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China eText - Chapter XXIII - The War With Japan And Subsequent Events

Chapter XXIII - The War With Japan And Subsequent Events

We have seen that, up to 1892, it had been customary to receive the representatives of foreign powers in the Tse Kung Ko, or Hall of Tributary Nations. Naturally, much dissatisfaction was provoked by the selection of a place of audience which seemed to put the treaty powers on the same footing as tributary states, and, accordingly, the foreign ministers undertook to exact from the Tsungli Yamen, or Board for Foreign Affairs, the designation of a more suitable locality in the imperial city for the annual ceremony. The proposed innovation was resisted for some time; but when Sir Nicolas O'Conor was appointed British Minister at Pekin, an exception was made in his favor, and a place of superior importance to the Hall of Tributary Nations was chosen for the presentation of his credentials. The Emperor Kwangsu agreed to receive him in the Cheng Kuan Tien Palace, or pavilion which forms part of the imperial residence of Peace and Plenty within the Forbidden City. In pursuance of this arrangement, the British representative, attended by his suite, proceeded to this pavilion on December 13, 1892, and was received at the principal entrance by the high court officials. It was also noted that the emperor took a greater interest in the ceremony than on preceding occasions, and followed with attention the reading of Queen Victoria's letter, by Prince Ching, then president of the Tsungli Yamen. Thenceforth, there was observed with every year a decided improvement in the mode of receiving foreign diplomatists, and, eventually, the imperial audience was supplemented with an annual dinner given by the Board for Foreign Affairs. Through the personal reception accorded by the Emperor of China to Prince Henry of Prussia on May 15, 1898, the audience question was finally settled in favor of the right of foreign potentates to rank on an equality with the so-called Son of Heaven.

We come now to the most memorable event in the modern history of China since the Taeping Rebellion; to wit, the war with Japan. In order to comprehend, however, the causes of this contest between the two chief races of the Far East, it is necessary to review the development of the Corean question which gave rise to it. There seems to be no doubt that Japan derived its first civilizing settlers, and most of its arts and industries, from the Corean peninsula. It is certain that, for centuries, the intercourse between the two countries was very close, and that more than one attempt was made by Japanese rulers to subjugate Corea. The latest and most strenuous endeavor to that end was made near the end of the sixteenth century, and, although it resulted in a temporary occupation of the peninsula, the Japanese troops were eventually withdrawn, and Corea resumed its former status of a kingdom tributary to the Celestial Empire. Thenceforth, for almost three centuries, Corea and Tonquin bore, in theory, precisely the same relation to the Middle Kingdom. In each instance, the practical question was whether China was strong enough to make good her nominal rights. The outcome of her resistance to French aggression in Tonquin had shown that there, at least, she had no such power. But, in the subsequent ten years, efforts had been made to organize an efficient army and navy, and the belief was entertained at Pekin that China was at all events strong enough to uphold her claims in Corea, which was, geographically and strategically, of far more importance to the Middle Kingdom than was Tonquin. Yet, while it was evident that Corea would not be renounced without a struggle, the Pekin authorities, for some years, met the Japanese encroachments with a weak and vacillating policy. As early as 1876, the Mikado's advisers entered on a course which obviously aimed at the attainment of commercial, if not, also, political, ascendency in the Hermit Kingdom. An outrage having been committed upon some of her sailors, Japan obtained, by way of reparation from the court of Seoul, the opening of the port of Fushan to her trade. Four years later, Chemulpo, the port of Seoul, was also opened. These forward steps on the part of the Japanese aroused the Chinese to activity, and, in 1881, a draft commercial treaty was prepared by the Chinese authorities in council with the representatives of the principal powers at Pekin, and sent to Seoul, where it was accepted. The Japanese alleged, however, that they possessed a historical right to an equal voice with China in the Corean peninsula, and that, consequently, the treaty to which we have just referred required their ratification. To sustain this claim, the Japanese allied themselves with the Progressive party in Corea, a move which compelled the Chinese to lean upon the Reactionists, who were opposed to the concessions lately made to foreigners, and who, as events were to show, were preponderant in the Hermit Kingdom. In June, 1882, the Corean Reactionists attacked the Japanese Legation at Seoul, murdered some members of it, and compelled the survivors to flee to the seacoast. Thereupon, the Mikado sent some troops to exact reparation, and the Chinese, on their part, dispatched a force to restore order. A compromise was brought about, and, for two years, Japanese and Chinese soldiers remained encamped beside one another under the walls of the Corean capital. In December, 1884, however, a second collision occurred between the Japanese and the Coreans, the latter being, this time, assisted by the Chinese. The Mikado's subjects were again compelled to take to flight. The Tokio government now resolved upon firm measures, and, while it exacted compensation from the Coreans, it sent Count Ito Hirobumi to China to bring about an accommodation with the Pekin government. At that conjuncture, there is no doubt that China possessed advantages in the Corean peninsula that were lacking to the Japanese. Not only was she popular with the majority of the people, but the treaty powers were more disposed to act through her than through Japan in order to secure the general extension of trade with the Hermit Kingdom. Those advantages, nevertheless, were thrown away by an agreement which the shortsighted advisers of the Chinese emperor were persuaded to accept. Li Hung Chang was appointed the Chinese Plenipotentiary to negotiate with Count Ito, and, after a short conference, a convention was signed at Tientsin on April 18, 1885. The provisions of the convention were, first, that both countries should withdraw their troops from Corea; secondly, that no more officers should be sent by either country to drill the Corean army; and, thirdly, that if, at any future time, either of the two countries should send troops to Corea, it must inform the other. It is manifest that, by this agreement, China, practically, acquiesced in Japan's assertion of an equal right to control the Hermit Kingdom. Thenceforth, it was impossible to speak of Corea as being a vassal state of the Celestial Empire.

