Today we remember 17 April 1895, the day Qing Empire and Japan signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki. After losing horrendously against the Japanese Empire, The Qing Empire gave up its suzerain status over Korea. Liaodong, the Penghu Islands, and Taiwan were officially ceded to Japan. The Qing Empire was forced to pay 200 million taels (that is, eight million kilograms) of silver to Japan. Japanese merchant vessels were henceforth allowed to operate on the Yangtze River. Four Chinese ports, including the inland river port of Chongqing, were opened to foreign trade. This marked the end of the Qing Empire's naval capacities owing to the destruction of the Beiyang Fleet. The Qing had boasted the eighth strongest navy in the world before the war. The war also significantly lowered the Qing Empire's prestige in the world, and propelled Japan to the forefront of international politics, henceforth to be viewed as a new and serious contender for regional dominance. The abysmal performance of the Qing military had dire consequences. On the international stage, Western powers were beginning to adjust their attitude to the Qing Empire: it was clear that the Qing were no longer to be feared or respected.
The First Sino–Japanese war is referred to in China as the Jiawu War, in Japan as the Japan–Qing War, and in Korea as the Qing–Japan War. Japan and China seemed to be in a similar situation at the start of the 19th century. Both countries had largely agrarian economies, and were based on feudal customs. Most of their denizens were self-sufficient subsistency farmers, and the West sought an Open Door Policy with both countries in the face of their policy of isolation. In order to do so, the West used its specialty, violence, to blast open the door to both countries. Nevertheless, that was where the superficial similarities ended. One will find that Japan and China were in essentially different positions upon examining more closely their economic, political, and social backgrounds.
The Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) was the last dynasty in China to be ruled by an Emperor. China's power was extremely centralised because absolute rulership rested in the hands of the Emperor. The country's generated wealth was overwhelmingly agrarian and had been so for a very long time, therefore, the Qing believed acquiring wealth from land was the only correct way of doing things. As such, the Empire sought to contain any forms of diversification or free development of commerce. These ideas were closely guarded by the Empire's officials. Government officials were selected from candidates who passed the Imperial examination, who would be fully immersed in Imperial ideals. Dissenting thoughts had little chance of taking root, making the Imperial system stable and resistant to change. There was little leeway for the incorporation of new ideas.
Emperor Xianfeng (reign 1850–1861) absolutely despised anything Western and had therefore no desire to deal equally with the West. The Dulimbai Gurun (that is, the Central Land) was the centre of the universe, and had no need for trade with barbarous fringe lands such as France and the United States. The Qing Empire stood high and mighty above all others. Receiving these countries as equals would have meant lowering the prestige of Emperor Xianfeng and of the Qing Empire. The Qing gates remained closed.
The Opium Wars (1839–1842 and 1856–1860) were the first two thrashings the Qing Empire received for its belief that closing the border to the West was an effective strategy. Of course, being defeated in war says nothing about your inferiority or superiority as a civilisation. Might does not make right. Yet, the Manchu elites, being conquerors themselves, did believe in "might makes right," since they conquered the more culturally developed Ming Dynasty and demonstrated the superiority of Manchu culture through military victory. Accordingly the apex of the Qing Dynasty featured a highly militarised culture which placed immense emphasis on the use of arms. Their military prowess necessarily meant the superiority of their civilisation and culture. During the latter portion of the Qing Dynasty, the Manchu had to deal with these humiliating defeats which were a historical anomaly rather than the norm for the expansionist Qing.
Naturally, the Qing Empire sought to strengthen their military to rectify this historical anomaly of being weak. They responded quickly, and the Self-Strengthening Movement was born in 1861.
The Tokugawa Shogunate (1603–1868) was characterised by harsh laws, strict authority, and low social mobility, all of which ensured the preservation of the Shogun's power. The de facto ruling authority was held by the Shogun with his seat in Edo (modern-day Tokyo) and did not lie with the Emperor in Kyoto. This Shogun was the liege lord of the regional Daimyo, who were able to rule in relative autonomy with their own armies and right to carry-out justice. The Daimyo commanded a class of retainers. This was truly a feudal system.
By the end of the 18th century a capitalist economy was budding in Japan. This period saw the rise of a class of wealthy farmers and merchants. In Japan, the inheritance of land was hereditary and family status was hereditary. So, while the wealthy merchants were gaining wealth, there was little possiblity for them to gain political power due to their inability to own land. As can be expected, this proved to be problematic for the stability of the Tokugawa reign. By the middle of the 19th century, the traditional agriculture-based economy of Japan had changed.
This change in economic structure gave the governors of Japan a new challenge: to resist or not to resist. Most of the governors opted to maintain the established order by protecting the established feudal system. One of the main ways they attempted to do so was by implementing the Sakoku policy, secluding Japan from the rest of the world for 220 years. While peace in the land and the stability of the regime were maintained, the West was striding ahead in industry and military technology.
This was when the American naval officer Commodore Matthew C. Perry arrived in Japan in 1853 and 1854 to force Japan open through gunboat diplomacy. Japan was humiliated, being forced to sign two unequal treaties that would prove to be extremely unpopular with the clans that fought against the Tokugawa forces at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, who were already dissatisfied due to their systematic exclusion from influential positions in the Shogunate. Through the Emperor's uncharacteristic involvement in politics, with orders being given to expel the foreigners, the sparks of rebellion were struck.
