Chinese naval commander of the late Qing Dynasty. Born in Anhui Province, Ding joined the Taiping Rebellion in 1854, but later defected to the imperial cause and joined the imperial army as a cavalryman to help suppress the Taiping Rebellion. In 1875 he was appointed a commander of the Beiyang Fleet, the most modern of China's navies. In 1880 he travelled to Newcastle upon Tyne, Great Britain to take delivery of the cruiser Chaoyun and also visited Germany and France to learn about their shipbuilding techniques. He was a supporter of the Self-Strengthening Movement in China, and advocated the creation of shipyards in China able to build modern warships rather than relying on foreign imports. He also took an active role in the creation of the naval bases at Weihaiwei and Lüshunkou (Port Arthur). In 1882 Ding was dispatched to Korea with a fleet of ships to help suppress the Imo Mutiny and it was his forces who arrested the Heungseon Daewongun, the father of King Gojong, who was accused of fomenting the unrest. In 1886, Ding participated in show of force, with the four warships of the Beiyang Fleet touring Hong Kong, the Japanese port of Nagasaki, Korean ports of Busan and Wonsan, and the Russian naval base of Vladivostok. While in Nagasaki on 13 August 1886, a number of sailors from the Zhenyuan became involved in a brawl in the red-light district during which a Japanese policeman was fatally stabbed. Two days later, in the so-called Nagasaki Incident, a riot occurred involving locals, police and Chinese sailors which resulted in cores of fatalities and injuries. Ding was later promoted to admiral and served as commander of the Beiyang Fleet from 1888-1894. He was promoted to the position of vice naval minister in 1894. Admiral Ding was commander of the Beiyang Fleet at the Battle of the Yalu River on 17 September 1894, during which five of the ten ships in the fleet were lost and he was injured by a shot fired from his own vessel, the Dingyuan. On 12 February 1895 during the Battle of Weihaiwei, Admiral Ding committed suicide by taking an overdose of opium in his headquarters on Liugong Island.
26th King of Korea of the Joseon (Yi) Dynasty. Since his predecessor King Cheoljong died without a direct heir, Gojong, a member of a distant branch of the royal house, ascended the throne at the age of 11. Initially power was in the hands of his father the Heungseong Daewongun but when the King came of age and began to rule in his own right, he was heavily under the influence of the family of his consort Queen Min. The fierce rivalry between Queen Min's faction and the Daewongun destabilised politics and led the King to side with Queen Min in favouring a policy of reliance on China. However, his efforts to bring Korea into closer contact with Western powers as an independent state were a cause for Chinese concern and unrest increased. When, against this background, the Donghak Peasant Rebellion broke out in 1894 the King requested China to send troops, a move which led to the Sino-Japanese War. After the war, as a precaution against Japanese influence, King Gojong tried to strengthen ties with Russia and - to emphasise Korea's independence - in 1897 he changed the name of the country to the Great Han Empire (Daehan Jeguk), becoming its first Emperor (Emperor Gwangmu). However, following its victory in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), Japan's influence increased and having signed a series of three Japan-Korea agreements, Gojong abdicated in favour of his son Crown Prince Sunjong. In 1910 the Great Han Empire was annexed to Japan. King Gojong lost his status and was incorporated into the Japanese Imperial Family.
Hanabusa Yoshimoto 花房義質
Japanese diplomat of the Meiji and Taishō Periods. After initially studying Confucianism under Sakuma Shōzan, in 1867 he was sent to Europe and America to continue his studies. On his return to Japan in 1870 he entered the Foreign Ministry. He was involved in the preparatory negotiations for the Sino-Japanese Friendship and Trade Treaty (1871) and the Treaty of Saint Petersburg (1875). He assisted Foreign Minister Soejima Taneomi during the Maria Luz Inicident in 1872 and led the delegation which asked Russia to mediate in the affair. In 1877 when he was appointed chargé d'affaires to Korea he had to negotiate with the Korean government which disliked the idea of a permanent ambassador. In 1880 he was appointed Japan's first Minister Plenipotentiary to Korea. When the Japanese legation was attacked during the Imo Incident of 1882 he was forced to flee and returned to Japan. He was reappointed as Minister and returned to Korea, accompanied by an armed force, to conclude the Treaty of Chemulpo. After leaving Korea he held various posts including Minister Plenipotentiary to Russia, Undersecretary for Agriculture and Commerce, Undersecretary of the Department of the Imperial Household, Privy Counsellor and President of the Japanese Red Cross Society.
