SinoJapaneseWar.com  

August 1, 1894 – April 17, 1895

 Jiawu Zhanzheng 甲午戰爭   日清戦争 Nisshin senso

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Japanese Minister of War

Yamagata Aritomo (1838 - 1922 )

 

            

Japanese Emperor Meiji  (1852 - 1912 )

 

 

Japanese Prime Minister

Itō Hirobumi (1841 - 1909 )

 

Few people outside of Japan realized the extraordinary military progress that Japan had made . The Japanese had no doubts about this and the weakness of China. While professing to seek peace with China over Korea to bring reform and modernization for Korea, the Japanese minister in Seoul,  had instructions that he was to use any pretext to begin a war .

 

After the Meiji restoration of 1868, a parliament was established, but it nor the emperor wielded real power, that was done by the Genro (  元老 ) imperial advisors, an oligarchy of  seven elder statesmen, who collectively  made the most important decisions. Itō Hirobumi  and  Yamagata Aritomo ( 1838 - 1922 ), were the most prominent of the seven. Yamagata Aritomo, who became field marshal and was war minister during the Sino-Japanese War, was heavily influenced by the success of Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War and is considered the father of Japanese militarism . Another member of the Genro, Itō Hirobumi  was Prime Minister during the war. With Yamagata's instigation and encouragement of ultra-nationalistic secret societies such as the Genyosha ( 玄洋社 Black Ocean Society ), Japan pressed for war .There was also strong public feeling in Japan for action in Korea. It is not clear if Emperor Meiji supported the war .

 

       

The Guangxu Emperor ( 1871 - 1908 )

r.1875-1908

 

        

Empress Dowager Cixi  (1838-1908)

 

 

    Li Hongzhang  ( 1823 - 1901 )

 

The defacto ruler of China after the death of the Xianfeng Emperor in 1861 was Empress Dowager Cixi . Cixi was extremely conservative and refused reform of the political system. Efforts were made through the Self-Strengthening Movement of 1861-1895 to improve the China's military and economic position, but the country was racked by massive internal rebellions such as the Taiping, Nian and Muslim rebellions.

 

Corrupt officials filled some shells with sand instead of gunpowder

from The Sino-Japanese War 1962

 

Corruption, incompetent officials and tariff restrictions among other problems kept China from modernizing as fast as Meiji Japan did. The Chinese plan if war broke out was to call for a levy of 20,000 men from each Chinese province, send an army to march overland to Seoul and reenforce the troops  already  stationed near Seoul by sea  and drive the Japanese out of Korea .

 

Most Europeans expected China to defeat Japan, since the Chinese navy looked stronger on paper cartoon from Punch 1894 .

 

.The Sino-Japanese War would come to symbolize the degeneration and enfeeblement of the Qing Dynasty and demonstrate how successful modernization had been in Japan since the Meiji Restoration as compared with the Self-Strengthening Movement in China. The principal results were a shift in regional dominance in Asia from China to Japan and a fatal blow to the Qing Dynasty and the Chinese classical tradition. These trends would result later in the 1911 Revolution .

 

The Korean Situation

 

Seoul 1890s

 

Korea had been a tributary state of  the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasty China .China and Japan had last clashed in Korea during the Imjin War (1592-98), when Ming and Korean forces drove out the Japanese . The Koreans modeled their institutions on the Chinese Confucian model and were heavily influenced by Chinese culture . Since 1637, Korea had cut-off contact with most of the world with the exception of China. After the opening of Japan and the modernization of the Meiji Restoration of 1868 , China began to advise Korea to establish relations  the West to counter the growing strength of Japan . Japan pressed Korea to open up and was rebuffed. By the 1880s, court power struggles were no longer a domestic issue and took on international aspects .

 

A factory in Meiji-era Japan. Japan was able to modernize much faster than China

 

As a newly emergent country, Japan turned its attention towards Korea. It was vital for Japan, in order to protect its own interests and security, to either annex Korea before it fell prey (or was annexed) to another power or to insure its effective independence by opening its resources and reforming its administration. As one Japanese statesman put it, Korea was "an arrow pointed at the heart of Japan". Japan felt that another power having a military presence on the Korean peninsula would have been detrimental to Japanese national security, and so Japan resolved to end the centuries-old Chinese suzerainty over Korea. Moreover, Japan realized that Korea’s coal and iron ore deposits would benefit Japan's increasingly-expanding industrial base.

