Intriguing triptych showing Admiral Ding Juchang in his official residence, looking over his shoulder out the window as the Japanese fleet arrives. Sitting on a tiger skin and holding a cup of poison, the Admiral scowls as he sees the ships steaming across the water, clouds of black smoke rising into the sky.
The most honourable Chinese opponent depicted in the Japanese war prints was Admiral Ding Juchang, who committed suicide after his fleet was destroyed in 1895. Here he is portrayed seated in an elegant room with a cup of poison in his hand.
The single most honourable Chinese singled out in the war prints, was not a mounted officer but an admiral – the venerable Ding Juchang, whose Chinese fleet was destroyed after hard fighting off Wei-Hai-wei early in 1895. After surrendering in a courteous exchange of messages between the two sides, Admiral Ding Juchang committed suicide by taking poison. When the Chinese warship carrying his body left the harbour, the Japanese fleet dropped their flags to half-mast and fired a salute. Death by one’s own hand held an honourable place in Japan’s own warrior tradition. Beautifully detailed with a dusting of mica and burnishing in the black tablecloth. An interesting illustration from the Sino-Japanese War.
On February 12, Captain Cheng Pi-kuang, commander of the Chinese warship Kuang-Ping, came to meet Admiral Itō Sukeyuki, who commanded the Japanese Combined Fleet. Cheng presented a message of surrender from Admiral Ting Ju-chang, commander of the Chinese Peiyang Fleet. Educated in America, Captain Cheng spoke English well and was known as one of the most able Chinese naval officers. Admiral Ting sought a guarantee of safety for the Chinese troops and foreign advisors in exchange for the surrender of ships and arms in the Weihaiwei area. Admiral Itō had proposed surrender earlier to Admiral Ting. His letter, written in English read in part: “Honored Sir: The unfortunate turn of events has made us enemies; but as the warfare of today does not imply animosity between each and all individuals, we hope our former friendship is still warm enough to assure Your Excellency that these lines, which we address to you with your kind permission, are dictated by a motive higher than that of a mere challenge to surrender.”*
Admiral Itō had written, it is said, in English deliberately to give Admiral Ting’s foreign advisors an advantage in arguing for surrender. One of the advisors to the Chinese was Scotsman John McClure. Admiral Itō accepted Admiral Ting’s surrender proposal. Captain Cheng returned with some gifts from the Japanese commander: two dozen bottles of wine and champagne and dried persimmons from Hiroshima. Admiral Ting replied to Itō’s acceptance of surrender with a gracious note. The Chinese admiral sent his representative back to the Japanese, returning Itō’s gifts with thanks. He wrote to the Chinese leader Li Hung-chang, explaining the details of the defeat. Admiral Ting then poisoned himself. Admiral Ting was respected as the leader of perhaps the only serious and prolonged resistance the Japanese encountered. As the steamship Kuang Chi departed, carrying Ting’s body, the following reportedly took place: “The Japanese fleet paid a touching tribute to the memory of the brave opponent. As the Chinese vessel steamed out of the harbour, all the vessels had their flags at half-mast, and from Count Itō’s flagship minute guns were fired for some time after the vessel sailed. The European warships at Weihaiwei also lowered their flags, as a testimony to the bravery exhibited by the late admiral.**
*Miyake Seturei. Dojidai shi (Tokyo, 1950), vol.3, p.44.
** Trumbull White. The War in the East: Japan, China and Corea (Philadelphia, 1895), p.641.
Collections: The Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.
Gene and Susan Roberts Collection, Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
References: Illustrated in the 2008 paper Throwing Off Asia II: woodblock prints of the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) by John W. Dower – Chapter Three, “Old China, New Japan”. p.3-10.
Illustrated in the 1983 catalogue “Impressions of the Front by Shumpei Okamoto”, p.44. Catalogue Number 74.
Illustrated in the 2014 Stratus, Poland publication “Sino-Japanese Naval War 1894-1895. Maritime Series No 3105” by Piotr Olender. Page 148.
Illustrated in the 1977 Kodansha publication, First Sino-Japanese War Nishikie Chronicle (Ukiyo-e, 1894-95), p.127.