Action-packed illustration of the Korean uprising of 23 July, 1882, also known as the Imo Incident or the Korean Incident. Korean soldiers revolted attacking the palace and government officials, along with the Japanese legation and military advisors. In the centre, an officer on horseback draws his sword back above his head with both hands, ready to strike as a Korean soldier lunges at him with a spear. At right, another Japanese in a white uniform holds his own against the attackers, a Korean soldier recoiling as he clutches the blade still stuck in his bloody forehead. A crowd of Koreans surge forward in the centre, wielding spears and swords.
Collection : Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.
The First Sino-Japanese War (1 August 1894 – 17 April 1895) was fought between the Qing Empire of China and the Empire of Japan, primarily over control of Korea. After more than six months of unbroken successes by Japanese land and naval forces and the loss of the Chinese port of Weihaiwei, the Qing government sued for peace in February 1895.
The war demonstrated the failure of the Qing Empire’s attempts to modernise its military and fend off threats to its sovereignty, especially when compared with Japan’s successful Meiji Restoration. For the first time regional dominance in East Asia shifted from China to Japan; the prestige of the Qing Empire, along with the classical tradition in China, suffered a major blow. The humiliating loss of Korea as a vassal state sparked an unprecedented public outcry. Within China, the defeat was a catalyst for a series of political upheavals led by Sun Yat-sen and Kang Youwei, culminating in the 1911 Xinhai Revolution.
The war is commonly known in China as the War of Jiawu, referring to the year (1894) as named under the traditional sexagenary system. In Japan it is called the Japan-Qing War(Nisshin sensō) In Korea, where much of the war took place, it is called the Qing-Japan War.
After two centuries, the Japanese policy of seclusion under the shoguns of the Edo period came to an end when the country was forced open to trade by American intervention in 1854. The years following the Meiji Restoration of 1868 and the fall of the Shogunate had seen Japan transform itself from a feudal society into a modern industrial state. The Japanese had sent delegations and students around the world to learn and assimilate Western arts and sciences, with the intention of making Japan an equal to the Western powers. Korea continued to try to exclude foreigners, refusing embassies from foreign countries and firing on ships near its shores. At the start of the war, Japan had the benefit of three decades of reform, leaving Korea outdated and vulnerable.
Conflict over Korea
As a newly risen power, Japan turned its attention toward its neighbour Korea. Japan wanted to block any other power from annexing or dominating Korea, resolving to the end the centuries-old Chinese suzerainty. As Prussian advisor Major Klemens Meckle put it to the Japanese, Korea was “a dagger pointed at the heart of Japan”. Moreover, Japan realised the potential economic benefits of Korea’s coal and the iron ore deposits for Japan’s growing industrial base, and of Korea’s agricultural exports to feed the growing Japanese population.
On February 27, 1876, after several confrontations between Korean isolationists and Japanese, Japan imposed the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1876, forcing Korea open to Japanese trade. Similar treaties were signed between Korea and other nations.
Korea had traditionally been a tributary state of China’s Qing Empire, which exerted large influence over the conservative Korean officials gathered around the royal family of the Joseon kingdom. Opinion in Korea itself was split: conservatives wanted to retain the traditional relationship under China, while reformists wanted to approach Japan and Western nations. After fighting two Opium Wars against the British in 1839 and 1856, and another war against the French in 1885, China was unable to resist the encroachment of Western powers. Japan saw the opportunity to take China’s place in the strategically vital Korea.
In 1882, the Korea peninsula experienced a severe drought which led to food shortages, causing much hardship and discord among the population. Korea was on the verge of Bankruptcy, even falling months behind in military pay, causing deep resentment among the soldiers. On July 23, a military mutiny and riot broke out in Seoul in which troops, assisted by the population, sacked the rice granaries. The next morning, the crowd attacked the royal palace and barracks, and then the Japanese legation. The Japanese legation staff managed to escape to Chemulpo and then Nagasaki via the British survey ship HMS Flying Fish.
