The first step in the foreign powers' effort to carve up northern China was taken by Russia, which had been expanding into Central Asia. By the 1850s, tsarist troops also had invaded the Heilong Jiang watershed of Manchuria, from which their countrymen had been ejected under the Treaty of Nerchinsk. The Russians used the superior knowledge of China they had acquired through their century-long residence in Beijing to further their aggrandizement. In 1860 Russian diplomats secured the secession of all of Manchuria north of the Heilong Jiang and east of the Wusuli Jiang (Ussuri River). Foreign encroachments increased after 1860 by means of a series of treaties imposed on China on one pretext or another. The foreign stranglehold on the vital sectors of the Chinese economy was reinforced through a lengthening list of concessions. Foreign settlements in the treaty ports became extraterritorial--sovereign pockets of territories over which China had no jurisdiction. The safety of these foreign settlements was ensured by the menacing presence of warships and gunboats. [Source: The Library of Congress]

“At this time the foreign powers also took over the peripheral states that had acknowledged Chinese suzerainty and given tribute to the emperor. France colonized Cochin China, as southern Vietnam was then called, and by 1864 established a protectorate over Cambodia. Following a victorious war against China in 1884-85, France also took Annam. Britain gained control over Burma. Russia penetrated into Chinese Turkestan (the modern-day Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region). Japan, having emerged from its century-and-a- half-long seclusion and having gone through its own modernization movement, defeated China in the war of 1894-95. The Treaty of Shimonoseki forced China to cede Taiwan and the Penghu Islands to Japan, pay a huge indemnity, permit the establishment of Japanese industries in four treaty ports, and recognize Japanese hegemony over Korea. In 1898 the British acquired a ninety-nine-year lease over the so-called New Territories of Kowloon (Jiulong in pinyin), which increased the size of their Hong Kong colony. Britain, Japan, Russia, Germany, France, and Belgium each gained spheres of influence in China. The United States, which had not acquired any territorial cessions, proposed in 1899 that there be an "open door" policy in China, whereby all foreign countries would have equal duties and privileges in all treaty ports within and outside the various spheres of influence. All but Russia agreed to the United States overture. [Ibid]

According to the Chinese government: In 1894, the Japanese launched a war against China and Korea, occupying large tracts of Chinese territory in eastern Liaoning Province. This aroused nationwide protest and gave rise to strong resistance by the Han, Manchu and Korean peoples, who sprang surprise attacks on the enemy day and night. Chinese troops and civilians defending Liaoyang, Liaoning, Province, inflicted heavy casualties on the invading Japanese troops. The year 1900 marked the outbreak of the Yi He Tuan movement or Boxer Rebellion, which was composed mainly of peasants of Han and Manchu nationalities. [Source: *|*]

Sino-Japanese ; Wikipedia article on the Sino-Japanese War Wikipedia ;

Foreigners in China: 19th Century Tea Trade in China Harvard Business School ; Early Chinese Emmigrants to America: Central Pacific Railroad Museum ; Chinese Americans Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Taiping Rebellion: Taiping ; Wikipedia Taiping Rebellion article Wikipedia ; Books About Taiping Rebellion; Boxer Rebellion National Archives ; Modern History Sourcebook ; San Francisco 1900 newspaper article Library of Congress ; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Cox Rebellion PhotosCaldwell Kvaran ; Eyewitness Account ; Sino-Japanese ; Wikipedia article on the Sino-Japanese War Wikipedia ;

Good Websites and Sources on the Opium War : Emperor of China’s War on Drugs ; Good Images from the Period on MIT’s Visualizing Cultures MIT’s Visualizing Cultures , MIT’s Visualizing Cultures , MIT’s Visualizing Cultures and MIT’s Visualizing Cultures ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Websites on the Qing Dynasty Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Qing Art ; Qing Dynasty Explained ; Recording of Grandeur of Qing Court Life During the Time of Empress Dowager Cixi

Good Chinese History Websites: 1) Chaos Group of University of Maryland ; 2) WWW VL: History China ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia 4) China Knowledge; 5) e-book ; Links in this Website: Main China Page (Click History)

