What Was the First Sino-Japanese War?

Rebecca Partington

The First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) was fought between Japan and China, and its subject was control of Korea. The Li-Ito Convention, an agreement forged in 1885, allowed both China and Japan to put their own troops in Korea. Nine years later, some Koreans revolted against the incumbent government and so both China and Japan sent troops to help quell the rebellion. However, after the job was done, Japan refused to withdraw its troops from the then Chinese-controlled Korea, and the war began as a result.

A map of China.
A map of China.

The First Sino-Japanese War was fought in both naval and land battles. On land, several Japanese victories forced the Chinese army to retreat northward away from Py├│ngyang and Seoul. Another Japanese victory in Liaoning allowed the Japanese Army to invade the surrounding areas of China. At sea, the Chinese Navy lost several important naval battles to the Japanese.

Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

China's losses in the First Sino-Japanese War were surprising because China had more resources, a much larger population, a larger army, better battleships, and had spent much effort on modernizing its military. Despite all this, the military fell apart, soldiers pillaged their fellow citizens' villages, and soldiers repeatedly abandoned the battlefields. The organizational side of things was also in disarray, as officials were often corrupt and more interested in fighting each other than in trying to win the war.

Japan fought China during the First Sino-Japanese War over control of Korea.
Japan fought China during the First Sino-Japanese War over control of Korea.

In 1895, the countries finally tried diplomacy, and both Japan and China signed the Treaty of Simonoseki to end the First Sino-Japanese War. This treaty made Korea a nominally independent country (it was actually a Japanese protectorate), gave control of Taiwan, the Liaodong peninsula, and the Pescadores islands to Japan, opened some Chinese ports to trade with Japan and Westerners, and stipulated that China must pay Japan 200 million taels. Very soon after the treaty was signed, however, international intervention forced the Japanese government to give the Liaodong peninsula back to China, but China had to pay an extra 30 million taels. A second treaty a year later allowed Japanese and Westerners to run factories in select Chinese trading ports.

The First Sino-Japanese War was an important historic milestone not only because of the transfer of control of various geographical areas, but also because it marked the fall of the Chinese Qing dynasty and emphasized the success of modernization in Japan. The outcomes of this war were instrumental to the modernization movement in China and also sparked a revolutionary movement that was the forerunner of the Kuomintang.

Control of Korea--which today is divided into two countries--was the focus of the First SIno-Japanese War.
Control of Korea--which today is divided into two countries--was the focus of the First SIno-Japanese War.

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Discussion Comments


The First Sino-Japamese War does not seem to be nearly as well known as the Second Sino-Japanese War, which is fairly infamous due to the Japanese atrocities that were documented in that one.

Something that seems to be overshadowed in all of this was that the war's causes were basically over who was going to get to control Korea. Having lived in Korea for a while, I can attest that many Koreans are still touchy about their history and are not very fond of Japan, to say the least. Has anyone else been somewhere that is still has the lingering problems from an era long past?


This victory by Japan must have taken a lot of people by surprise at the time. It set up Japan to be a force to be reckoned with in the early twentieth century, especially after they followed up with another big victory in the Japanese-Russo War a few years later.

In the period leading up to the war Japan had taken great strides to modernize their forces, but China seemed to have gotten rather complacent and paid the price. Then, as now, it's more about the quality of a military force than the quantity that decides the outcome on the battlefield. Can anyone else think of a war that also had a surprise outcome?

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