Heungseon Daewongun 興宣大院君
Korean royalty, member of the Joseon (Yi) Dynasty. Often simply called the Daewongun, a title given to the father of a Korean king from a collateral branch of the dynasty, his birth name Yi Ha-eung. The father of Gojong, 26th King of the Joseon Dynasty, he acted as regent for his son until he came of age in 1874, introducing a number of reforms, but was later removed from power by the faction surrounding Queen Min, King Gojong's consort. In 1894 when Japan and China despatched troops to Korea on the outbreak of the Donghak Peasant Rebellion, he was restored to power with backing of the Japanese who saw this as a way of removing Queen Min and her pro-Chinese regime. With the increase in the influence of foreign powers following the Triple Intervention, conflict with the pro-Russian Queen Min worsened and he fell from power again. He was restored after the Queen's assassination in 1895 but was forced by the Japanese to spend the rest of his days under house arrest.
Itō Hirobumi 伊藤博文
Japanese politician of the late Edo to late Meiji Periods. He studied under Yoshida Shōin in Chōshū Domain in the closing years of the Edo Period and was involved in the 'Revere the Emperor and Expel the Barbarians' movement. Later he was one of the so-called Chōshū Five who travelled to the UK to further their studies. On his return to Japan he took part in the Shimonoseki Campaign of 1863-1864 and for a time collaborated with Takasugi Shinsaku. His proficiency in English led to a succession of jobs in the Meiji government. While serving as the first Minister of Industry Itō took part in the Iwakura Mission to the United States and Europe (1871-1873) as Vice-Envoy Extraordinary. His contact with Ōkubo Toshimichi, Minister of Finance (later Minister of Home Affairs) during the Mission led to his becoming one of the leading figures in the government. In 1882 he travelled to Europe at the command of Emperor Meiji to study the constitutional systems of Germany and other western nations. Once back in Japan Itō played a central role in the establishment of the Cabinet system of government and the drafting of the Meiji Constitution (1889). In 1885 he was appointed Japan's first Prime Minister and was serving a second term as Prime Minister at the time of the Sino-Japanese War. He was present at the Peace Conference as Japan's Plenipotentiary, leading negotiations and signing the Treaty of Shimonoseki. Following the Russo-Japanese War he was appointed as Japan's first Resident-General in Korea but is said to have been initially opposed to annexation. In 1909 Itō was shot at Harbin railway station by a Korean nationalist. The following year Japan annexed Korea.
Itō Sukeyuki (Itō Yūkō) 伊東祐亨
Japanese naval officer of the late Edo to late Meiji Periods. Having learned English as a young man in Satsuma, he entered the Kōbe Naval Training Centre where he studied under Katsu Kaishū and Sakamoto Ryōma. On the outbreak of the Boshin War in 1868 he fought with the Satsuma forces against the Tokugawa Shogunate After the Meiji Restoration he joined the navy established by the new government serving as captain of a number of vessels in his early career. He was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1886 and Vice Admiral in 1892 and was appointed Commandant of the Yokosuka Naval District and then Commander-in-Chief of the Standing Fleet. On the formation of the Combined Fleet in 1894 in the build-up to hostilities between Japan and China Itō was appointed its first Commander-in-Chief (in addition to his post of Commander-in-Chief of the Standing Fleet) and was involved in many naval engagements with the Qing Fleet, notably the Battle of the Yalu River and the Battle of Weihaiwei. In 1895 he was appointed Chief of the Navy General Staff and promoted to Admiral in 1898. During the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) he continued to serve as head of the Navy General Staff and after the war was promoted to Admiral of the Fleet.