 

In 1875, a Japanese surveying ship, accompanied by gunboats, where fired upon by forts in Kanghwa ( Ganghwa ) Bay, known as the Ganghwa Island incident. The Japanese returned fire and destroyed the Korean forts and used it as an excuse to force Korea to open up. The Chinese, eager to avoid a clash with Japan, instructed Korea to enter into negotiations. In 1876 the Japanese-Korean Treaty of Kanghwa was signed which recognized Korea as an independent country and the opening of three ports . China did not protest its loss of suzerainty . However, in 1882 , Korea issued a statement declaring her position as a dependency of China .

 

King Kojong ( 1852 - 1919 ) and his son, Sunjong

( 1874 - 1926 ) in 1890

 

Queen Min

 

In 1874, King Kojong began his rule and his wife, Queen Min, gained increasing power, which she used to support reform and use Japanese officers to train a new Korean  army . In 1882 a Japanese military instructor arrived to train Korean soldiers in modern methods .The Korean Daewongun (Prince of the Court) Prince Gung, who rejected modernization, used the discontent of the dismissed soldiers and a food shortage to incite them to attack the palace and the Japanese legation in 1882 . Queen Min barely escaped and seven Japanese officers were killed along with 300 pro-reform Koreans . The Chinese sent Admiral Ding Ruchang with six gunboats and two transports of troops to investigate the situation who took steps to avoid Japanese punitive action by having the Daewongun arrested and an indemnity of $550,000 to be paid to Japan. Japan was allowed to station troops at its legation . Queen Min returned, who was now strongly opposed to the Japanese .

 

 

 

Kim Ok-kyun and the Kapshin coup

 

 

Gim Ok-gyun or Kim Ok-kyun

( 1851 - 1894 )

 

After the insurrection of 1882, Li Hungzhang took steps to strengthen China's position in Korea with a commercial treaty, loans and six Chinese battalions to maintain order and check Japanese aggression . Tension mounted between pro-Chinese and pro-Japanese forces. In 1884, China was involved in a war with France and withdrew three battalions. the pro-Japanese faction took this opportunity to launch a coup, known as the Kapshin coup ( 갑신정변) and captured the king.

One of the major Korean leaders of the coup was Kim Ok-kyun Gim Ok-gyun (김옥균 ), a Choson official who sought to reform and modernize Korea . During his national civil service, Kim found many others who agreed with him, and they formed the Dongnidang, or "Independence Party." He became involved in the Shirhak (Practical Learning) movement which advocated government reform, industrialization, and other reforms to improve Korea.

 

In the early 1880s he went to Japan to report to Kong Kojong on the rapid moderization of Japan and if it had plans to invade Korea . Kim discovered that the Japanese did not feel strong enough go to war with Qing China, but that it would in the future . Kim wanted Korea to implement Western learning so it could become independent and would not be taken over by Japan, which he foresaw . He agreed to support the Japanese planned coup and  planned with his reformist group,the  Gaehwapa faction, to assassinate conservative political leaders during the choas of the coup. After the coup, a pro-Japanese government was sworn in,dominated by the Gaehwapa faction, independence from China was proclaimed and a new Japanese fiance minister was appointed . This is known as the Gapsin coup, Dec 4, 1894 .

 

The Gapsin coup

 

The Japanese had been too heavy handed however, and many reformers and pro-Japanese switched to the conservative, pro-Chinese faction . A force of 5,000 Korean and Chinese soldiers under pro-consul Yuan Shikai  ( 1859 - 1916 ) fell on the palace The Chinese broke through the palace gates, and the Japanese detonated a mine which killed 90 Chinese soldiers . However, there were too many against the Japanese and pro-Japanese forces, and a company of 140 Japanese soldiers and the Japanese minister fought their way to Chemulpo ( Inchon). With the conservatives victorious, the remaining pro-Japanese and progressives were rounded up and executed , along with their families .Kim Ok-kyun also fled to Japan and later to Shanghai. There he was assinated by a  assassin , possible sent by Yuan Shikai on March 28, 1894 .The Japanese government took this as a direct affront.

 

An envoy, Ito Hirobumi, was sent to confer with Li Hungzhang, where they reached the Sino-Japanese Tientsin Convention on April 18, 1885. Ito felt that Japan was not yet modernized enough for a war with China .This stipulated that both China and Japan would withdraw their troops from Korea in four months, neither side would train Korean troops and that each would notify the other before dispatching troops to Korea .This in effect made Korea a co-protectorate of China and Japan . Yuan Shikai, as Chinese pro-consul was very powerful in Korea at this time.and basically ran the Korean government. He dismissed all pro-Japanese advisors, prohibited inland trade with Russia and the sale of rice to Japan, which had in part caused the food shortage before . This greatly angered the Japanese, who granted asylum to progressives who were wanted by the Korean government .There was great anger in the Korean countryside over the abuses of the Yangban ruling class over high taxes, buying land cheap or stealing it, forcing farmers into debt bondage and xenophobia against foreign intrusion in Korea. The Japanese secret society, began to secretly aid a group fighting these injustices, the Tonghaks, hoping Japan could profit from an unstable situation in Korea .