This set off a period known as the Bakumatsu, and it sparked the Boshin War which spelled the ultimate end of the Tokugawa Shogunate, or the Bakufu. It also saw the establishment of the Meiji government and the restoration of power to the Japanese Emperor.
The Manchu military commanders of the late Qing dynasty attempted to strengthen their armies by adopting new technology. They thought that adopting new weapons while maintaining the old military structure and hierarchy was sufficient.
The influential Confucian scholar Feng Guifen (1809–1874) noted that although France and England were hundreds of times smaller than the Qing, they were much more powerful. He accredited their success to their great skill in four areas: utilising all human resources, exploiting the soil to the fullest, maintaining close bonds between ruler and subject, and ensuring the accord of word with deed. The first task at hand for the Qing to grow stronger was that they had to learn one thing from the foreigners: to have strong ships and sharp cannon.
Statesman and scholar Zeng Guofan (1811–1872) was thoroughly convinced by Feng's arguments. Machines and technology were imported from the West. They were installed in an arsenal in Shanghai. In 1868, the first Chinese built steam-ship, the SS Tianqi, was launched. Soon, at the Shanghai and Fuzhou arsenals, schools for mechanics and navigation were opened.
The Japanese military commanders of the late Tokugawa period attempted to strengthen their traditional militaries by adopting new technology. They soon realised that adapting new technology required an organisational change as well.
The military reform and the attempt to modernise was initiated by the Tokugawa Shogunate. However, the efforts implemented by the Shogunate were too sporadic to truly modernise the Japanese military. Merely adopting Western musketry in existing military units was not a sufficiently thorough change. A sufficient change in organisation would have meant the revitalisation or disbandment of the old military system. Needless to say, the stubborn forces behind the traditionalists made progress in this area difficult, even after the Shogunate fell.
The goal of the Meiji Restoration was not to abandon Japanese culture in favour of Western culture. On the contrary, the borrowing of Western technology was for the purpose of strengthening the country and therefore allowing it to return to an idealised past. The Western models were tools to be used. The Japanese soul, or spirit, was to be maintained as the foundation of the Empire.
The Self-Strengthening Movement was effective. A period known as the Tongzhi Restoration commenced. New structures were developed for collecting customs and handling foreign relations. Modern ships and modern weapons were constructed. International law and modern science were being taught in schools. The Manchu and the Chinese worked together to preserve traditional culture by selectively choosing what Western learning to adopt. Things were looking up for the Qing Empire until the Qing lost its prospects for strong leadership when the Tongzhi Emperor died in 1875 at the age of 18 due to overindulgence in pleasure-seeking within the Imperial harem and the consumption of too much alcohol.
His mother, the famous Empress Dowager Cixi, took the reins of the Empire. She appointed Guangxu, a nephew of hers, as the new Emperor. He was from the same generation as Tongzhi, and therefore violated Imperial succession laws. The Tongzhi Emperor was survived by his pregnant wife, Empress Xiaozheyi. One hundred days after the death of Tongzhi, Empress Xiaozheyi and her unborn child died under suspicious circumstances, securing Guangxu's position as Emperor and Cixi's position as regent.
The strength of the Qing waned. Many of the prominent and capable proponents of modernisation either fell out of favour, were preoccupied with quelling rebellions, or died. Henceforth, the Qing Empire's modernisation efforts were largely initiated by one man: Li Hongzhang (1823–1901). He continued to push for reforms in educational, entrepreneurial, and diplomatic areas and made great strides in doing so, especially in his efforts toward building arsenals, railways, telegraph, and educational systems.
Li Hongzhang managed to construct the state-of-the-art Beiyang Navy funded by custom-taxes and new trade taxes. The Qing, by this time, had many soldiers, but no one commanded them centrally. The Qing succeeded in modernising the military equipment in the newly trained armies, but failed to modernise its organisation. Therefore, the problem with Qing forces was not the hardware. The weakness was its political disorganisation and the conflicting interests of the many involved actors.
That said, the reforms the Meiji Restoration made to Japan were thorough and revolutionary. One of the first things to be tackled was the Monbatsu: land reforms were enacted. The traditional Japanese domains ruled by Daimyo were dismantled, liberating the government from traditional social structures. The land-tax reforms then provided the government with a steady stream of revenue. The government also implemented education and nationwide conscription, the latter of which caused no small degree of protest among commoners not wanting to go to war, and among members of the traditional military not wanting to lose its positions and prestige. Nevertheless, these reforms formed the basis of Japan's strength.
As for what the Meiji regime did to modernise the Japanese military, the transformation of the Japanese military from an aspect of social status into a national obligation was a forty year effort initiated by the Tokugawa Shogunate. The Tokugawa Shogunate failed to realise total reform because the traditional military system was inextricably linked to the sociopolitical order of the feudal Bakuhan system. These social structures were formed as a barrier to modernisation of the military. The dismantling of the domains and their militaries paved the way for the Meiji government to implement their revolutionary Conscription Ordinance in 1873.
Becoming a soldier was now a patriotic duty and legal obligation for all Japanese men. This allowed for the maximum moblisation of Japanese subjects. Japan then faced the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877. This rebellion forced the leaders to halt their reforming and modernisation efforts to focus on acquiring firepower to defeat the rebels. It was also a dress rehearsal for national mobilisation and long-term campaigns. The victory over the rebels solidified the position of the universal military service.