For some nine years, nevertheless, after the conclusion of the Tientsin agreement, there were no dangerous disturbances in the Peninsular Kingdom. In the early part of 1894, however, Kim-Ok-Kiun, a reformer, and the leader of the Corean uprising in 1884, was assassinated at Shanghai, and it subsequently transpired that the murder had been committed by the order of the Corean authorities. It is certain that honors and rewards were bestowed upon the assassin on his return to the Hermit Kingdom, while the body of his victim was drawn and quartered as that of a traitor. Just at this juncture, the Tonghaks, a body of religious reformers, having failed to obtain certain concessions, revolted, and, by the end of May, achieved so much success over the Corean forces that the Seoul government became alarmed, and sent to China for assistance. In response to the request, some two thousand Chinese troops were disembarked on June 10 at Asan, a seaport some distance south of the Corean capital, and a few Chinese men- of-war were dispatched to the coast of the peninsula. Formal notice of these proceedings was given to Japan under the terms of the Tientsin Convention. Thereupon, the Mikado's government decided to undertake a like interposition, and acted with so much energy that, within forty-eight hours after the arrival of the Chinese at Asan, they had placed at Seoul a much superior force. They were thus able to dominate the court, although it was in entire sympathy with China. The Pekin government now made the mistake of reviving its pretensions to regard the Hermit Kingdom as a vassal state. These pretensions Japan refused to tolerate, on the ground, first, that she had never admitted them, and, secondly, that the Tientsin Convention recognized an equality of rights in the two states. The Japanese also called attention to the misrule that prevailed in Corea, and proposed that the Chinese should join them in carrying out needful reforms. To this proposal, China could not accede, being hampered by her alliance with the reactionary party at Seoul; consequently, Japan undertook the execution of the task alone. As a first step in that direction, the Japanese got possession of the person of the Corean ruler, and compelled him to act as the instrument of his captors. The initial document which he was constrained to sign was an order that the Chinese troops, who had come at his invitation, should leave the country. The seizure of the king's person, which occurred on July 23, 1894, was followed by two successful acts of aggression. On the 25th, the Japanese squadron attacked the Chinese transport "Kowshing," conveying fresh soldiers to Asan, and its escort of warships. In the engagement, one Chinese man-of-war was sunk, one was disabled, and 1,200 soldiers were destroyed on the "Kowshing," which was torpedoed. On July 29, the Japanese general Oshima, at the head of a small force, made a night attack upon the Chinese fortified camp at Song Hwang, and carried the place with a loss to their opponents of 500 killed and wounded. These preliminary encounters were followed by a declaration of war on August 1, 1894. During the ensuing six weeks, Japan poured her troops into the peninsula, while the Chinese fleet, instead of harassing the enemy, remained in the harbors of Port Arthur and Wei-hai-Wei. On September 15, the Japanese army in Corea was strong enough to detach a corps of 14,000 men to attack the Chinese position at Pingyang, a town on the northern banks of the Paidong River. The passage of the river was difficult, and the Chinese might have overwhelmed the Japanese when crossing it, but they took no measures to this end, and the battle began at sunrise on the day just named. There were five forts to be captured, and some of them were vigorously defended, nor was it until night set in that the garrison finally determined upon evacuating the place. In the battle itself and the retreat, over 2,000 Chinese were killed, to say nothing of the wounded and the prisoners. The Japanese themselves lost 162 killed, 438 wounded and 33 missing, and there seems to be no reason to doubt that, had all the Chinese officers been capable of the valor displayed by the general Tso-pao-kuei, the Japanese would have been repulsed. As it was, the battle proved decisive, for not a Chinaman paused until he had reached the other side of the Yalu River, which forms the northwest boundary of Corea.