Books: 1) Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War by Stephen R. Platt (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012). Platt is an associate professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. 2) God's Chinese Son by Yale's Jonathan Spence is also about the Taping Rebellion. Other Books from the period. The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China by Julia Lovell (Picador, 2011); 2) China: Alive in the Bitter Sea by Fox Butterfield; 3) China: A New History by John K. Fairbank; 4) China's Imperial Past: An Introduction to Chinese History by Charles O. Hucker; 5) In Search of Modern China by Jonathan D. Spence; 6) The Chan's Great Continent: China to Western Minds by Jonathan Spence (Norton, 1998). 7) Cambridge History of China multiple volumes (Cambridge University Press); 8) The Last Emperors: A Social History of the Qing Imperial Institutions by Evelyn S. Rawski (University of California Press, 1999); 9) Sea of Poppies by Amitva Ghosh (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2008) is a novel set during the Opium Wars mostly in India but also in China that was shortlisted listed for the Man Booker Prize. You can help this site a little by ordering your Amazon books through this link:

Sino-Japanese War

Battle at Jilong, Taiwan

In the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95), Japan easily defeated China in a war that would decide who would control the Korean peninsula. Known as the Jiawu War in China, the Sino-Japanese War lasted only a year. The decisive moment was the surprising defeat of the Chinese navy at the Battle of the Yalu River in 1894.Weakened by decades of foreign occupation, China was forced to sign a series of unequal treaties with Japan. The Treaty of Shimonoseki forced China to cede Taiwan and the Penghu Islands, pay a large indemnity, allow Japanese industry into four treaty ports and recognize Japan's hegemony over Korea (even though the Korean peninsula was officially granted the independence). China also ceded Port Arthur and the Liaotung peninsula in southern Manchuria to Japan.

The Sino-Japanese War erupted in August 1894. In 1895, the Japanese virtually annihilated the Chinese navy in a single day, aided by their Chinese adversaries, whose first cannon shot of the war landed firmly on their own commanding admiral. After nine months of fighting, a cease-fire was called and peace talks were held.

The Sino-Japanese War (1894-95), is known as the Jiawu War in China and to scholars in English as the First Sino-Japanese War in English (the Second Sino-Japanese War refers to the Japanese occupation of China before and during World War II). “Jiawu” refers to the year in the 60-year cycle of the traditional Chinese calendar.

Background of the Sino-Japanese War

Japan was the dominant power of Asia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Meiji reforms and the rise in Japanese military strength helped allow Japan to abolish foreign treaty rights and bypass China to become the leader in Asia. The origins of the war lay in the Korean question. In the Tientsin Convention of 1885 Japan and China had averted a war that had seemed probable by agreeing to withdraw their troops from Korea , where both parties had been building up sizeable contingents in Seoul , and by agreeing that if either country's future interests required intervention in Korea then the other country was to be forewarned and permitted to dispatch a comparable number of troops. [Source: Navy & Marine Living History Association, (NMLHA),]

A crisis was precipitated in 1894 when a leading pro-Japanese Korean political figure was assassinated in Shanghai with Chinese complicity. Prowar elements in Japan called for a punitive expedition, which the cabinet resisted. With assistance from several Japanese nationalistic societies, the illegal Tonghak (Eastern Learning) nationalistic religious movement in Korea staged a rebellion that was crushed by Chinese troops. Japan responded with force.

Fighting in the Sino-Japanese War

In 1894 there occurred a rebellion in Korea in which the rebels defeated the regular army. The Korean king appealed to his suzerain power (China) to come to his aid. China responded , and fulfilled its treaty obligations by informing Japan of the dispatch of 2000 troops to Seoul. Japan reacted by occupying Pusan and Chemulpo. China restored the situation in Korea and recommended joint evacuation of the Chinese and Japanese armies , but the Tokyo government resisted , having grown nervous at the weakness of Korea and the prospect of other nations (including European ones) intervening in what she considered her essential sphere of interest. Japan asked China to initiate a number of reforms within Korea , to which China replied indignantly that the affairs of Korea were of no concern to Japan. Thus the two empires slid into war . [Source: Navy & Marine Living History Association, (NMLHA), ++]

It was a short war lasting a total of 8 months. China’s leaders assumed they would win against their smaller, but recently modernized opponent. Captain Togo attacked a Chinese transport fleet in which 1200 soldiers and sailors perished. On land there was a two-pronged attack: After the Battle of Pyongyang (September 15, 1894) the First Japanese Army advanced northwest into Manchuria , while the Second Japanese Army landed on the Liaotung Peninsular on on October 24, 1894 . They joined forces on March 6, 1895 to annihilate the Chinese at Tienchuangtai. The Chinese Navy was also defeated at the Battle of the Yalu (September 1894) and Wei-Hai-Wei (besieged and surrendered February 1895). ++