Kabayama Sukenori 樺山資紀
Japanese soldier and politician of the late Edo to Taishō Periods. As a samurai of the Satsuma Domain he took part in the Anglo-Satsuma War [Bombardment of Kagoshima] in 1863, and Boshin War of 1868-1869 against the Tokugawa Shogunate. After the Meiji Restoration he enlisted in the Imperial Army taking part in the invasion of Taiwan in 1874 and being part of the escort which accompanied the Japanese envoy Kuroda Kiyotaka to Korea after the Ganghwa Island Incident in 1875. During the Satsuma Rebellion as commander of the Kumamoto garrison he was responsible for the defence of Kumamoto Castle. He was promoted to Major General and appointed Commissioner of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. In 1883 Kabayama transferred to the navy and rose through a number of positions to serve as Navy Minister in two Cabinets from 1890. Just before the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1894 he became Chief of the Navy General Staff and directed naval planning and strategy during the war. On conclusion of the Treaty of Shimonoseki he was promoted to the rank of Admiral and appointed first Governor-General of Taiwan, a post which he held for just over a year. On his return to Japan he gave up his military career and served as a Privy Counsellor, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Education.
Kim Ok-gyun 金玉均
Korean politician of the late Joseon (Yi) Dynasty. He passed the national civil service examination in 1872 and became a government official but later developed reformist ideas. In 1882 he paid the first of several visits to Japan where he got to know the reformer and educationalist Fukuzawa Yukichi. Kim Ok-gyun became one of the key figures in the progressive Gaehwapa "Enlightenment Party" which advocated Korea becoming an independent nation, distancing itself from China and embarking on a process of modernisation. This was directly at odds with the policy of reliance on China being pursued by the government of the Min clan and in 1884 the reformists planned to seize power through the Gapsin Coup. However, the coup failed as a result of Chinese intervention and Kim Ok-gyun sought refuge in Japan where he remained for ten years travelling throughout the country. In March 1894 with the aid of Li Hongzhang he visited Shanghai but was killed there by an assassin sent by the Korean government.
Komura Jutarō 小村寿太郎
Diplomat and politician of the Meiji Period. Completing his early education at the Obi Domain School he entered the Daigaku Nankō (the predecessor of Tokyo Imperial University) and was selected by the Ministry of Education to be one of the first students to be sent overseas, studying law at Harvard University. On his return to Japan he entered the Ministry of Justice but soon transferred to the Translation Bureau of the Foreign Ministry. Mutsu Munemitsu, the Foreign Minister, thought highly of him and appointed him Chargé d'Affaires in Beijing in 1894 shortly before the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War. When the Japanese army entered Chinese territory, it set up a Civil Administration Bureau (Minseichō) in the area it first captured (Andong County) to take on responsibility for local government and control of crime among the Chinese population. Komura was appointed as the Bureau's first director. After the war, as Japan's Minister to Korea he negotiated the 'Komura-Weber Memorandum' with Russia allowing joint interference in Korean affairs by both countries. He subsequently served as Vice Foreign Minister and Minister Plenipotentiary to the US and in 1901 was appointed Foreign Minister. In that role he concluded the 'Anglo-Japanese Alliance' and acted as Japanese plenipoetniary at the Portsmouth Peace Conference at the end of the Russo-Japanese War. During a second term as Foreign Minister he devoted himself to the revision of the unequal treaties which resulted in the 'Treaty of Commerce and Navigation between Japan and the US' (1911). In 1910 he played a key role in the annexation of Korea.
