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UPDATED: August 18, 2014 NO. 34 AUGUST 21, 2014
The Defeat That Changed China's History
The First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 altered China's past and has left the nation in reflection ever since
By Yin Pumin

HUMILIATION: An artist's representation of representatives from the Qing Dynasty and Japan negotiating the Treaty of Shimonoseki in Japan on April 17, 1895 (XINHUA)

With an institutional foundation, reforms in other areas also speeded up during the Meiji Period. Led by the government's support, communications, transportations, national enterprises and banks developed rapidly.

By the end of the 1870s, more than 150 national banks had opened their doors for business. By the time the first Diet convened in 1890, nearly 10,000 miles of telegraph wire and more than 200 telegraph offices had been built to provide instantaneous communication among the country's major cities.

Along with state-owned projects, many private enterprises and workshops were also established. Japan's four great plutocrats—Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo and Yasuda—were among the prime examples. Meanwhile, many small workshops in filature and textile also sprung up around the country.

"The development of the private enterprises coped with the trend of history, enlarging the social base for the Meiji Restoration," said Feng Wei, a professor with the Department of History of Shanghai-based Fudan University.

According to Feng, the introduction of private entities distinguished the Meiji Restoration from China's Self-Strengthening Movement. During the Self-Strengthening Movement, almost all the enterprises established by officials were government-supervised.

"The government-supervised enterprises were hybrid operations, and were plagued by the usual bureaucratic inefficiency, corruption and nepotism," Feng said. "From such enterprises, the guns and ships produced were nowhere comparable in quality to their Japanese counterparts."

Expanding influence

In the spring of 1894, the Donghak Rebellion broke out in Korea and threatened to overthrow the country's imperial regime. Answering the requests of the Korean court, China sent in troops to help suppress the rebellion.

Japanese forces claimed that this action by China broke the Convention of Tientsin (now Tianjin), which the two countries had signed 10 years earlier. The convention stated that China and Japan had to seek approval from one another if either were to send troops into Korea. Japan claimed that China has not sought approval or even notified them, while China asserted that they had contacted Japan and received approval.

In fact, Japan had long intended to weaken Qing influence over Korea and ended up using the incident as an excuse to begin their campaign. After refusing to withdraw its troops in spite of the diplomatic interventions from Russia and Britain, Japan went on to capture Seoul and install a new pro-Japanese government that Japan then used to grant the Japanese Imperial Army the right to expel the Chinese Beiyang Army from Korea. Eventually, on August 1, 1894, war was officially declared between Japan and China.

After a series of battles on land and at sea, including the defeat of China's Beiyang Fleet, which was largely sponsored by Li, and the Battle of the Yalu River on September 17, 1894, Japanese troops ultimately crossed the Korean border and entered Qing territory in October the same year.

The losses came as a surprise to the Qing government and foreign observers alike—the German General Staff had predicted Japan's defeat and William Lang (1843-1906), a British advisor to the Qing naval forces, had gone as far as to say, "In the end, there is no doubt that Japan must be utterly crushed."

At the time of the Battle of the Yalu River, the Chinese navy had 65 ships, compared to Japan's 32. However, not all of China's fleets were mobilized for the battle. Only the Beiyang Fleet, though the largest in China and Asia as a whole at the time which had 25 ships, fought the Japanese.

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