After the rebellion, the Japanese military underwent a thorough campaign in modernising and restructuring their national army. The Japanese military administration was standardised, the language in the Conscription Ordinance was refined, and a program of ideological education was instituted. This approach was extremely effective and made the Japanese army well-organised, well-staffed and well-trained, just in time for the First Sino-Japanese War.
The First Sino–Japanese war broke out owing to long-brewing animosity between the Japanese Empire and the Qing over the matter of Korea. The Qing was emerging from a whole avalanche of problems including some of the bloodiest and most devastating rebellions in human history. The most prominent were the Eight Trigrams Revolt (1813), the Taiping (1851–1866), the Nian (1851–1868), the Panthay (1855–1873), the Dungan (1862–1873), and Xinjiang Rebellions (1862–1878). While the Qing regime proved itself to be remarkably resilient in surviving for as long as it did, it had no feasible strategies in store for resistance to the encroaching Western powers. The Japanese Empire had been making its moves, conquering places such as Ryukyu (present-day Okinawa) and sailing to Taiwan in a punitive expedition. The next step in Japan's grand strategy was to take Korea. They were aware of Russian ambitions and attempted to prevent the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway by seizing Korea, thereby thwarting Russian ambitions in East Asia. Japan wanted to change the regional balance of power and come out on top. The Qing Empire refused to cede its suzerain status over Korea, refused to acknowledge Japan as equals even, while it held onto its pride and prestige as the regional suzerain. Alas, the superiority of the Qing was of a bygone era.
At that time, the Joseon Dynasty was an extremely isolated feudal state ruled by the Korean king under the vassalage of the Qing Empire. Their isolation policy was much stricter than that of the Qing and of Japan. It was strict to such a degree that it was known as the Forbidden Country. Japan and Qing had long been engaged in a rivalry over Korean support since the 1870s. The Qing backed the conservative Korean proponents, such as Queen Myeongseong's clan, and the Japanese backed the reformists. In 1885, a clash between Qing and Japanese troops occurred due to an attack on the Royal Palace, perpetrated by the Japanese-aligned reformist Kim Ok-gyun, killing conservative officials. Kim Ok-gyun, however, had made a fatal miscalculation. The Qing troops stationed in Seoul outnumbered the Japanese troops seven to one. The Japanese were forced out of the Korean capital. The rebellion achieved the exact opposite of what Kim Ok-gyun intended. Reformers were exiled or executed, the conservative position was strengthened, and Chinese influence expanded. In the same year, Japan and the Qing Empire agreed to withdraw their troops from Korea. Korea was now under combined protection from both the Qing and Japan. In the ensuing years, the Qing slowly regained some of its lost influence, both economically and politically. Japan was at a disadvantage and had to act if it wanted to grasp Korea.
In March of 1894, the Tonghak Rebellion broke out. It was a strongly religious, anti-feudal, and anti-foreign peasant rebellion which threatened the Korean regime. King Gojong of Korea called for aid from the Qing. The Qing, somewhat reluctant, sent a small detachment of troops to Asan in Korea and informed the Japanese of this move. The Japanese responded by sending some troops to Jemulpo (present-day Incheon). The rebellion melted away upon hearing of the Qing intervention, but the Qing would only recall its troops if Japan did so too. Japan had no intention of doing so.
Japan initiated the war without a declaration of war, as seems typical for the Japanese Empire. On 25 July 1894, three Japanese cruisers launched a naval attack on two Qing warships sailing home from Asan. This battle, the Battle of Pungdo, marked the beginning of the First Sino-Japanese War. While pursuing the fleeing ships, the Japanese cruisers stumbled upon the Gaosheng, a British ship leased by the Qing to transfer 1,100 soldiers and officers to Korea. The Qing generals refused to listen to Japanese demands to follow them into port. The crew of the Gaosheng mutinied and demanded to be returned to Dagu. After some fruitless negotiations, Captain Tg Heihachir ordered the Gaosheng to be sunk, drowning all Qing soldiery aboard. On the same day, the Japanese skirmished against Qing troops in the Battle of Soenghwan, just south of Seoul, which had been occupied by Japanese forces. The 4,000 Japanese under shima Yoshimasa (great-great-grandfather of the prime minister of Japan Abe Shinz) assaulted the Qing forces, also 4,000 strong, and won by outflanking them. The Qing, under commander Ye Zhichao, fled with the remainder of his forces to Pyeongyang. As a response to these hostilities, the Qing declared war on the 31st of July. Japan then declared war on 1 August 1894.
Li Hongzhang had hoped to avoid war with Japan. His adopted son Li Jingfang had been the ambassador to Japan from 1890 to 1892, and had just returned to inform his adoptive father about the situation. Li Hongzhang was therefore well aware of Japan's strength. Alas, Japan was well-prepared for war and had drawn up their battle plans long beforehand. Li Hongzhang, who was now in charge of the war efforts, was apprehensive. His plan was to draw out the war, as he knew the Japanese were at a disadvantage in a prolonged campaign: the burden would be too great on Japan's economy. So, time was in the Qing's favour. Indeed, Li Hongzhang's plan was to fight the Japanese on land in Korea, and if this failed, he would continue to fight them on land, so as to wear them down in a war of attrition. Even though his Beiyang Fleet was state-of-the-art, he opted not to use these ships in this war. He wanted to use them to defend the capital and to prevent Japanese landing parties from threatening the Capital, but mainly, he wanted to preserve the navy to fight Japan another day.
