August 1, 1894 – April 17, 1895

 Jiawu Zhanzheng 甲午戰爭   日清戦争 Nisshin senso






  Comparison of the Japanese and Chinese Forces


Japanese forces fought with the latest European weapons and uniforms. The Chinese wore traditional uniforms and used dated weapons. Li Hongzhang thought the Japanese went too far in copying western clothing . The war brought a boom of wood block print making to Japan.

Woodblock print of the Battle of Pyongyang by Mizuno Toshikata above .

 Click image for larger view .

The Japanese Army


After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the Emperor of Japan, who had decided to " Europeanize" his country and his court, saw first the immediate necessity of organizing the army. Young men were sent to study in the military schools of France and England. At this time, the French Empire seemed to be leading Europe, and had covered itself with glory in Algeria, Italy and the Crimea. The Japanese did not hesitate in copying the French army as much and as well as they could. French instructors were called to Japan . After the Franco-Prussian War, the influence of France in the Japanese army yielded to Germany. Prussian officers were called to Japan, and the French "kepi" was replaced by the German flat and round military cap.


The Emperor's uniform was that of a commander of artillery in France, the red band on the trousers being replaced by a gold one, and a similar uniform was worn by the male members of the Imperial family.

In 1874 conscription was made the law in Japan, and every male inhabitant in the country was subject to military service from seventeen to forty years of age. The standing army reserves are required to serve sixty days each year, but the territorial army was called out only in case of war or grave emergency. The standing army was comprised of about 50,000 soldiers. In a few days the number could easily be raised to 210,000, comprising only men who have served for the most part, three years. The cavalry was armed with sabers and Murata carbines, only the cavalry of the Imperial Guard having lances. The artillery had 7-centimetre pieces of compressed bronze of the Italian make, made at Osaka, where a cannon-foundry was established and directed by Italian officers specially engaged for the purpose.


 The Japanese armed forces were much better supplied,  trained and disciplined than the Chinese force . In China, military service was looked down upon at the time . " Good iron is not beaten into nails " was a famous saying regarding the quality of men in the ranks . Chinese troops sometimes went on rampages of looting and rape in Korea . When Chinese troops from 4 major warships went on shore leave in Nagasaki in on Aug 1, 1886, the Chinese soldiers went on a drunken rampage, resulting in around 80 deaths on both sides . This Nagasaki incident inflamed the Japanese against China . This event also produced one good consequence for Japan . The cracking of the Qing intelligence code. A Japanese man named found a Beiyang Navy sailor's dictionary which was marked with 0-9 between the Chinese characters . The Japanese intelligence department  analysed these characters and figures and determined it was a guide to the Qing military codes, which Japan was able to break .


The overall plan for the Japan military was first, as good students of Captain Mahan, was to secure the sea lanes . Next Korea would be invaded and the Chinese expelled . The the Qing naval base at Weihai would be attacked . With Weihai taken a march on Beijing would ensue . It was hoped this would end the war as it had in the Opium Wars .


The Chinese troops were hardly better armed than they had been during the Taiping Rebellion ( 1850 - 64 )  Matchlocks were still being used . It was estimated that barely 3/5 of the Chinese armies were armed with rifles .


Japanese Calvary


The infantry was armed with an eight mm repeating rifle, designed from European models by a Japanese colonel, and is considered superior to those of Germany and France,  the Murata magazine rifle manufactured in Japan. The magazine, when fully loaded, contains eight cartridges ; it has a ninth one in the breech and a tenth in the chamber, and it can be used as a non-repeater. The powder used is smokeless and produces very little noise. The bullet is of hardened lead, covered with copper. The artillery was equipped with field quick firing guns.


The Japanese Navy


Battle of Haiyang , Mizuno Toshikata

While the Japanese navy lacked battleships, its cruisers were faster and better armed and the crews highly skilled in gunnery.  The Japanese had three major naval bases: Sasebo, Kure and Yokosuka . Each of these bases had its own squadron .


