First Sino-Japanese War (1894–95)

Background and causes of the Sino-Japanese War.

  • The First Sino-Japanese War was caused by a conflict between China and Japan for power in Korea.

  • Japan wished to obtain imperial ambitions as their small island nation contained a small supply of natural resources, which would not be enough for continued development and an industrialised nation. Korea had been an important Chinese client state for many years and China was still interested in controlling Korea. Despite this, Japanese interest was attracted by Korea's nearby location and vast resources of coal and iron.

  • In 1875, Japan forced Korea to open itself to foreign trade (Japanese trade especially) and to declare itself independent from China in terms of foreign relations.

  • In 1884, a Pro-Japanese reformation group attempted to overthrow the Korean government. General Yuan Shi Kai sent troops to rescue the king, who subsequently killed several Japanese legation guards during the rescue. The countries were able to avoid war by signing the Li-Itō Convention and agreeing to withdraw their troops from Korea.

  • In 1894, the pro-Japanese Korean leader of the 1884 coup, Kim Ok-Kyun, was lured to Shanghai and allegedly assassinated by a group of Yuan Shi Kai's agents. As a warning to other rebels, his body was put abroad a Chinese warship and sent back to Korea where it was quartered and displayed, thus insulting the Japanese government and outraging the public.

  • Later that year, the Tonghak Rebellion broke out and the Korean King requested the Chinese government to send in troops to disperse the rebels. The Japanese, who considered this to be a violation of the Li-Itō Convention, sent around 8,000 troops to Korea.

  • Furthermore, the Japanese sank a British steamer that was carrying reinforcements, further aggravating the Chinese.

The Declaration of War

War was finally declared on August 1, 1894. The modern and more advanced Japanese army quickly overran Korea, the Chinese province of Manchuria and parts of China itself. China surrendered when Peking, their capital, came under threat.

The Treaty of Shimonoseki was subsequently written.

Did it lead to Japan being recognised as a world power?

On the one hand, Japan’s status as a strong power improved significantly. Not only did the Sino-Japanese War mark the emergence of Japan as a major world power, but it also demonstrated the weakness of the Chinese empire. Like other world powers, Japan was able to crush their opponent easily and gain concessions.

On the other hand, Japan was still not recognised as a world power. Through the Triple Intervention, Japan was still able to be 'bullied' by other world powers as they had only beaten China who was a very weak country at the time.