By September, the Qing had sent 13,000 men of the Beiyang Army to Korea, well equipped armies with ample supplies in order to defend Pyeongyang and seize the Korean peninsula from the Japanese. They had no contingency plan, and essentially hoped for the best. This was in stark contrast to the Japanese who had drawn up plans of action for each phase of the war and eventual worst-case scenarios, including homeland defence.
On the 15th and 16th of September, the Japanese army, 10,000 strong, under Lieutenant General Nozu Michitsura, launched a three-pronged assault on Pyeongyang. Lieutenant-General Nozu led the main division which approached from the southwest. Colonel Sato Tadashi was to lead the Wonson column as a flanking force and to intercept Qing troops retreating to the northeast. Major General Tatsumi Naofumi was to lead the Sangnyong column as another flanking force. Finally, Major General Oshima Yoshimasa was to lead the combined brigade in a frontal assault from the south. There were several Qing armies present at Pyeongyang with ill-coordinated commanding generals: 3,000 under Ma Yuguan, 3,500 under Zuo Baogui, 6,000 under Wei Rugui, and 1,500 under Nie Guilin.
The main division commenced the attack in the early morning of the 15th of September. The battle lasted for twelve hours. The combined brigade attacked as well and took some of the redoubts in the south. The main division was repulsed and the combined brigade was unable to hold those redoubts. Meanwhile, the Wonson and Sangnyong columns had taken the Moktan-tei fortress north of Pyeongyang. This fortress was on an elevated position overlooking the city, and therefore was a perfect site for artillery. Eager to end the battle quickly, Major General Oshima ordered fifty-four field guns, now in Moktan-tei, along with Vice Admiral Ito Sukeyuki's naval artillery to bombard Pyeongyang.
General Zuo Baogui, a Hui Muslim, was determined to die before he surrendered. He performed ablutions (ghusl) before the battle in preparation to meet Allah (swt). His Muslim troops offered stiff resistance to the Japanese. Zuo Baogui died to cannon-fire while defending the Hyeonmumun, the Northern gate of Pyeongyang. The improved artillery of the late 19th century made short work of the fortifications. The old veteran commanders who had gained their experience fighting in the Taiping and Nian Rebellions many decades prior had not taken into account the different nature that artillery had taken on since then. The Japanese bombardment was too strong and the remaining Qing commanders contemplated retreat or surrender.
In the night following the bombardment, the Qing forces fled. The Battle of Pyeongyang was over and the Japanese had won a decisive victory, and with it, captured almost all of Korea. This battle was one of the most hard fought battles of the entire war as the Qing forces fought valiantly with Zuo Baogui being praised especially for his courage. Superior training, organisation, and tactics, however, were not to be overcome by valor and courage alone.
Ding Ruchang, another hardened veteran from the Taiping and Nian wars, was the commanding admiral of the Beiyang Fleet. He had pushed for a more aggressive strategy, taking the offensive in seeking out and engaging the Japanese fleet. Indeed, it might have been a sound strategy, as all Japanese troops and supplies had to be transported by sea to Korea. The Japanese army was most vulnerable at sea. Nevertheless, Li Hongzhang ordered the Beiyang Fleet not to go beyond the Yalu-Weihaiwei line, freely giving up dominance over the sea to the Japanese. Much like how Li Hongzhang refused to aid the Southern Fleet during the Sino–French War ten years prior, the southern fleet refused to come to Li Hongzhang's Beiyang Fleet in this war. There is an obvious moral to the story here, but I will spare you my preaching for once.
On the 17th of September, following the Battle of Pyeongyang, during a patrol from Yalu to Lushun, the Beiyang Fleet under Admiral Ding Ruchang was engaged by the Japanese fleet under Vice Admiral Ito Sukeyuki. The Battle of Yalu commenced. It was a great naval engagement with ten ships from each Empire facing each other on the open seas. On paper, the Beiyang Fleet had several advantages. The Ding Yuan and Chen Yuan outclassed any of the ships the Japanese possessed and the armouring on both these battleships were too strong for the small-calibre Japanese ordnance to penetrate. The rest of the Beiyang Fleet consisted of cruisers smaller and slower than the Japanese cruisers, but with heavier guns, 200 mm guns that outranged the Japanese fleet. However, in reality the Beiyang Fleet had several weaknesses from the get-go. The tactics adopted by Ding Ruchang were flawed. He formed a line abreast with his ships, but placed the weakest ships on the flanks. This left them vulnerable to be eliminated one by one by the enemy navy. Vice-Admiral Ito capitalised on this error and sent out Rear Admiral Tsuboi Kozo and his flying squadron to destroy the right flank. Admiral Ding responded by changing the formation, putting his own flagship Ding Yuan at risk, but putting the rest of his ships in good position to fire.
