Sino-Japanese War and the Treaty of Shimonoseki

Treaty of Shimonoseki
Treaty of Shimonoseki

The Sino-Japanese War of 1894–95 was fought primarily over Korea. Korea was Qing (Ch’ing) China’s closest tributary state, evidenced by the three tribute missions the Li dynasty in Korea sent to China annually. Korea was vital to China because it acted as the bulwark of Manchuria, which was the shield for China’s capital Beijing (Peking). Thus, the previous Ming dynasty had sent an army of over 200,000 men to defend it against Japanese invaders in 1592.

After 1868 leaders of Meiji Japan looked to foreign expansion to show its power to the world. Thus they were no longer content with the 1870 treaty with China that was based on equality. In 1876 Japan had signed a treaty with Korea opening it to trade. This treaty had declared Korea an independent country in violation of its vassal relationship with China. Preoccupied with other problems, the Qing government let pass the offending clause.

It, however, encouraged the Korean government to sign treaties with Western countries to check Japanese aggressions. Japan was also interested in establishing sole control over the Ryukyu (Liu Qiu or Liu Ch’iu in Chinese) islands, which were tributary to both China and the lord of Satsuma of Japan, and annexed them in 1879 while China was preoccupied with Russia.

Politics in Korea became very chaotic. Two parties emerged, one pro-China, the other pro-Japan; their disputes led to an insurrection in 1882 causing both China and Japan to send troops. Chinese forces under Yuan Shikai (Yuan Shih-k’ai) arrived first and restored order. Yuan remained in Korea as China’s resident-general until 1894 and put down another mutiny in 1884.

In 1885 China and Japan negotiated the Tianjin (Tientsin) Convention that made Korea their joint protectorate, an unwise arrangement for China because it would be the fuse for a future war. In 1894 there was another revolt in Korea, called the Tongchak (Eastern Learning) Insurrection. Japan asked China for a joint expedition to put it down. China agreed and sent 1,500 soldiers.

Japan, however, sent a first installment of 8,000 soldiers with large reinforcements arriving later. The revolt was put down easily, and China requested a diplomatic settlement, which Japan stalled. In July China sent troop reinforcements but its troop-ships were sunk by the waiting Japanese navy. Declaration of war followed in August.

Japan had all the advantages in the brief war fought between August 1894 and March 1895. The inadequate Chinese navy was decisively defeated, and the remnants surrendered their bases in Port Arthur, Dairen, and Weihaiwei, where the Chinese commanding officer committed suicide.

On land a large Japanese force routed the small and isolated Chinese contingent in Korea, then invaded Manchuria. The desperate Qing court sued for peace. Japan answered that it would only negotiate with Li Hongzhang (Li Hung-chang), a senior statesman and governor-general of Chihli Province.

The proceedings took place at Shimonoseki, with Prince Ito Hirobumi, Japan’s chief negotiator, dictating the terms of the Treaty of Shimonoseki. China recognized the independence of Korea and ceded Taiwan (Formosa), Penghu (Pescadore) Island, and the Liaodong (Liaotung) Peninsula (the southern tip of Manchuria).

It also agreed to pay 200 million gold taels (1 tael equals 1 1/3 ounces) indemnity, open more ports to Japanese trade, grant extraterritorial rights to Japanese nationals (which Europeans and Americans already enjoyed in China), and to negotiate a commercial treaty with Japan.

Li suffered a non-fatal bullet wound by a wouldbe Japanese assassin in Shimonoseki. At home he was severely criticized and impeached by furious Chinese for not obtaining better terms for China. The people of Taiwan attempted to resist Japanese occupation but were put down by Japanese troops at the end of 1895.

The publications of the terms of the treaty shocked Western imperial powers. Thus Germany, France, and Russia banded together to form the Far Eastern Triplice, or Dreibund, that sent identical notes to Japan, demanding that it return the Liaodong Peninsula to China in exchange for a larger indemnity that Japan felt compelled to accept.

The commercial treaty of 1896 granted Japan the right to set up factories and other enterprises in China whose products would not be subject to Chinese taxes. Under the most-favored nation clauses included in all treaties between China and Western nations, all of them automatically received the same rights, with disastrous consequences for China’s economy and industrial development.

There were many causes of China’s catastrophic defeat. Most blame belonged to dowager empress Cixi (Tz’u-hsi), who had ruled China since 1862. She was ignorant, greedy, and corrupt and gave vast powers to her favorite eunuchs. She sold offices and misappropriated funds for the navy to finance her rebuilding of a summer palace, with the result that Chinese battleships lacked guns and ammunition.

Under her capricious rule, the central government had practically broken down. As a result emperor Guangxu (Kuang-hsu) was a figurehead with no power, the Zongli (Tsungli) Yamen, or Foreign Office, had no power to formulate or execute foreign policy, the Navy Yamen did not control the entire navy, the Ministry of War had no troops to deploy, and the Ministry of Finance had no funds.

Cixi additionally promoted and dismissed officials at will, listened to the advice of her favorites, and vacillated while the country floundered. These factors explained China’s humiliating fiasco in the Sino-Japanese War. China’s decisive defeat showed the world its weakness and opened it to further losses of sovereignty in the coming years.