On the very day of the fight at Pingyang, a number of Chinese war vessels, under the command of Admiral Ting, were transporting troops to the mouth of the Yalu, where the Chinese were assembling a second army. On its return from this task, it was encountered, September 17, off tha island of Haiyang, by a Japanese squadron under Admiral Ito. Ostensibly, the two fleets were evenly matched. They each numbered ten fighting vessels, and, if two of the Chinese ships possessed a more powerful armament, the Japanese were superior in steam power. It was to quickness in maneuvering that the Japanese admiral trusted for victory, and his first attack consisted mainly in circling around the Chinese squadron. He was careful, also, to reserve his fire until only two miles separated him from his adversaries. After a duel with the Japanese "Matsushima," the Chinese flagship "Tingyuen" was severely damaged, and only saved from sinking by the intervention of her sister ship, the "Chenyuen." These two ironclads, together with the torpedo boats, succeeded in making their escape, but five of the Chinese vessels were sunk or destroyed. In men, the Chinese lost 700 killed or drowned and 300 wounded, while the Japanese lost 115 killed and 150 wounded. The result of this victory was that the Chinese never afterward attempted to dispute the control of the sea, and their water communication with the Yalu was effectually cut off.

After the battle of Pingyang, the Japanese army halted, and it was not until after they received re-enforcements under Marshal Yamagata that they resumed their forward movement. On October 10 their advance guard reached the Yalu, a river broad and difficult of passage, behind which was stationed a considerable Chinese army, which, however, after a nominal resistance, soon retreated. In the abandoned positions on the northern bank of the Yalu, the Japanese captured a vast quantity of material of war, including 74 cannons, over 4,000 rifles, and more than 4,000,000 rounds of ammunition. It was supposed that the retreating Chinese force would make a stand at Feng Hwang, but, on reaching that town, October 30, the Japanese found it evacuated, and were informed that the Chinese soldiers had dispersed.

While Marshal Yamagata was beginning the invasion of China from the direction of Corea, another Japanese army, under Marshal Oyama, had landed on the Liau-Tung, or Regent's Sword Peninsula, with the aim of capturing the Chinese naval station of Port Arthur. Even in Chinese hands, this was a redoubtable stronghold. It had 300 guns in position, and the garrison numbered some 10,000 men, while the attacking force did not exceed 13,000, although we should bear in mind that it was aided by the Japanese fleet. After landing at the mouth of the Huhua-Yuan River, about 100 miles north of Port Arthur, the Japanese advanced south, and took the fortified city of Chinchow, without incurring any loss. The next day they reached Talienwan, where the Chinese had five heavily armed batteries, and a considerable garrison, which, however, on the approach of the enemy, abandoned the post without firing a shot. In the forts at this point were found over 120 cannons, two and a half million rounds of ammunition for the artillery and nearly 34,000,000 rifle cartridges. On November 20, 1894, the Japanese army was drawn up in front of Port Arthur, and the fleet prepared to co-operate in the action. The attack began in the morning of November 22, and, although, in one quarter, the Chinese offered sturdy resistance, yet, by the end of the day, with the loss of no more than 18 men killed and 250 wounded, the Japanese were in possession of the strongest position in China, a naval fortress and arsenal on which $30,000,000 had been spent.