In response, Japan sent four warships and a battalion of troops to Seoul to safeguard Japanese interests and demand reparations. The Chinese then deployed 4,500 troops to counter the Japanese. However, tensions subsided with the Treaty of Chemulpo, signed on the evening of August 30, 1882. The agreement specified that the Korean conspirators would be punished and 50,000 yen would be paid to the families of slain Japanese. The Japanese government would also receive 500,000 yen, a formal apology, and permission to station troops at their diplomatic legation in Seoul.
1884, a group of pro-Japanese reformers briefly overthrew the pro-Chinese conservative Korean government in a bloody coup d’état. However, the pro-Chinese faction, with assistance from Qing forces led by the general Yuan Shikai, succeeded in regaining control in an equally bloody counter-coup. These coups resulted not only in the deaths of a number of reformers, but also in the burning of the Japanese legation and the deaths of several legation guards and citizens. This caused a crisis between Japan and China, which was eventually settled by the Sino-Japanese Convention of Tientsin of 1885, in which the two sides agreed to pull their expeditionary forces out of Korea simultaneously, not send military trainers to the Korean military, and give warning to the other side should one decide to send troops to Korea. Chinese and Japanese troops then left, and diplomatic relations were restored between Japan and Korea.
However, the Japanese were frustrated by repeated Chinese attempts to undermine their influence in Korea. Yuan Shikai remained set as “Chinese Resident”, in what the Chinese intended as a sort of viceroy role directing Korean affairs. He attempted to encourage Chinese and hinder Japanese trade, though Japan remained Korea’s largest trading partner, and his government provided Korea with loans. The Chinese built telegraphs linking Korea to the Chinese network.
The Nagasaki Incident was a riot that took place in the Japanese port city of Nagasaki in 1886. Four warships from the Qing Empire’s navy, the Beiyang Fleet, stopped at Nagasaki, apparently to carry out repairs. Some Chinese sailors caused trouble in the city and started the riot. Several Japanese policemen confronting the rioters were killed. The Qing government did not apologise after the incident, which resulted in a wave of anti-Qing sentiment in Japan.
A poor harvest in 1889 caused a governor of Korea’s Hamgyong Province to prohibit soybean exports to Japan. Japan requested and received compensation in 1893 for their importers. The incident highlighted the growing dependence Japan felt on Korea food imports.
On March 28, 1894, a pro-Japanese Korean revolutionary Kim Ok-gyun, was assassinated in Shanghai. Kim had fled to Japan after his involvement in the 1884 coup and the Japanese had turned down Korean demands that he be extradited. Ultimately, he was lured to Shanghai, where he was killed by a Korean, Hong Jong-u, at a Japanese inn in the international settlement. His body was then taken aboard a Chinese warship and sent back to Korea, where it was quartered and displayed as a warning to other rebels. The Japanese government took this as an outrageous affront.
Tension ran high between China and Japan by June 1894, but war was not yet inevitable. On June 4, the Korean king, Gojong, requested aid from the Qing government in suppressing the Donghak Rebellion. Although the rebellion was not as serious as it initially seemed and hence Qing reinforcements were not necessary, the Qing government still sent the general Yuan Shikai as its plenipotentiary to lead 28,000 troops to Korea. According to the Japanese, the Qing government had violated the Convention of Tientsin by not informing the Japanese government of its decision to send troops, but the Qing claimed that Japan had approved this. The Japanese countered by sending a 8,000-troop expeditionary force (the Oshima Composite Brigade) to Korea. The first 400 troops arrived on June 9 en route to Seoul, and 3,000 landed at Inchon on June 12.
However, Japanese officials denied any intention to intervene/. As a result, the Qing viceroy Li Hongzhang “was lured into believing that Japan would not wage war, but the Japanese were fully prepared to act.” The Qing government turned down Japan’s suggestion for Japan and China to cooperate to reform the Korean government. When Korea demanded that Japan withdraw its troops from Korea, the Japanese refused.
In early June 1894, the 8,000 troops captured the Korean king Gojong, occupied the Royal Palace in Seoul and by June 25, replaced the existing Korean government with members of the pro-Japanese faction. Even though Qing forces were already leaving Korea after finding themselves unneeded there, the new pro-Japanese Korean government granted Japan the right to expel Qing forces while Japan dispatched more troops to Korea. The Qing Empire rejected the new Korean government as illegitimate. (Wikipedia, June 2016)