This series has six easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Japan’s Reasons for War.
The war between China and Japan was largely fought over Korea. One Westerner said, “the main question is whether Korea should be the Ireland of China or the Ireland of Japan.” The key objective was Port Arthur (present day Lüshunkou in China).
The selections are from:
- The Japan-China War (1894–95); compiled from official and other Sources by J. MacGowan published in 1895-96.
- A Concise History of the War between Japan and China by Jurichi Inouye published in 1895.
For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
There’s 2.5 installments by J. MacGowan and 3.5 installments by Jurichi Inouye. We begin with J. MacGowan.
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 dispatched to the south of Korea to a district on the west coast, lying about a hundred miles from Chemulpo. *
[* Chemulpo modern Inchon 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 dispatched 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 equipment 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Progressives. The larger portion of the people belonged to the former and were out-and-out opposed to Western ideas and reforms.
- 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.
Jurichi Inouye begins here.
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