Vice Admiral Ito sent the flying squadron out in order to break up the Beiyang formation. The flying squadron was to pass the right flank of the Beiyang line. Vice Admiral Ito then planned to attack in the rear, forcing the Beiyang fleet to have to make a 180 degree turn, which in practice was impossible, thus throwing the entire formation into disarray. The main squadron would then move in to destroy the battleship while the flying squadron took care of the rest. In a stroke of luck, one of the shots fired destroyed the signalling mast on the Ding Yuan, crippling the Beiyang Fleet's ability to give out orders. The various Qing vessels were truly on their own now. The Japanese cruisers sunk four Qing ships and got away without having lost a single ship themselves.
Many of the Japanese ships were heavily damaged, but had managed to stay afloat due to many of the Qing shots not exploding as they were filled with cement and porcelain. Also, many shots were of the incorrect calibre, making them unable to be fired. The fact is, much of the Beiyang ammunition had been condemned. The Beiyang fleet had a serious ammunition shortage caused by corruption as its funds were embezzled. Indeed, out of frustration, Captain Deng Shichang ordered to ram the Yoshino with his own cruiser, the Zhiyuan. Underway, his ship was torpedoed and sank. Deng Shichang was determined to go down with the ship. His dog swam to the captain in an attempt to save him. They never surfaced. If the Beiyang fleet had proper ammunition, they might have carried the day. As it stood, Japan came away victorious and gained command of the sea. The morale of the Beiyang Fleet was shattered, and the fleet never again took to open waters.
The first phase of the Japanese plan as envisioned by General Yamagata Aritomo, commander-in-chief of the 1st Army of Japan, was to quickly take Korea. The second phase would then be invading the Manchurian homeland of the ruling Manchu and threatening the historical capital of Mukden. Another army would strike Shandong and then aim for Beijing, and the 3rd Army, still in Hiroshima, would land at Dagu (near Tianjin) and strike directly at Beijing. This plan was mainly risky because it relied on their command of the sea, which was not guaranteed at all at the start of the war. Yet, after the previous two remarkably successful battles, both the sea and Korea belonged to Japan. It seems everything was going according to plan. Japan had achieved its operational goals within two months and taken very few losses while doing so. It was now time to launch the second phase.
The Qing troops retreated to the Yalu River, the border between China and Korea. Viceroy Li Hongzhang had restructured the army after the defeat at Pyeongyang and made Song Qing the commander. Jiuliancheng guarded the Yalu River and was the headquarters of the Qing military in this region. It was widely regarded as impregnable, being defended by 28,000 Qing soldiers. General Song Qing fortified the northern banks of the Yalu River for seven miles one way and ten miles the other way.
In October, General Yamagata Aritomo arrived in Uiji, on the southern side of the Yalu River. On the 24th of October, General Yamagata sent a small flanking force led by Colonel Sato upstream across the Yalu River. They faced heavy fire but were successful in crossing. Sato's plan was to attack the village of Hushan from the rear, where a number of the Beiyang troops were stationed. The main force of the Japanese would attack Hushan from the front. On the morning of the 25th, the Japanese forces constructed a pontoon bridge across a normally unfordable section of the deep and wide river. Hushan was attacked from two directions. The Japanese artillery again decimated the defenders inside the fort. General Yamagata laid siege to Hushan. The fort fell by noon. The rest of the day was spent in preparation for the assault on the city Jiuliancheng, which would take place on the early morning of the 26th.
In approaching the city, the Japanese forces were divided into three columns. To their surprise, they faced no resistance. The Japanese had scouts scale the walls and found out that the Qing had abandoned the defence on the night of the 25th. The Beiyang forces had slipped out of the city secretly, and therefore could not destroy the massive amount of supplies they had gathered in Jiuliancheng. The Japanese found 66 cannon, 35,000 shells, 3,300 rifles, 3,000,000 rounds of ammunition, and food supplies that proved to be crucial. General Song Qing likely ordered a retreat from this greatly defensible position due to fear of being outflanked by the Japanese 2nd Army. An actual pitched defence likely would have resulted in heavy casualties for the Japanese 1st Army. Instead, all Song succeeded in doing was to give Japan uninhibited access to Manchuria and supplies to help them through the winter months.
The Japanese 1st Army split into several corps and continued from Jiuliancheng to Fenghuangcheng, chasing the Beiyang troops into Motian. Another group took a northwestern arc, also in pursuit of the Beiyang troops. The 1st Army combined at Lianshanguan and took the city on the 12th of November. The Qing forces that were pursued by the 1st were now pinned here, making them unavailable for the defence of Lushun. The 1st Army continued towards Mukden, in order to divert the Qing forces from Lushun further.
The 2nd Army under Lieutenant-General Yamaji Motoharu was responsible for the taking of Lushunkou. They landed in the Liaodong Peninsula on the 24th of October, during the Battle of Jiuliancheng. The 2nd faced unfavourable odds against the Qing forces again in Jinzhou. Yet again, the Japanese forces surmounted those odds and defeated the Qing forces. The loss of Jinzhou was significant. The Qing forces which were previously pinned by the 1st now moved out to retake Jinzhou. There were 8,000 men under General Song Qing who marched from Motian to assault Jinzhou, but they were defeated.
The Japanese continued to lay siege to Dalian. When the Qing forces fled the city in a hurry, they failed to destroy sensitive intelligence, and left the plans for the minefields and the defence of Lushunkou for the Japanese to study. With the minefields circumnavigated, the Japanese converted Dalian into a naval base for themselves.