Battle of the Yalu River

The decisive moment was the surprising defeat of the Chinese navy at the Battle of the Yalu River in 1894. The Battle of Yalu in the Yellow Sea was a key battle in the first Sino-Japanese war and a stinging defeat for the Chinese. China had better, newer guns but its navy was furnished with shells that were either filled with cement or porcelain, or were simply the wrong caliber. According to S.C.M. Paine, author of “The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895: Perceptions, Power, and Primacy”, the villains in the debacle were ordnance officials on the take. “The Battle of Yalu has an earthshaking influence on both Chinese people and Chinese military forces,” Major General Zhu Heping, vice-president of the Air Force Command Academy, said in 2015, “The primary cause for China’s failures is because the corruption was deeply rooted in the military and the government at the time.” Some, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, see parallels with that situation today and want to rectify it. [Source: David Tweed, Bloomberg, March 19, 2015]

Battle of the Yalu River was the largest naval engagement of the First Sino-Japanese War, and took place on September 17, 1894, the day after the Japanese victory at the land Battle of Pyongyang. It involved ships from the Imperial Japanese Navy and the Chinese Beiyang Fleet. The battle is also known by a variety of names: Battle of Haiyang Island, Battle of Dadonggou, Battle of the Yellow Sea and Battle of Yalu, after the geographic location of the battle, which was in the Yellow Sea off of the mouth of the Yalu River and not in the river itself. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Victory Off Takushan by Ogata Gekko

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The Battle of Dadonggou (aka. the Battle of the Yalu River) which took place in 1894 was the most critical sea battle during the First Sino-Japanese War. Both the Chinese and the Japanese fleet spared no effort trying to win the decisive battle at the Yalu River. After the war, Li Hongzhang submitted the aforementioned memorial based on the reports given to him by Ding Ruchang. In the memorial, Li offered the account that the navy, acting under the direct orders at the time, was to provide escort to merchants who provided means of transport for soldiers. Also on the ship were eight camps of naval forces led by Regional Commander Liu Chenglin, and the ship was scheduled to land in the Dadonggou. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“The ship departed the Dalian Bay between the hours of 1:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. on Aug. 17, arrived early at the Dadonggou at noon. Two ships, the Zhenzhong and Zhennan ship, and four torpedo boats were sent to escort the ship into the river mouth. Outside the river mouth were two anchored ships Pingyuan and Guangbing. The main fleet consisted ten ships that comprised Dingyuan, Zhenyuan, Zhiyuan, Jingyuan, Jingyuan, Laiyuan, Jiyuan, Guangjia, Chaoyong, and Yangwei, which anchored 12 nautical miles outside the river mouth. By noon on Aug. 18, smokes were observed coming from the southwest direction. \=/

“Upon learning that such smoke came from the Japanese warships, dingyuan and the other ten warships departed to engage in full battle. The Northern Naval Squadron led the navy and hurtled toward the oncoming attackers while the Japanese ships used twelve yuguan ships for initial engagement. After a fierce battle, four of the Northern Naval Squadron ships were lost, while three Japanese ships were destroyed. However, the record in the memorial did not accurately disclose the true number of ships lost, as the Northern Naval Squadron suffered the loss of Zhiyuan, Jingyuan, Chaoyong, Yangwei, and Guangjia, the last of which was destroyed after striking a rock; laiyuan also endured significant damages. \=/

“Regarding the Japanese fleet, Matsushima, Hiei, Akagi, and Nishi Kyomaru bore critical damages, but none of which sunk. Furthermore, discrepancies arose concerning the sinking of Zhiyuan: commonly believed to be shot down under fire, this memorial claimed that the ship was destroyed in an attempt to stop the Japanese torpedo attack on Dingyuan.” \=/

Aftermath of the Sino-Japanese War

Battleship on the Yalu River

Because of the utter defeat in the land wars, it led to the Northern Naval Squadron being almost completely wiped out. After the war, the Qing Court once again asked for British help to train its navy, and bring along high-quality crew members. The request was later declined by the British Foreign Office[Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

The Treaty of Shimonoseki forced China to cede Taiwan and the Penghu Islands, pay a large indemnity, allow Japanese industry into four treaty ports and recognize Japan's hegemony over Korea. The victor's demands were such that a Japanese protectorate over China seemed in the offing, but an assassination attempt on Li Hongzhang, China's envoy to the peace talks, embarrassed Japan, which then quickly agreed to an armistice. The Treaty of Shimonoseki accomplished several things: recognition of Korean independence; cessation of Korean tribute to China; a 200 million tael (Chinese ounces of silver, the equivalent in 1895 of US$150 million) indemnity to Korea from China; cession of Taiwan, the Penghu Islands, and the Liaodong Peninsula (the southern part of Manchuria) to Japan; and opening of Chang Jiang (Yangtze River) ports to Japanese trade. It also assured Japanese rights to engage in industrial enterprises in China.[Source: Library of Congress *]