Throughout December the force under Marshal Yamagata pushed forward into Manchuria, but met there with more vigorous opposition than it had hitherto encountered. In the fight at Kangwasai, the Japanese lost 400, and, in the capture of the town of Kaiting, 300 killed and wounded. About the middle of January, 1895, the Japanese began operations against Wei- hai-Wei, the naval stronghold on the northern coast of Shangtung, in which the remnant of China's fleet had taken refuge. Although not so strong as Port Arthur, this harbor is considered one of the keys to the Gulf of Pechihli. On January 20 the Japanese troops began to land at Yungchang, a little west of the point to be attacked, and, on the 26th, they appeared at the gates of Wei-hai-Wei. About half of the beleaguered garrison consisted of 4,000 sailors from the fleet, under Admiral Ting, who was to show himself a leader of courage and energy. The assault on the land side of Wei-hai-Wei began on January 29, and continued throughout that and the following day. At certain points, where Admiral Ting's squadron was able to act with effect, the Japanese were repulsed, but, eventually, the whole of the land garrison fled panic-stricken to Chefoo. Even then Ting's squadron and the island force continued to resist, and it was not until February 9, when almost all the vessels had been taken or sunk, that he consented to capitulate, after receiving a telegram from Li Hung Chang to the effect that no help could be given him. No sooner were the terms of capitulation agreed upon than Admiral Ting retired to his cabin and took a fatal dose of opium. He had held out for three weeks, whereas Port Arthur had been lost in a day. The war continued for a few weeks longer, the Japanese pursuing their advance in Manchuria, and capturing the two places which are collectively called Newchang, thus threatening Pekin. They now possessed an army of 100,000 men ready to advance upon the Chinese capital. As there was no reason to suppose that Pekin could be successfully defended, the necessity of concluding peace as promptly as possible was recognized. To that end it was needful to appoint a plenipotentiary whose name would convince the Japanese government that the Chinese were in earnest in their overtures. The only two men who possessed the requisite qualifications were Prince Kung and Li Hung Chang. The former, however, being a prince of the imperial family, and the uncle of the reigning emperor, Kwangsu, could not be induced to submit to the humiliation of proceeding to Japan and suing for peace. The only possible selection, therefore, was Li Hung Chang, who was, accordingly, appointed plenipotentiary. He reached Shimonoseki on March 20, 1895, and, four days after his arrival, the success of his mission was greatly promoted by the attempt of a fanatic to assassinate him during his conference with Count Ito, the Japanese representative. The wound was not very serious, but the outrage caused a unanimous expression of sympathy and regret on the part of the Japanese people, and the Mikado sent his own physician to attend the wounded minister. To attest their sorrow for this incident, the Japanese at once granted an armistice, and the terms of peace which they at first proposed were materially mitigated. On April 17 the Treaty of Shimonoseki was signed, and, on May 8, the ratifications were exchanged at Chefoo. The terms of the original treaty were these: First, China was to surrender Formosa and the Pescadores Islands and the southern part of the Shingking province, including the Liau-Tung, or Regent's Sword Peninsula, and of course, also, the naval fortress of Port Arthur. China was likewise to pay in eight installments a money indemnity of 200,000,000 Kuping taels, or, say, $160,000,000. She was also to grant certain commercial concessions, including the admission of ships under the Japanese flag to the Chinese lakes and rivers, and the appointment of consuls. In view of the completeness of Japan's triumph, these conditions could not be considered onerous, but they, undoubtedly, disturbed the balance of power in the Far East, and, had they been permitted to stand, would have effectually thwarted Russia's plan of advancing southward, and of obtaining an ice-free port. The Czar's government, accordingly, determined to interpose, and, having secured the co-operation of its French ally, and also of Germany, it presented to the Mikado, in the name of the three powers, a request that he should waive that part of the Shimonoseki Treaty which provided for the surrender of the Liau-Tung Peninsula. It was proposed that, in return for the renunciation of this territory on the Chinese mainland, the pecuniary indemnity should be increased by $30,000,000, and that Wei-hai-Wei should be retained until the whole sum should have been paid. The demand was, obviously, one that could not be rejected without war against the three interposing powers, and the odds were too great for Japan to face without the assistance of Great Britain, which Lord Rosebery, then prime minister, did not see fit to offer. The Mikado, accordingly, submitted to the loss of the best part of the fruits of victory, retaining only Formosa and the Pescadores, the value of which is, as yet, undetermined; with the money indemnity, however, Japan has been enabled so greatly to strengthen her fleet that, when all the vessels building for her are completed, she will take rank as a naval power of the first class in the Pacific.