On the 21st of November, General Nogi Maresuke assaulted Lushunkou (Port Arthur). Lushunkou was well fortified. The fortifications were modern, well-situated, and well-supplied. The fortifications of Lushunkou had taken sixteen years to build and were considered superior to the defences of Hong Kong. The Japanese, on the other hand, lacked even proper ammunition for their siege guns. The advantage was once again on the Qing side. The taking of Lushunkou was by all estimates a very daunting task.
Yet the lack of communication between the defending forces positioned in the forts around Lushunkou prevented any kind of co-ordinated defence effort. The Japanese were able to capture these forts one by one, and used the captured artillery to rout the Qing forces. During the disorganised rout, the Qing left all of the fortifications intact and yet again neglected to destroy present supplies. The Qing Empire lost its most advanced naval dockyard, and the remnants of the Beiyang Fleet had lost their home base. The Beiyang Fleet fled to Weihaiwei. The Japanese were well aware that in order for them to become the dominant power in the region, the Qing naval capabilities had to be nullified. This goal was nearly complete.
When the Japanese troops entered Lushunkou, they found that the Qing troops had most barbarously tortured and killed Japanese prisoners of war. Japanese soldiers were found disembowelled, with their eyes gouged out, and with their hands cut off. Their bodies were mutilated in all kinds of ways. James Allan reports, "The bodies of the Japanese soldiers killed in encounters with the enemy as they closed on the place, were often found minus the head or right hand, sometimes both, besides being ferociously gashed and slashed. Corpses were still hanging on the trees when the fortress fell." He comments that it was not surprising that their former comrades should have been maddened by the sight. In total, there were thirteen killed and twenty wounded Japanese soldiers.
The otherwise disciplined and ordinary Japanese soldiery, relieved at their easy victory against the daunting defences at Lushunkou, spurred on by their contempt of the Chinese, and enraged at the sight of their many mutilated comrades, finally released all their pent-up frustrations and started a five-day killing spree which spared no one. Unarmed men, women, and children all perished at the hands of the bloodlusted killers. The entire population of Lushunkou was massacred. Lone states that according to Japanese historian Fujimura Michio, up to 60,000 Chinese were murdered by the Japanese army. Lone caveats this number by saying that they appear to be inflated. Nevertheless, a large-scale massacre eerily similar to the Nanjing Massacre took place without a doubt.
Their victory in Lushunkou would, for the first time to foreign observers, show the brutality of the Japanese military, serving as a grim prelude to the Second Sino–Japanese war. James Creelman, Thomas Cowan, and Frederick Villiers were all reporters who became personal eyewitnesses to the carnival of death that followed the fall of Lushunkou. Their reports on the massacre reached international news and blemished the prestige of the Japanese Empire in Western eyes.
According to Creelman, "The sheer scale of the murder and rape made the observers at the time wonder if Japan really had modernised. They claimed Japan was merely wearing the outward garb civilisation, without having gone through the process of moral and intellectual development necessary to grasp the ideas upon which modern civilisation is founded." This critique was hollow. The modern civilisation of America still upheld many inhumane institutions and, together with other Western civilised nations, wreaked havoc upon Asian, African, American or Australian nations.
The Japanese were well aware of this. A reporter from Shin Chya News wrote, "It is a regular habit with civilised Christians of the West to see no wrong in anything they do themselves to Oriental and non-Christian races... Civilised Occidentals have often slaughtered Orientals and other heretics or savages, as though they were no better than fattened animals destined to die under the butchers knife. During the past century, the history of savage nations that have come in contact with Christian Occidentals is all but written in blood." The sheer hypocrisy practised by the West is pointed out once again. Nonetheless, it is a tu quoque, if ever I have seen one. Pointing out their hypocrisy does not take away the fact that the massacre was, in every sense of the word, an unadulterated evil.
It is important to distinguish modernity from civilisation. There is no guarantee that a modern industrialised nation is any more moral than the so-called barbaric societies of the past. Modern industrialised nations have been just as immoral as backward states have ever been. Indeed, who can say that Attila the Hun was more brutal than Stalin. Who can say that Chinggis Qan was more methodical and ruthless than Adolf Hitler? Who can say that Timur the Great was more flippant in his disregard for human life than Winston Churchill? Evidently, it is absolutely not a guarantee that modernity leads to morality.
It was at this moment that the unity between the Japanese military and Japanese politics fell in twain. General Yamagata Aritomo's original plan to topple the Qing government was opposed by Prime Minister Ito Hirobumi, who feared that the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and the subsequent civil war would trigger Western intervention. Japan would then have greater worries than dealing with the Qing. To prevent General Yamagata from defying the order not to attack Beijing, the Prime Minister arranged for General Yamagata to be relieved of his duties. The strategy was altered from its original. The 2nd Army, instead of continuing toward Beijing, was to focus mainly on completely annihilating the naval capabilities of the Qing. To realise this goal, taking Lushunkou was not enough. Weihaiwei, the only remaining naval base of the Beiyang Fleet, would have to be taken as well.
The 2nd Army remained in the Liaodong Peninsula to take Haicheng on the 13 December 1894, Fuzhou on the 19th of December, and Gaiping on the 10th of January. Haicheng was a city north of the Liaodong Peninsula, sitting at the crossroads connecting Beijing to Niuzhuang, Mukden, and Liaoyang. The city was so vital, in fact, that the Qing launched five offensives to retake the city. These were the only offensives the Qing launched during the entire war and all failed. The taking of Haicheng opened the land communication lines between the 1st Army and 2nd Army.
