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Imperial Expansion, The First Sino-Japanese War

Treaty of Shimonoseki, Boxer Uprising, Sino-Japanese War, railroad line, northeastern China

Initially, the Meiji government was most concerned about Korea. Korea had for centuries been a tributary of China. However, in 1876 Japan had used gunboat tactics to force Korea to open trade with Japan, a move that challenged China’s dominance in Korea. The Meiji leaders feared that a weak and backward Korea, under the influence of a weak and backward China, would be easy prey for a predatory Western power, probably Russia, thus putting Japan itself at risk. In 1894 both China and Japan sent troops to Korea to deal with a peasant rebellion in the south. Once it had been suppressed, the Japanese decided to resolve the ongoing tension with China by going to war. The newly modernized Japanese army and navy won a quick victory over the larger but less prepared Chinese forces. The First Sino-Japanese War was over in just nine months.

Japan’s victory surprised the Western powers, which had expected China to defeat its much smaller neighbor. Under the terms of the Treaty of Shimonoseki, signed in April 1895, China ceded Taiwan and the P’enghu Islands to Japan, gave Japan a huge monetary indemnity, and allowed Japan to trade in China under the same unequal treaty privileges that the Western powers enjoyed in China. The Chinese also ceded to Japan the Liaodong Peninsula in southern Manchuria (as the northeastern region of China was then called), but the Russians, backed by Germany and France, forced Japan to accept additional indemnity money instead.

In the wake of the war, popular resentment against Russia ran high. It grew more intense when the Russians tried to expand their own influence in Korea and in Manchuria. In 1898, for example, Russia secured a lease of the very territory it had prevented the Japanese from acquiring—the Liaodong Peninsula with its important ice-free naval base of Port Arthur (now part of the municipality of Dalian)—and began building a railroad line in southern Manchuria. Japanese leaders saw this as a direct threat to Japan’s own national security. Russia took advantage of the Boxer Uprising of 1900, a popular peasant revolt against foreigners in northeastern China, to send an occupation force into Manchuria and begin a military build-up on the Chinese-Korean border.

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