War Between China And Japan
Author: MacGowan, J.

By J. MacGowan

1894



It might almost be said of the situation in the Far East that the main
question is whether Korea should be the Ireland of China or the Ireland of
Japan, and this virtually was what led to the war in 1894 between those two
Powers. The Japanese had adopted and familiarized themselves with the
military equipment and processes of Europe so much more rapidly than the
Chinese that they found it a comparatively easy task to obtain that for which
they contended. In reading the account of the capture of Port Arthur that
year from the Chinese, the reader will be struck by the contrast between that
struggle and the one that occurred ten years later, when, with terrible
losses, the Japanese at last wrested it from the Russians. Their persistent
valor and willing sacrifice in the later struggle was largely inspired or
augmented by their feeling of resentment at the fact that the great Powers had
not permitted them to retain that important place when they took it from the
Chinese. It seems to us of the Western world as if those two nations should
be as much alike in their habits of life and modes of thought as England and
the United States. But there is a long-standing enmity that reaches to the
humblest inhabitants and is cherished from father to son. The Chinese pride
themselves upon their greater antiquity and more extensive literature, as well
as their larger territory, and look upon the Japanese as a race of dwarfs;
while the Japanese in turn pride themselves upon their personal valor and
military skill, and never allow themselves to forget that the Chinese are, in
those respects at least, inferior to them. Peoples whom we have been
accustomed to consider more enlightened and more moral than either have been
known to cherish equally unwise jealousies and resentments, which have
disappeared only with the fearful lessons of war. While we wonder and sorrow
at what has been going on in Eastern Asia for a dozen years, it is not for us
to condemn too harshly.

Text

The year 1894 proved a most unhappy one in the history of China, bringing
not only disaster and disgrace to the Chinese arms, but grave peril to the
dynasty that ruled it. In the spring of this year a rebellion broke out in
Korea against the Government, caused by the utter corruption of the officials,
who fleeced and misruled the people to an extent hardly paralleled in any
other country in the world. These had reduced their system to an art, by
which they levied blackmail upon every industry in which the people engaged.
Through it commerce was restricted, because a part of the gains of almost
every sale was demanded by these men, who had spies everywhere. Farmers could
not look forward to a plenteous harvest with any pleasure, for they knew that
any excess that they gathered beyond what was required for the wants of the
family would be appropriated by the officials. The consequence was that the
aim of everyone was to produce simply enough for the immediate wants of his
home, so that it might not be invaded by these spoilers in search of plunder.
The evil was felt particularly in the provinces of Chulla and Chung-chong,
where the farmers were so systematically robbed of the fruits of their labors
that hope seemed to have fled from their hearts.

The results of this iniquitous system were widespread poverty and
discontent. The people seeing no hope of any redress from their rulers, or
from the Chinese, who from their conservative instincts would certainly take
the side of the Government in any appeal to them, founded a secret society
called the Tong-hak, or National Party, whose aim was the redress of these
crushing grievances and the adoption of reforms that were imperatively needed
throughout the country. After long consultation among its leaders, it was
decided, in the spring of this year, that the time had arrived when the
society should take arms and demand from their rulers a mitigation of the
oppressive laws that were rendering life intolerable to the working-classes.
Thirty thousand men were soon in arms, and so successful were they that they
defeated the royal troops, and capturing the chief city of Chung-chong, they
prepared to march on Seoul, the capital, to demand, with arms in their hands,
the necessary reforms.

In this extremity the King of Korea applied to China for troops to help
him in the struggle with his rebellious subjects, and fifteen hundred men, in
reply to this appeal, were despatched to the south of Korea to a district on
the west coast, lying about a hundred miles from Chemulpo. ^1

[Footnote 1: Chemulpo is the port of Seoul, and distant from it about
twenty-five miles.]