The Japanese armies continued to march West. The 2nd Army split so that a part of the army could feint an attack on Dengzhou. The real target, however, was Weihaiwei. Whereas Japan attacked Lushunkou partly to gain a new base of operations, the attack on Weihaiwei was meant to utterly destroy the remnants of the Beiyang Fleet, thereby securing Japanese naval superiority for the foreseeable future. The main force embarked on the ships and landed near Rongcheng (located on the tip of the Shandong Peninsula, on the other side of the Liaodong Peninsula, and separated by the Bohai sea).
The defence of Weihaiwei and the command of the Beiyang Fleet were the responsibility of Admiral Ding Ruchang, who had lost the Battle of Yalu. The defences of Weihaiwei were even more impregnable than those of Lushunkou: 57 heavy guns, 20 of which were part of the land fortification, guarded the fort. Additionally, around 6,500 men garrisoned the fort and those men had additional cannon in the form of mountain guns as well as mitrailleuses. The defences at Weihaiwei were designed by German military advisors and widely considered impregnable. To illustrate, Captain William Lang, who trained the Qing naval forces for a while, had said, "In my opinion Weihaiwei is impregnable." Vice-Admiral Sir Edmund Fremantle and one hundred other British officers, after inspecting Weihaiwei, unanimously pronounced it impregnable if any real attempt should be been made to defend it.
In preparation for the Japanese assault, Admiral Ding had closed the harbour with booms (three-inch thick steel cables spanned across the harbour on anchored buoys) so no one could enter. The Japanese objective was to destroy the fleet, so the Japanese reinforced the barricades by preparing contact torpedoes on the other side. Admiral Ding Ruchang assumed that the Japanese forces would attack from the sea in a naval assault. He was mistaken. General Oyama Iwao and Admiral Ito planned to take Weihaiwei by land, just as Lushunkou was taken. The Japanese army left Luda (adjacent to Lushunkou) between 19th and the 22nd of January.
The Japanese forces landed at Rongcheng between the 20th and the 23th of January. It was a particulary harsh winter, yet the frost, snow, and winter gale did little to deter the determined advance of the Japanese army. They set out on the Lunar New Year, which was on the 26th of January. On the 30th of January, the Japanese launched a three-pronged assault on the forts surrounding Weihaiwei. The highest ranking Japanese casualty of the war occurred when Major General Odera Yasuzumi was felled while storming one of the forts. The forts fell quickly, shattering the morale of the Qing troops stationed in Weihaiwei. The Japanese entered Weihaiwei on the 2nd of February, only to find it abandoned by the Qing military. Admiral Ding destroyed some of the forts near the harbour to deny their use to the Japanese. However, most of the forts were captured by the Japanese. They used the heavy guns in these forts against the remaining Qing positions as well as Beiyang Fleet in the harbour. On the 12th of February, the last Qing hold-out fell.
Admiral Ding Ruchang, as the defeated leader, took responsibility for his failure and ended his own life by drinking poison. Three of his captains followed his example and shot themselves. This particular act earned them the respect of the Japanese military and indeed of the Japanese nation. According to the ideals of Bushido, death was the only honourable action after military defeat. The Japanese fleet lowered their flags to half mast and fired a salute in his honour. After the declaration of surrender was offered to the Japanese, they showed extraordinary leniency by releasing Ding's men. Japanese schoolboys called Admiral Ding's action the noblest thing which they had ever heard of.
Admiral Ding Ruchang was out of his element as a naval commander. His experience leading armies was as a cavalry commander. Perhaps this explained his blunders at the Battle of Yalu. It was probably not advisable to place army men in command of the navy, but this just serves to highlight the severe lack of eligible commanders the Qing dynasty had (moreso its inability to select effectively from its immense pool of talent). Admiral Ding had also attempted to scuttle the remainder of the Beiyang Fleet and to blow up more forts guarding the harbour, lest they fall into the hands of the Japanese. However, his soldiers mutinied and refused to carry out these orders. The men under Ding's command were not loyal to him, Ding was from the province of Anhui and his soldiers were largely from Fujian. That they were fighting for one cause made no difference. Regional discrimination in China transcended loyalty to the Empire. More importantly, Imperial law dictated that the destruction of twenty or more firearms was punishable by death. Blowing up an entire fort and scuttling those expensive ships which took years of revenue to build would probably have disgraced one's entire clan for generations. As one can see, the questionable logic behind the Imperial reward and punishment system actively hindered the proper execution of war in this new era.
Weihaiwei was the last straw. The naval capacities of the Qing Empire had been totally annihilated. The two forts that guarded the Bohai which granted access to Tianjin and Beijing were captured and destroyed. The Japanese armies were almost at full strength, as they had not lost much more than a thousand men in the Korean, Manchurian, and Shandong campaigns combined. What needed to be done was clear. Li Hongzhang tried to sue for peace with Japan. Li Hongzhang was sent to Shimonoseki and arrived on the 19th of March. What Li Hongzhang perhaps lacked in military strategy, he made up for abundantly in diplomatic skill. The negotiations did not go smoothly for the Japanese Prime Minister. As the negotiations went on, the Japanese army bombarded and took the Pescadores on the 23rd and 24th of March. On the 24th of March, a fanatical Japanese youth attempted to assassinate Viceroy Li. The Viceroy was hit below his eye. This was a blemish on the prestige of the Japanese Empire. To make up for this fumble, Emperor Meiji agreed to a three-week armistice with the Qing, which excluded the Pescadores and Taiwan. Viceroy Li was wounded severely, but the man's tenacity allowed him to return to the negotiating table two weeks later on the 10th of April. Seven days later, on the 17th of April, exactly 125 years ago, both parties settled on the terms and signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki.
