition landed on Taiwan. The Republic of Taiwan was terminated. Taiwan and its affiliated islands weren't returned to China until the end of the World War II.

Oct. 8, 1895: Empress Myeongseong of Korea was killed Korean conservatives and Japanese anti-russian influences, who were arrested but later released by the Japanese government (Korean: 명성황후, Japanese: 閔妃, Chinese: 明成皇后).


  • Frank Theiss, The Voyage of Forgotten Men, 1937, Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1st Ed., Indianapolis & New York, 415 pp.
  • F.R. Sedwick, (R.F.A.), The Russo-Japanese War, 1909, The Macmillan Company, NY, 192 pp.
  • Dennis and Peggy Warner, The Tide At Sunrise, 1974, Charterhouse, New York, 659 pp.
  • William Henry Chamberlain, Japan Over Asia, 1937, Little, Brown, and Company, Boston, 395 pp.
  • Colliers (Ed.), The Russo-Japanese War, 1904, P.F. Collier & Son, New York, 129 pp.
  • Military Heritage did a editorial on the Sino-Japanese War of 1894 (Brooke C. Stoddard, Military Heritage, December 2001, Volume 3, No. 3, p.6).

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