Having their own imperialist designs on China and fearing China's impending disintegration, Russia, Germany, and France jointly objected to Japanese control of Liaodong. Threatened with a tripartite naval maneuver in Korean waters, Japan decided to give back Liaodong in return for a larger indemnity from China. Russia moved to fill the void by securing from China a twenty-five-year lease of Dalian (Dairen in Japanese, also known as Port Arthur) and rights to the South Manchurian Railway Company, a semioffical Japanese company, to construct a railroad. Russia also wanted to lease more Manchurian territory, and, although Japan was loath to confront Russia over this issue, it did move to use Korea as a bargaining point: Japan would recognize Russian leaseholds in southern Manchuria if Russia would leave Korean affairs to Japan. The Russians only agreed not to impede the work of Japanese advisers in Korea, but Japan was able to use diplomatic initiatives to keep Russia from leasing Korean territory in 1899. At the same time, Japan was able to wrest a concession from China that the coastal areas of Fujian Province, across the strait from Taiwan, were within Japan's sphere of influence and could not be leased to other powers. In 1900 Japanese forces participated in suppressing the Boxer Uprising, exacting still more indemnity from China. *

Robert Eno of Indian University wrote: “The political uproar that followed this unmasking of China’s weakness had led to a program of ambitious reform, adopted by a young emperor who daringly gave power to a party of radically progressive Confucians. But the leaders of that party were killed or driven into exile by a coup led by the aging Empress Dowager, and the young emperor was banished to an island prison within the imperial palace grounds in Beijing, where he awaited his eventual death by poison.” [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

Implications of the Sino-Japanese War

Chris Buckley of the New York Times wrote: “The clash between Japan and China’s Manchu rulers started as a contest for dominance of Korea. The Manchu court assumed its forces would overwhelm Japan, but instead the Japanese naval and army forces humbled their opponents, pushed into northeastern China, and isolated Taiwan. The war ended in April 1895, when the Qing court agreed to a treaty that ended China’s hold over Korea and ceded Taiwan and territory in northern China to Japan. The humiliation exposed the brittleness of China’s military power, which a bout of policy changes failed to overcome, and the dynasty collapsed in 1911. At the time, Chinese advocates of bold change said the defeat showed the success of Japan’s outward-looking Meiji Restoration, and the contrasting sclerosis of the Qing court. But the Communist Party leadership has turned the anniversary into a template for reinforcing its own theme of patriotic revival and military readiness.[Source: Chris Buckley, Sinosphere, New York Times, July 28, 2014]

The Original Defeat (Xiron Books) by Shi Yonggang, chief editor of Hong Kong-based Phoenix Weekly, and Zhang Fan, consists of three parts: competition between China and Meiji Japan before 1894, as both underwent transformation; the process and reasons for losing the war; and the rise of major Nationalist figures after defeat, such as Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek, who would eventually attempt to form a government after the Qing Dynasty's (1644-1911) fall. [Source: Zhang Lei Global Times, May 17 2011]

"The Opium Wars didn't bring an end to the Qing Dynasty; the Jiawu War, the first huge defeat, did." Shi said. Japan's modernized navy decimated the fragmented Qing fleet in a series of naval skirmishes that fractured the country far more deeply than either the Opium Wars or the Anglo-French invasion of 1860, historians believe.

Why was China so easily defeated by Japan, a small island nation? "I personally believe that many [of these] problems still exist today," author Shi told the Global Times. "It's most important that China abandons its tradition, starts anew and set up universal values that match modernized courts." When the treaty at Shimonoseki was signed, Ito Hirobumi, the Japanese representative, asked his Chinese counterpart, Li Hongzhang, why the ongoing "Self Strengthening" reforms in China had had no effect on modernization, though they had begun 10 years before. Li replied that the system in China was too stubborn and hide-bound in tradition, and officials had been unable to carry them out.

The book tries to explain why China's modernization process was forcibly interrupted by Japan twice and why the Japanese regarded defeating China as a way of breaking away from Asia and keeping up with Europe. The book also described how ill-prepared, incompetent and corrupt China was. Records tell, for example, of Chinese sailors' shock as the gunpowder shells they fired at Japanese ships failed to explode, their deadly cargo having been replaced with sand by corrupt factory owners in cahoots with officials.