Li Hongzhang 李鴻章
Chinese politician of the late Qing Dynasty. During the Taiping Rebellion of 1851 he raised a militia, the Anhui Army in his native region and played a major part in suppressing the uprising. He became involved in the Self-Strengthening Movement which advocated strengthening China's forces by adopting Western military technology and was responsible for a number of reforms. In 1870 he was appointed Viceroy of Zhili, with control of the region around the capital Beijing, and Minister of Beiyang Commerce, with responsibility for foreign trade and diplomacy. In these powerful roles he came to exert a strong influence over Korea. This led to increased tension between China and Japan which in 1894 resulted in the Sino-Japanese War. During the war the Anhui Army took the lead in the fighting and suffered heavy losses. As the Chinese position weakened, Li Hongzhang was appointed China's representative at the peace conference with Japan and as such signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki which ended the war. Following China's defeat, he temporarily fell from power but soon returned and during the Boxer rebellion of 1900 he was China's chief negotiator with foreign powers. In September 1901 he signed the Boxer Protocol ending the crisis but died two months later.
Liu Yongfu (Liu Yung-fu) 劉永福
Chinese soldier of the late Qing Dynasty and leader of the Republic of Formosa (1895). Born into a poor family in the town of Qinzhou (欽州) in southern China, Liu Yongfu joined a local militia during the Taiping Rebellion. After the suppression of the Rebellion he crossed into Vietnam with a force of 200 soldiers whom he called the Black Flag Army (黑旗軍). Over the next few years his army grew and during the Sino-French War his forces fought alongside the Qing army against the French in Tonkin (northern Vietnam). It was during this time that he got to know Tang Jingsong (Tang Ching-sung), commander of the Yunnan Army and future president of the Republic of Formosa. Following China's defeat in the Sino-Japanese War, Taiwan was ceded to Japan in April 1895 under the Treaty of Shimonoseki. A group of Chinese officials in Taiwan decided to resist the Japanese and proclaimed the independent Republic of Formosa. Tang Jingsong (Tang Ching-sung) was appointed the Republic's President on 25 May 1895 and Liu Yongfu was given command of resistance forces in southern Taiwan. However the Japanese invaded northern Taiwan on 29 May 1895 and defeated Chinese forces at Keelung (Jilong) on 3 June. When the news of the defeat at Keelung reached Taipei the leaders of the Republic promptly fled. During the night of 4 June Tang escaped to Tamsui, and from there sailed for the mainland on the evening of 6 June. Liu succeeded him as head of government, although not formally as President. The Republic's forces continued to resist but by October the Japanese had occupied northern and central Taiwan and were heading south to Tainan, the seat of government. On 20 October 1895 Liu fled to the mainland on a British-registered merchant vessel and the following day Tainan fell to the Japanese. This marked the completion of the occupation of Taiwan and the Republic of Formosa ceased to exist. In later years Liu worked for the Gwangdong provincial government and died in retirement in 1917.
Mutsu Munemitsu 陸奥宗光
Diplomat and politician of the late Edo and Meiji Periods. In the closing years of the Edo Period he was involved in the 'Revere the Emperor and Expel the Barbarians' movement and became friends with Sakamoto Ryōma, Katsura Kogorō and Itō Hirobumi. Later he attended the Kōbe Naval Training Centre where he studied under Katsu Kaishū and enlisted in the navy alongside Sakamoto . Under the Meiji government Mutsu held a number of posts including general official in the Office of Foreign Affiars (Gaikoku Jimukyoku Goyōgakari ), Governor of Hyōgo Prefecture, Governor of Kanagawa Prefecture, Head of the Land-Tax Reform Office, However, in 1878 during the Satsuma Rebellion he was founde guilty of conspiring with with Tosa faction against the government and sentenced to 5 years' imprisonment. On his release he spent 3 years studying in Europe and then onhis return to Japan entered the Foreign Ministry. He served as Japanese Minister to the USA, then as Minister of Agriculture and Commerce and in 1892 was appointed Foreign Minister. Through the conclusion of the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Commerce and Navigation he successfully negotiated the revision of the "Unequal treaties" while his hard-line diplomacy towards Qing China led to hostilities between Japan and China . At the Peace Conference at the end of the Sino-Japanese War, Mutsu, with Prime Minister Itō Hirobumi, was one of Japan's Plenipotentiaries charged with conducting the peace negotiations. Later, although suffering from tuberculosis , he signed the 'Convention of Retrocession of the Liaodong Peninsula' in response to the Triple Intervention but his condition deteriorated and he resigned as Foreign Minister. He spent his remaining years under medical treatment in Hawaii and elsewhere. Mutsu wrote a memoir 'Kenkenroku' (literally 'Records of Hopping on One Foot') detailing the course of his diplomatic negotiations from before the start of the Sino-Japanese War upto the Triple Intervention.