With their arrival the rebellion collapsed, and the Chinese troops
returned to their own country, with the exception of five hundred that marched
to Seoul to act as a guard to the King in case any further disturbance should
arise. This action of the Chinese Government evidently had not been well
considered, nor had the complications likely to arise out of it been
sufficiently anticipated. According to the treaty of May, 1885, it was agreed
between China and Japan that the soldiers of both countries should be
withdrawn from Korea, and that neither government should send its troops there
in any circumstances without giving the other due notice of its intentions.
The Chinese did indeed notify Japan on June 4th of its purpose, but the latter
Power declared that the communication was not made as promptly as it might
have been, and that therefore the spirit of the treaty had not been observed
by China. Consequently it declared that, as Chinese troops were now encamped
in Seoul, it was necessary that Japanese soldiers also should be allowed to be
marched there in order to protect the subjects of Japan in this crisis that
had been created by the action of China. This being conceded, to the
consternation of China, Japan despatched five thousand men under the command
of General Oshima, fifteen hundred of whom marched into the capital, while the
rest encamped at Chemulpo. That this force meant war was evident from the
fact that two hundred fifty horses accompanied it, a considerable number of
cannon, and all the necessary provisions and equipments for a three-months'
campaign. When the Japanese were asked the reason why this large force was
assembled, they declared that it was simply for the protection of their people
- an answer that deceived no one, for any danger that might have threatened
them had passed away with the collapse of the rebellion.

The reasons that Japan decided at this time to try issues with the
Chinese and determine forever whether they had the right to be dictators in
Korean matters or not, concisely stated, were four: (1) The sense of injustice
that had rankled in the minds of the whole nation since 1884. In that year, a
riot having taken place in Seoul, the King applied to the Japanese Legation
for troops to help him. The request was granted, when the Chinese soldiers
marched on the palace, and a bloody encounter ensued, in which the Japanese
were defeated. The Chinese, with their haughty contempt of the latter,
treated them most barbarously, looted their legation and plundered the
property of the Japanese subjects in the capital. When the people of Japan
heard of this they were incensed beyond measure and cried loudly for war. The
Mikado, however, decided for peace, a policy that led to the "Satsuma
Rebellion." The nation had never forgotten the matter, and vengeance for the
wrongs that had been inflicted was the supreme desire of every loyal man in
the country. (2) The assassination of Kim Ok-kuin, a Korean statesman, who
had been involved in the disturbance of 1884, and who had been compelled to
fly from this country. This gentleman had resided, during the ten years of his
exile, in Japan, and therefore was a well-known personage. He was decoyed to
Shanghai (1894), where he was murdered by Korean emissaries, and as the
Chinese authorities took no steps to punish them it was believed by Japan that
this crime was committed with their sanction. The popular feeling in Japan
was intensely excited when the news reached there, and vows were made that the
murder should speedily be avenged. (3) The Japanese felt that they had been
the means of opening Korea, and therefore had some right in the control of
national matters. To stand aside and let China have full sway would be to
undo the work she had already accomplished and hand over the Koreans to
despotism and misrule. There were at this time two parties in Korea - the
Conservatives and the Progressists. The larger portion of the people belonged
to the former and were out-and-out opposed to Western ideas and reforms. (4)
A very important reason for the action of the Japanese at this time was the
political condition of their own country. The rapid transition of the latter
from despotic to constitutional rule had excited the minds of the military
classes against the Government, and these were waiting for a fitting
opportunity to rise in rebellion against it. The Crown saw its way out of a
very serious crisis by transferring all this restless military energy from
Japan to Korea, where it could expend itself upon China.

The result of this action of Japan was to precipitate hostilities. Troops
from both countries were hurried into Korea, and though war was not formally
declared, it was manifest that in the minds of the Japanese, at least, a state
of war existed. Their conduct in the case of the English steamer Kow-shing
showed this plainly. This vessel had been chartered by Li Hung Chang to
convey eleven hundred troops to Korea. On July 25th, as she was nearing her
destination, she was met by the Japanese man-of-war Naniwa and ordered to
stop. A Japanese officer went on board and told the captain that he must
consider himself and all on board as prisoners of war. The Chinese general
and soldiers threatened the captain and officers with instant death if they
attempted to obey the Japanese, and their loaded guns and menacing words
showed their determination to carry out their murderous threat. After a time
the Naniwa signalled the English to leave the ship, an order that could not be
obeyed, and after a short delay a torpedo was fired at her and a broadside of
five guns, which sent her to the bottom, only two hundred of the soldiers
being saved and two or three of the English crew. Four days after this the
Chinese and Japanese troops met in hostile array near Yashan, and after three
days of severe skirmishing the Chinese were compelled to retreat.