Remembering the Sino-Japanese War in 2014

burying the dead in Port Arthur

Chris Buckley of the New York Times wrote: “Imagine China beset by domestic and external menaces, its rulers and commanders complacent, decadent and corrupt, humiliated by Japan in a war that pushes the once indomitable power closer to collapse. This image of China remains a potent nightmare for Communist Party leaders, and the 120th anniversary of the start of a war with Japan has unleashed a spate of images, speeches and official commentary drawing lessons from the defeat...2014 marks another Jiawu year, adding weight to the anniversary. [Source: Chris Buckley, Sinosphere, New York Times, July 28, 2014 ~|~]

“The lessons from that time have become all the more pointed today, when Chinese-Japanese ties are tenser than they have been for decades, and President Xi Jinping of China has embarked on an ambitious program to overhaul the military and to curtail corruption throughout the military and the party. “The victory of the aggressors was a humiliation for the Chinese nation,” Chu Yimin, a People’s Liberation Army general and political commissar, said in an interview published on Monday in Study Times, a party newspaper. “The wounds are increasingly healed over, but the scars remain, and what we need most of all nowadays is to awaken an intense sense of humiliation, so that we never forget the humiliation of our country and military, and turn knowledge of this into courage.” ~|~

“As if to reinforce the martial message, the Chinese military has announced exercises, extending off the east coast of China, which the civilian aviation authorities have indicated are already causing severe delays for commercial flights. A professor from China’s National Defense University, Gong Fangbin, said the disruption of air traffic would be a test of citizens’ patriotic support for a stronger military. “It’s foreseeable that, as long as the international threats to our country persist, large-scale, and even larger-scale, military exercises will happen,” he wrote on Monday in Global Times, a widely read tabloid. “Each time will be yet another test of the public’s awareness of national defense and its willingness to bear a burden.” ~|~

“2014 is another Jiawu year,” China’s main military newspaper, The People’s Liberation Army Daily, said on its front page. It said the army was using the anniversary to reinforce the need for readiness against any external threats. “For China now, the goal of national rejuvenation has never been closer, and the obstacles to national rejuvenation have never been clearer,” said the paper. “Around our country’s periphery, hot spots are increasing and the ignition point is lower. Certain major powers are fanning the flames in the Asia-Pacific region, the ghost of Japanese militarism has stirred back to life,” it said, also noting the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. “The chances of chaos and war on our doorstep are growing.”

But not all the lessons from the Jiawu War are directed abroad. Chinese textbooks present the defeat of 1895 as the price of corruption and decadence that fatally weakened Qing rule and left its military ill equipped and ill trained. Mr. Xi has extended hiscampaign against graft into the high ranks of the military, and again the lessons of 120 years ago are not far away. “For a military, corruption and defeat are twin brothers,” General Chu wrote in Study Times. “Corruption breeds fear of dying.”

Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905)

image from the Russo-Japanese War
In the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), Russia and Japan fought a series of naval battles in the Pacific and land battles on Chinese soil in Manchuria. Victory over Russia in 1905 after the naval battle of Tsushima, allowed Japan to establish colonies in Manchuria and take over the northern Chinese port of Dalien (Port Arthur).

The area that Japanese had a right to as a result of its victory in the Russo-Japanese War was quite small: Lunshaun (Port Arthur) and Dalian along with rights to the South Manchurian Railway Company. After the Manchurian Incident, the Japanese claimed the entire area of southern Manchuria, eastern Inner Mongolia and northern Manchuria. The seized areas were about three times the size as the whole Japanese archipelago.

Between 1905 to 1945, Dalien was the center of Japanese commerce in China. At its peak it was home to 300,000 Japanese, and a huge Japanese military base and was the terminus of the Manchurian Railroad. The courthouse is a replica of an auditorium at Tokyo University and Dalien train station is a copy of Ueno Station in Tokyo.

Dalien and the Russian-built Manchurian railroad provided access to Manchuria, a sparsely populated, heavily forested and resource-rich region of China three times the size of Japan and coveted by Russia, Japan and China.

Over the years, the Japanese strengthened their grip on northern China. In 1919, the European powers handed over German possessions in Shandong province to the Japanese. In 1931, the Japanese formed the puppet state of Manchukuo in Manchuria with the Last Emperor Puyi set up as the "Puppet Emperor."

Image Sources: Ohio State University Columbia University, Nolls website .

Text Sources: Asia for Educators, Columbia University <|>; New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated November 2016

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