For some time after the revision of the Shimonoseki Treaty, the Chinese seem to have imagined that the Czar had intervened from disinterested motives, but Count Cassini, the Russian minister at Pekin, eventually made it clear that the interposition would not be gratuitous. In what form the payment for Russia's services should be made was, for some time, the subject of debate, but, before Li Hung Chang left China in the spring of 1896, as a special embassador to attend the coronation of Nicholas II. at Moscow, the heads of a convention had been drawn up, and, on Li's arrival in Russia, he signed an agreement which embodied the concessions to be made to the Czar in return for his services. This secret treaty gave Russia the control of the Liau-Tung Peninsula, which she had ostensibly saved, at the cost to China of $30,000,000, and the St. Petersburg government was also to be allowed to build a branch of the Trans-Siberian Railway through Manchuria to Talienwan and Port Arthur. A period of eighteen months elapsed before the details of this momentous agreement became known. On the return of Li Hung Chang to Pekin, he not only failed to recover the viceroyship of Chihli, but he found his relations with the Emperor Kwangsu quite as unsatisfactory as they had been after his return from Shimonoseki. He was restored, indeed, to a seat on the Tsungli Yamen, or Board of Foreign Affairs, but, for twelve months, it seemed as if, despite the support of the Empress-dowager Tsi An, his influence would never revive.