 Itoh Sukeyuki Commander-in-chief of the Japanese Navy during the War


Protected Cruisers


  flagship  Matsushima















Ironclad Warship




Armored Corvettes






converted merchant cruiser Saikyo


Torpedo Boats


Japan had 22 torpedo boats


The Japanese navy was copied from that of England, and nearly all the cruisers and torpedo boats not built in Japan have been ordered in France. The dockyard at Yokosuka and the arsenal at Koishikawa were thoroughly equipped, and first-rate torpedo boats and the most elaborate ordnance were turned out there . The Japanese had nine protected cruisers and twenty-two torpedo boats.


By the end of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1867, the Tokugawa navy was already the largest of Eastern Asia only 10 years after the bombardment of Kagoshima. In 1869, the Imperial Navy was formally established . British naval officers began to teach at the newly established Japanese Naval college .The Meiji government took possession of all the fleets of the feudal lords after 1868 to start the imperial navy . Japan built its first warship 10 years after opening up in 1863. Modern naval arsenals were created at Yokosuka and Nagasaki. The Japanese bought their first foreign warship, the  Confederate ironclad C.S.S. Stonewall in 1869 .The Meiji government issued its First Naval Expansion bill in 1882, requiring the construction of 48 warships, of which 22 were to be torpedo boats.


The naval successes of the French Navy against China in the Sino-French War of 1883-85 seemed to validate the potential of torpedo boats, where a French torpedo boat the sank Chinese corvette Yangwu  was successfully attacked with a spar torpedo by Torpedo Boat . France followed the Jeune cole ("Young School") naval school of thought to counter the stronger British Navy with small, fast warships, especially cruisers and torpedo boats, against battleships. Japan also followed this philosophy, since it did not have battleships as the Chinese already possessed .


Another strong influence on the emerging Japanese Navy were the battle tactics of the American Captain Alfred T Mahan  ( 1840 - 1914 ) on the importance of controlling seaborne commerce during war and destroying the enemy's main force in a single, decisive battle.


The Matsushima, Itsukushima, and Hashidate were armed with 12 inch Canet with could fire about 7.5 miles


The Itsukusima and Matsusima, of French build, were of 4277 tons. The Chyoda steams over nineteen knots, the Naniwa (English built, of 3650 tons) has about the same speed, while the Yoshino has made over twenty-three knots, and is considered the fastest vessel of her class in the world at the time, the United States cruisers excepted.



Both navies had Nordenfelt multiple barrel machine guns


 Torpedo being fired through a torpedo

tube of a torpedo  boat  


The Chinese Forces


The Chinese Army



Chinese soldier fighting with a niuwei sword



Makeup of the Qing Army


The Eight Banners


Manchu Bannermen


The numerical strength of the Eight Banners was estimated at about 250,000 men. nearly two-thirds are either in Peking or the metropolitan province of Chihli ( Hebei) , the rest are in garrisons in the principal cities of the empire . This distribution is in accordance with the ancient policy of the Dynasty, who at first treated China as a conquered country, and had to establish garrisons to check any incipient rebellion, and to keep the bulk of their army near Peking, ready to march in any direction on every emergency.  


The Green Army and the Manchu Banner Armies


 The Eight Banner Armies were based on original Manchu armies that conquered the Ming in 1644 . The Manchus are descended from the Jurchen people who earlier established the Jin dynasty (1115–1234) . The Manchus were considered barbarians, like the Mongols, by the Ming  Han Chinese . The Mongols and Manchus share similar languages and written scripts . The Banner armies were made up of Manchu, Han and Moslem banners . The Manchus separated themselves from other ethnic groups to keep the Manchu bloodlines pure . Most Han Chinese considered the Qing Manchus to be an occupying force, and Han secret societies were set up such as the Triads or Tiandihui 天地會 to overthrow the Qing and bring back the Ming, or a Han dominated dynasty . The Manchus ruled China for 267 years .