The rest, as they say, is history.
In terms of modernisation, why did Japan succeed where the Qing failed? In a sense, the Tokugawa Shogunate's instability as a system and its inability to squash the development of budding capitalism was what quickened the downfall of its own stifling feudal institution and social order, thereby making place for a vibrant new regime. The new regime could facilitate reform far better than the old regime ever could. We can see that during the coup d'etat in Japan, the old Shogunate and its supporters lost their social privileges, clearing the way for the supporters of the new regime, who were previously the downtrodden. To contrast, the Qing's talent in eliminating dissent and in preserving the privileges of the nobility was what prevented the downfall of the established Imperial order. The Qing supported modernisation only as a means of preserving their own power. Thus, any reform that would go beyond purchasing better weapons and researching new technology, such as an organisational, social, or economic reform, was be out of the question, since such reforms would almost by definition threaten the power and position of the Qing rulers. However, it was exactly those organisational, social, and economic reforms which lay at the heart of modernisation.
They had construed modernization narrowly in terms of technology and particularly military technology, failing to appreciate the extensive institutional, civilian, and human foundations required for modernisation, such as were laid by Japan through its westernizing reforms.
So then, the Qing failed at modernising. However, the Qing still had considerable hardware at its disposal. After all, at the start of the war, foreign observers including the Japanese themselves had concluded that the Qing had the advantage. Nobody, however, could have predicted the spectacular military incompetence displayed by the Qing. The reason for the Qing's disastrous use of its military had several reasons.
Firstly, the Manchu were primarily concerned with maintaining their power and rule over China, and not with the defence of China. If they gave too much military power to a Han general, or pooled the Han forces together into a national army, it would have been akin to giving the Han a means of toppling the Qing government. The Qing had to hold the Beiyang Fleet as a bargaining chip to maintain their control of China. The Manchu were less afraid of the Japanese than they were of a Han revolution. Such a revolution, even without the use of modern hardware, had almost toppled the Qing in the 1850s. Simply said, the parts of the Qing Empire were not loyal to the center.
Secondly, the Qing Empire was fighting the war as if it were fighting its traditional Central Asian enemies such as the Dzungars, and focused on protecting the targets which were vital in such conflicts. However, Japan was a naval power that invaded China from the seas. The primary goal of the Qing should have been to prevent the Japanese troops from landing in China at all. For that to have been possible, they should have protected Lushunkou, the only port capable of maintaining the Beiyang Fleet. Instead, the Qing spread its forces throughout Manchuria, made no use of the Beiyang Fleet, and allowed Lshunkou to be taken.
Through these examples we can see that the problems of the Qing were, in my opinion, not necessarily due its failure to modernise. The Manchu ruling class had practised separatism. It was the only way to ensure the maintenance of Manchu supremacy in an Empire where they were in the absolute minority. It had worked for two centuries, but by the end of the dynasty there was so much distrust between the Han soldiery and the Qing rulership that it was hardly surprising that the morale of the Han commanders and soldiers was so low. The Qing was not for them and they were not for the Qing. If they were, the southern fleets would surely have rushed to the aid of the capital, surely the soldiers would not have been so eager to abandon their posts, and surely generals such as Wei Rugui, Song Qing, and Ye Zhichao would not have displayed such blatant cowardice. Compare this to Japan, where soldiers were loyal to their country and loyal to their Emperor, owing in part to the impressive propaganda machine of the Japanese Empire. The only soldiers who matched the Japanese in loyalty and bravery in China appear to have been the soldiers who fought for something they believed in: the loyal Captain Deng and the Muslim troops under Zuo Baogui.
Perhaps the failure of the Qing simply rested on the fact that the people stopped believing in the idea of the Qing. After all, the Qing had justified their rule by their strength of arms, but also the upholstery of the moral principles of Confucianism. However, once the people saw that the Manchu ruling class did not uphold those lofty ideals, they stopped believing in the benevolence of the Emperor. Why should one care for an Emperor who does not care for you? Moreover, once the foreign gunboats humiliated the Qing again and again, how can you expect the people to believe in the military supremacy of the Empire when it is so abundantly clear that they are not powerful at all?
Faith, principles, morals, and ideas: these things are intangible and can never be destroyed by a bullet, but you can be destroyed by your failure to uphold them. It is therefore my belief that a man is not worth anything but his ability to uphold his principles. Losing your principles is the same as dying. It is your spiritual death and it is worse than a physical one. Zuo Baogui is respected because he never gave up his faith. Deng Shichang and his dog are remembered fondly because they never gave up their loyalty. Ding Ruchang was honoured even by his enemies because he kept his dignity as a commander and took responsibility for his failure. Betraying promises, betraying trust, betraying morals; that was the true failure and ruin of the late Qing, and of anyone walking the same path.