The aspect of affairs now became still more serious, for, both sides
being confident of success, anything like an accommodation of their
differences by consultation was entirely out of the question. Accordingly, on
August 1st war was formally declared between China and Japan, the former Power
exasperating the latter by calling its people "the dwarfs" in the royal
proclamation, a term that more than anything else aroused the determination of
the Japanese not to stop the war until they had avenged themselves on their
haughty and contemptuous enemy.

The first great battle of the war was fought at Ping-yang on September
15th, when the Chinese were defeated with the loss of more than six thousand
men, large quantities of arms, and a great supply of provisions. The remnant
of the Chinese army was so demoralized that it fled in isolated bands to the
north, spreading terror and desolation wherever they went. The Chinese
soldiers, when on the march and under the control of their officers, are
usually a curse to the region through which they pass, but much more so when
disorganized and without any commissariat and under no military discipline.

Two days after this decisive victory a naval battle was fought off the
mouth of the Yalu River. The Chinese fleet consisted of eleven men-of-war and
six torpedo-boats, while the Japanese had the same number of ships, but no
torpedos. The battle began about ten o'clock in the morning and lasted six
hours. The Japanese, who had the faster ships and better guns, displayed more
science and good seamanship than the Chinese, though the latter showed
considerable pluck in allowing themselves to be knocked about for so long a
time. Four of the Chinese vessels were sunk, while another was destroyed by
fire. The Japanese ships suffered severely from the fire of their enemy, but
subsequently they were all repaired and found capable of joining their
squadrons. The victory on this occasion was with the Japanese, and it would
have been still more decisive had they had as many torpedos as the Chinese.

The result of these two engagements was to give the Japanese a decided
advantage in their plans for the invasion of China; and the arrival of a
second army corps of thirty thousand men, under the command of Count Oyama at
Kinchow (October 24th), thirty-five miles to the north of Port Arthur, gave
them so strong a force that they were enabled to advance confidently against
the Chinese. Aware of the value of time, the victorious troops hastened from
Ping-yang to the Yalu, the boundary line between Korea and Manchuria, and,
crossing that without any serious opposition, they took possession (October
25th) of Chin-lien-cheng.

A dread of the Japanese arms seemed from this time to have seized upon
the hearts of the Chinese troops, and although armies were brought up again
and again to fight them, they never were able to stand their ground in any
general engagement, but fled before there was any real necessity for their
doing so. One can give no other valid excuse, excepting this, for the
cowardly way in which they allowed the Japanese to enter Manchuria, the
ancestral home of the reigning dynasty, almost without resistance. No sooner
did the Japanese make preparations for the passage of the river than a panic
seized upon the Chinese on the other side, and they fled in the wildest
dismay, thus leaving the roads to Mukden and Peking absolutely open, and if
the Japanese had advanced at once on either place they would have captured it
without difficulty.

In all their movements the Japanese showed not only military skill, but
also profound common-sense. Wherever they advanced they gained the good-will
of the common people, who brought a plentiful supply of fresh provisions into
their camp. Everything was paid for with the utmost punctiliousness, and the
provost-marshals took care that no violence or injustice was exercised while
the troops were on the march or in the camp. How different was the conduct of
the Chinese soldiers! Murder, rapine, theft, and cruel treatment were the
order of the day wherever they went, till at last the people longed for the
appearance of the invaders to save them from the barbarity of their own
defenders.

The Japanese, who had shown the greatest energy in their military
movements, and who had been steadily making adequate preparations for the
investment of Port Arthur, appeared before it on the morning of November 21st,
and by two o'clock in the afternoon, with the loss of only about four hundred
men, they captured this famous fortress, the forts on the coast being stormed
the next day. The news was received everywhere with the most unbounded
astonishment. Nature and art had done their very best to make Port Arthur
impregnable, and at least a dozen forts, on lofty eminences, with great guns
of the newest construction, and narrow defiles heavily mined, by which alone
they could be approached, and thirteen thousand men, with abundance of
everything required, should have rendered its capture impossible by assault.
A thousand men could have held this fortress against the world for a long
time, and yet in the course of a few hours the Japanese, who had obtained a
plan of the mines, had marched over the road, where they should have been sent
flying into the air, straight on toward the forts, up the steep banks, till
they stood under the very muzzles of the cannon; then they went over the
ramparts, to find that every man had fled, leaving some of the guns unfired in
their mad haste to get away.

 

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