The Green Army is composed entirely of  Han Chinese, and is but a modification of the ancient army which the Manchus found in existence when they conquered China. It numbers about 500,000 or 600,000 in garrisons which have a variety of duties, most of which are performed by the police in Europe . In fact, both the Eight Banners and the Green Standard are rather of the nature of a constabulary than an army ; they are only useful for maintaining the peace and suppressing small riots.  There was no national army as in Japan per se . After the end of the Taiping Rebellions and the Nian War, a new kind of Green Army military force emerged in China, the regional armies, such as the Anhui Army, formed by Li Hungzhang, and the Hunan Army formed by Zeng Guofan. The Manchu bannermen  were a hereditary position . Meritocracy only when the empire was in dire straights, such as the beginning of the Taiping Rebellion in south China, where the Manchu led armies suffered defeat after defeat and the Han Chinese Zeng Guofan was allowed to try western innovations .The men in these armies developed close personal ties, unlike the officers in the Manchu Banner armies where re-stationed frequently to keep them from developing a power base .

The Braves


This class is formed of Chinese of different provinces ; men of the same province are kept together, and they are transferred from province to province when there is occasion for their services. Their number is naturally very uncertain, because being formed of volunteers enlisted on emergencies, their strength fluctuates with the internal conditions of the country ; a certain force, however, is always supposed to be kept on hand.


 Every war or rebellion affecting the Chinese Empire awakened the Government to the inefficiency of its military organisation, and some reform has been attempted ; but such laudable efforts have been smothered by the inertia of the nation and by bureaucratic corruption and conservatism. The Taiping rebellion led to the formation of the Braves ; the war with France and England encouraged a slight adoption of European drill .



Chinese officer


The soldiers dressed in traditional Chinese uniforms, carried an assortment of weapons . Many carried old Austrian muskets, Martinis ,Mausers and Enfields rifles but often with incorrect ammunition. Others were armed with ancient weapons, mainly bows and arrows and long spears The morale of the Chinese armies was generally very low due to lack of pay and prestige, use of opium, and poor leadership .

The Chinese Navy

Admiral Ding Ruchang (Ting Ju-ch'ang) of the Beiyang Fleet . Ding fought with Li Hongzhang as a calvary officer in the Taiping Rebellion . He volunteered to command the Beiyang Fleet in 1875. He commited suicide by a opium overdose after the defeat at Weihai.


Admiral Ding

from The Sino-Japanese War 1962


The Beiyang fleet



Ironclad Battleships


Zhen yuan

(Yalu, war prize renamed Chin'en  scrapped 1914)   


 Flagship Ding Yuan (Yalu, scuttled at Wei Hai)


Blueprint of the Ding Yuan . Click for larger image .


   model of the Ding Yuan


                                           The Ding Yuan sails again


 The battleships Zhen Yuan Chen Yuan) and Ding Yuan ( Ting Yuen ) were the pride of the Beiyang Fleet. Both were produced in Germany and were of the latest design .They were each armed with 4 12 inch Krupp guns that could hurl a shell almost 5 miles , had 14 inch armor and a speed of 15 knots .


models of the ships of the Beiyang Fleet

Armoured Cruisers



King Yuan (sunk 1894 Yalu)


                                     Lai Yuan ( Yalu, scuttled at Wei Hai)


Protected Cruisers


Ching Yuan (fought at Yalu, sunk at Wei Hai )


                                            Chih Yuan  (sunk Yalu)


 In 2013, a shipwreck was discovered near Dandong Port and subsequently code-named "Dandong No 1". After an almost two-year-long investigation, it was officially confirmed as the wreck of Zhiyuan. Chinese archaeologists on Sunday salvaged one of the side scuttles from a shipwreck discovered last year near Dandong Port. The ship has been confirmed as the cruiser Zhiyuan, one of the warships sunk by the Japanese navy 121 years ago.




     Tsai Yuen (Jiyuan)

 (Pungdo, Yalu, war prize renamed Saien junyokan sank 1904 in Russo Japanese War) salvaged and parts of it are on display at the museum on Ligong island, Wei Hai  .                        