 

The Tonghak Rebellion

 

        

    Tonghak founder Ch'oe Che-u or

Choe Je-u

 

In the 1860s, an indigenous religion, Tonghak (동학, 東學,Eastern Learning, for more details on the Tonghaks )   which combined  such aspects as the meditation of Buddhism, ethics of Confucianism, primal nature of Shamanism, Taoism cultivation of energy and the personal God of Catholicism to oppose 'Western Learning' (Catholicism)  arose from the indignation of the lower classes of  yangban (ruling aristocratic class) oppression and foreign influence in Korea, especially Christian missionaries and Japanese imports .

It was not only a religious movement but a social movement as well and concerned with the peasantry and the improvement of their conditions and reform of the corrupt government. The idea of the dignity and equality of all men was to influence future democratic movements.

 

Increased taxes that forced many Korean farmers to sell their land, forced laborand other abuses caused many farmers to throw their lot in with the Tonghaks .

 

 

 Donghak Peasant Revolution

 

The Korean government banned the movement and had its founder Ch'oe Che-u, executed by decapitation in 1864  and the movement was forced to go underground .The Tonghaks, were aided by the Japanese Genyosha secret society, to organize a mass movement with large protests and stage a rebellion . A Korean army sent to attack the Tonghaks was defeated at Gobu in southwest Korea on January 11, 1894 and the Korean court, fearing a Tonghak invasion of Seoul, asked for Chinese aid .

 

Chinese troops in Korea

 

 The initial success of the revolt led a panic court to seek help from  China . In early June a Chinese force of 2,800 was dispatched from Chefoo ( Yingtan) to Asan under general Yuan Shikai, a port outside of Seoul, where they camped Yuan Shikai gave  promises of pardon to the rebels who submitted, and dreadful threats to those who resisted, Korea was mentioned as a tributary state of China, was loudly commented on in the Japanese press, and aroused great indignation. The arrival of the Chinese forces caused the Tonghaks to call off their attack on Seoul after the Korean government arranged a truce . The Tonghak leader, Chon Pong-chun regarded this as an opportunity to archive his objectives without further recourse to warfare. In consequence hostilities came to an end, on condition that an end also be put to government misrule.  The Japanese considered this action to be a violation of the Convention, and sent their own expeditionary force of 8,000 troops to Korea. to its legation in Seoul ad the surrounding area .

 

 Landing of Japanese troops on June 12, 1894

 

The Japanese force subsequently seized the emperor, occupied the Royal Palace in Seoul on June, 8 1894, and replaced the existing government with the members from the pro-Japanese faction. The Japanese Government considered the Tonghak movement not an accidental occurrence, but the inevitable consequence of the persisting misgovernment of the country, and argued that the rebellion could not be suppressed, nor its recurrence prevented, unless radical reforms were carried out in Korea. Japan proposed that reforms should be instituted, and asked China to assist her in enforcing them. China refused to join in such measures, not deeming them necessary, and not wishing to interfere in the internal affairs of the peninsula. Topknots were banned, and Japanese soldiers with scissors manned the city gates, cutting topknots off .The King was forced to declare Korea's independence from China at the Altar of the Spirits of the Land (사직단).The Japanese demanded concessions which gave them a monopoly on industry and trade.

 

Tonghak leader Chon Pong-chun or Jeon Bong-jun 

            1854 - 1894 , who was betrayed and arrested in 1894 and later executed

 

In October, the Tonghak again took up their arms and began to move northward, with the avowed intent of expelling the pro-Japanese government. But they were defeated in fighting at Kongju against government troops reinforced by a Japanese army contingent, and they met defeat again at T'aein, at the decisive Battle of Ugeumchi . The Japanese had cannons and other modern weapons, whereas the Korean peasants were armed only with bow and arrows, spears, swords, and some flintlock muskets. The rebels were again defeated in the Battle of Taein. Hostility continued deep into the spring of 1895. The rebel leaders were captured in various locations in the Honam Region, and most were executed by a mass hanging in March.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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