The two years that followed the Shimonoseki Treaty gave a breathing spell to China, and should have been devoted to energetic reforms in the military and naval administration. As a matter of fact, nothing had been accomplished, when, in 1897, a blow fell which brought the Middle Kingdom face to face with the prospect of immediate partition. In November of that year, without any preliminary notice or warning to the Pekin government, two German men-of-war entered the harbor of Kiao Chou, and ordered the commandant to give up the place in reparation for the murder of two German missionaries in the province of Shantung. Germany refused to evacuate Kiao Chou unless due reparation should be made for the outrage on the missionaries, and unless, further, China would cede to her the exclusive right to construct railways and work mines throughout the extensive and populous province of Shantung. This, of course, was equivalent to the demarcation of a sphere of influence. For a time, the Pekin government showed itself recalcitrant, but, in January, 1898, it consented to lease Kiao Chou to Germany for ninety-nine years, and to make the required additional concession of exclusive rights in Shantung. Russia, on her part, did not wait long after the German seizure of Kiao Chou, to put forward her claim for compensation on account of the services rendered in the matter of the revision of the Shimonoseki Treaty. The terms of the Cassini agreement were now gradually revealed. In December, 1897, the St. Petersburg government announced that the Chinese had given permission to the Russian fleet to winter at Port Arthur; in February, 1898, Russia added Talienwan to Port Arthur, but essayed to disarm criticism by declaring that the first-named port would be opened to the ships of all the great powers like other ports on the Chinese mainland. This promise was subsequently qualified, and on March 27 a convention was signed at Pekin giving the Russians the "usufruct" of Port Arthur and Talienwan, which, practically, meant that Russia had obtained those harbors unconditionally, and for an indefinite period. France, on her part, obtained possession of the port of Kwangchowfoo, which is the best outlet to the sea for the trade of the southern province of Kwangsi; she also secured a promise that the island of Hainan should not be ceded to any other power; and, finally, she gained a recognition of her claim, first advanced in 1895, to a prior right to control the commercial development of the province of Yunnan. This claim is as reasonable as that put forward by Germany with reference to the province of Shantung, but it is incompatible with the northeastward development of British Burmah. While these acts, which, virtually, amounted to mutilations of the Middle Kingdom, were being committed by Germany, Russia and France, England undertook to assert the principle of the "open door," the principle, namely, that, whatever territorial concessions might be made by the Pekin government, no nation could be deprived of its treaty rights in the ports ceded. That is to say, American citizens, British subjects, or the subjects of any other power which has a treaty with China containing "the most favored nation" clause, must be allowed to enjoy precisely the same rights in Talienwan, Kiao Chou and Kwangchowfoo as they would have enjoyed had not those places been surrendered to Russia, Germany and France respectively. This principle could only have been enforced by war, in which England would have needed the assistance of Japan; but Japan was not yet ready to engage in a contest, for the reason that she still had to receive $60,000,000 of the war indemnity due from China, and because the war vessels which she had ordered to be constructed in foreign shipyards were not yet sufficiently near completion. Being thus constrained to abandon the hope of maintaining its treaty rights in the ceded parts of China, the British Foreign Office changed its ground and fell back on the policy of exacting an equivalent for the advantages gained by Russia, Germany and France. In the pursuance of this policy it obtained Wei-hai- Wei, which, as we have said, is one of the two keys to the Gulf of Pechihli. It is, however, very inferior to Port Arthur; only by the expenditure of a large sum of money could it be made a naval fortress of high rank, and, even then, it would require a large garrison for its protection. This was not all that England gained, however; she secured a promise from the Pekin government that the valley of the Yangstekiang should never be alienated to any foreign power except Great Britain. The limits of the valley, nevertheless, were not defined, and the Pekin authorities have acted on the hypothesis that the covenant against alienation did not debar them from giving commercial and industrial privileges within the basin to the subjects of European powers other than England. The right to build, for instance, a railway from Pekin to Hangchow has been conferred upon a syndicate nominally Belgian, in which, however, it is understood that Russia is deeply interested. On the other hand, in spite of protests from St. Petersburg, the privilege of extending to Newchwang in Manchuria the railway which already extends some distance in a northeasterly direction from Tientsin, has been secured by a British corporation.

In September, 1898, a palace revolution occurred at Pekin. For some time, the Emperor Kwangsu had been known to be under the influence of a highly intelligent and progressive Cantonese named Kang Yu Wei. At the latter's suggestion, edicts were put forth decreeing important administrative reforms which would have deprived the mandarins of their opportunities of embezzlement, and also indicating an intention to reorganize the educational system of China upon European models. The necessity of such changes is obvious enough if China is to follow Japan in the path of progress, but it is equally plain that the advocacy of them would render the emperor obnoxious to the whole body of mandarins and of the literati. The unpopularity caused by his proposed innovations proved fatal to Kwangsu; for the party at court, headed by the Empress-dowager Tsi An, took advantage of it to arrest and imprison him. Kang Yu Wei, having received warning of the conspiracy, had fled, and succeeded in gaining an asylum under the British flag, but many of the emperor's personal followers were put to death. On September 22, appeared an edict ostensibly signed by Kwangsu announcing that he had requested the empress-dowager to resume authority over the affairs of State. It has been since reported that he has been killed. The immediate effect of the coup d'etat was to place all power at Pekin in the hands of Manchus least friendly to the adoption of European ideas, and more willing to lean upon Russia than upon any other foreign power. The early restoration to high office of Li Hung Chang, who has, for some time, been a useful tool of the St. Petersburg government, and who is a favorite of the empress-dowager, may be looked upon as probable.