 Chao Yang (sunk 1894 Yalu)


Yang Wei (sunk Yalu)



Kwan Chia run aground and blown up at battle of the Yalu




Ping Yuan

 (Yalu, war prize renamed Heien sunk 1904)


Kwang yi (scuttled Pungdo)


13 torpedo boats

 Chinese Torpedo boat


 By the 1870s, the Chinese recognized they needed a modern fleet, especially after the disaster of the Opium War . The two major Chinese shipyards at Shanghai and Fuzhou could not produce modern, western ships and would have to be purchased abroad . In 1875, four gunboats from England were ordered . Li Hongzhang did not regard one naval command as feasible and four distinct fleets developed: the Beiyang Fleet to defend northern China and Korea, the Fujian Fleet, the Guangdong Fleet and the Nanyang Fleet in Shanghai .All the fleets became involved in ship buying without overall coordination and the arms and training of the sailors depended on the fleet they were in .


Qing crew with foreign instructor


After Japan annexation of the Ryukyu Islands in 1879 and Russian naval threats during the Ili crisis, Li Hongzhang obtained approval to order two ironclad battleships from Germany in 1881. Li also planned for a large dockyard at Port Arthur and Weihai and many costal forts . By 1882, China had about 50 steam warships, about half of them Chinese built, mostly in the Fuzhou Naval Yards . In 1877 a group of 30 Chinese students went to Europe for naval training and gained important positions in the Chinese fleets upon their return  . In 1876 an electric torpedo works were added to the Tientsin Arsenal . In 1881 Li Hongzhang founded a naval academy at Tientsin . Only the northern Beiyang Fleet fought the Japanese. It had been created in 1871 by Li Hongzhang and stationed on the island of Liugong Island, with a telegraph station and a naval academy in the harbor of Weihai, Shandong .



French squadron attacks the Chinese at Fuzhou in Aug, 1884


The first real test for the New Chinese Navy was the Sino-French War of 1884-5 for control of northern Vietnam .The new Chinese Navy lost nine ships in the Battle of Fuzhou in 1884 .The French squadron was much better armed than the Chinese and attacked  . Despite direct orders from the Empress Dowager Cixi, the commanders of China's other three regional fleets declined to send ships to reinforce the Fujian Fleet. This would come back to haunt the Beiyang fleet in the Sino Japanese War .


Chinese sailors uniform, Beiyang Fleet is written on the right

from The Sino-Japanese War 1962


The Beiyang Fleet was one of the four modernized Chinese navies in the late Qing Dynasty. The navies were heavily sponsored by Li Hongzhang, the Viceroy of Chili (Hebei). The Beiyang Fleet was the dominant navy in East Asia before the first Sino-Japanese War. The Beiyang Fleet consisted mostly of battleships imported from Germany and Britain. When the flagships Dingyuan and Zhenyuan were purchased from Germany,The Beiyang Fleet was said to be the "Best in Asia" and "The 8th largest in the world at the time . The pride of the Beiyang Fleet were the German-built steel battleships Dingyuan and Zhenyuan. The other Chinese fleets, the Nanyang in Shanghai and Fujian fleet did not help the Beiyang fleet in the war, remembering how the Beiyang fleet recalled two ships during the Sino-French War and out of rivalry .


Corruption was a serious problem. Chinese politicians systematically embezzled funds, even during the war. As a result, the Beiyang Fleet did not purchase any battleships after its establishment in 1888. The purchase of ammunition stopped in 1891, with the funding being embezzled to build the summer palace in Beijing. Logistics were a huge problem, as construction of railroads in Manchuria had been discouraged.


Between 1881 and 1889 the Beiyang Fleet acquired a squadron of eight protected or armored cruisers, most of which were built in either Britain or Germany . However ships were not maintained properly and indiscipline was common. When the Beiyang Fleet visited Yokohama in 1891, Togo Heihachiro was shocked to see trash on the decks and washing hanging from the guns. He liked the Chinese fleet to having the appearance of a fine sword but being no sharper than a kitchen knife .


 Causes of the Sino Japanese War &

The Tonghak Rebellion


Battle of Pung-do

sinking of the Kowshing

July 24, 1894