Nie Shicheng 聶士成
Chinese military commander of the late Qing Dynasty. Originally trained for a bureaucratic career he was commissioned in the Huai Army involved in the suppression of the Taiping Rebellion. In 1864 at the end of the rebellion he was promoted to the rank of general. During the Sino-French War of 1885 he led reinforcements to resist French incursions in Taiwan and was later placed in command of the newly constructed base for the Beiyang Fleet at Lüshunkou (Port Arthur). In June 1894 General Nie was sent by Li Hongzhang to Asan in Korea to suppress the activities of the Donghak rebels in the surrounding area. When, in the build-up to the Sino-Japanese War, Japanese forces began to land at Incheon he realised that his forces risked being trapped at Asan and so withdrew them by land towards Pyongyang. However on 29 July they were attacked by Japanese units at Seonghwan (Battle of Seonghwan). He lost 500 of his men and most of his artillery and supplies in the engagement but the remainder were able to escape to Pyongyang. In early September Nie travelled to Tianjin to request reinforcements but on his was back to Pyongyang he learned of the fall of the city to the Japanese on 15 September. The following month he led Chinese forces at the Battle of Jiuliancheng but most of his troops deserted and he escaped with the remnants to Fenghuangcheng. On 29 October, as the Japanese approached, he ordered the city to be set on fire and withdrew his troops north to block the Japanese advance. Having been posted north to Shanhai Pass to protect the route to Beijing in February 1895 General Nie took no further part in the fighting. During the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 he once again played an active role in suppressing the rebel forces but on 9 July he was fatally injured at the Battle of Tianjin (Tientsin).
Nozu Michitsura 野津道貫
Japanese soldier of the late Edo and Meiji Periods. He took part in the Boshin War of 1868-1869 against the Tokugawa Shogunate as a samurai of the Satsuma Domain. After the Meiji Restoration he entered the Imperial Army and in 1876 was sent to the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. He took part in the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877, was promoted Major General in 1878 and Lieutenant General in 1885, serving as Head of the 2nd Bureau of the Army Ministry, Commander of the Tokyo Military District and Commander of the Hiroshima Military District. Shortly after being sent to Korea as Commander of the 5th Division on the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1894, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the 1st Army in place of General Yamagata Aritomo, who was in poor health, and promoted to the rank of General. After the war he successively held the posts of Commander of the Imperial Guard Division, Inspector-General of Military Training and Military Councillor. He served in the Russo-japanese War (1904-1905) and attained the rank of Field Marshal.
Ōshima Yoshimasa 大島義昌
Japanese solider active during the late Edo, Meiji and Taishō Periods. As a samurai of the Chōshū Domain he took part in the Boshin War of 1868-1869 against the Tokugawa Shogunate. After the Meiji Restoration he joined the newly formed Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) and fought in the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877. He subsequently served as chief-of-staff of the Tokyo Garrison and chief-of-staff of the 1st Division of the IJA. In 1891 he was promoted to Major General and assigned command of the 9th Infantry Brigade. When the Donghak Peasant Rebellion broke out in Korea in 1894, he was sent to Hanseong as commander of the 9th Brigade when the first Japanese troops were despatched in June. Following the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War, his brigade was incorporated into the 5th Division of the 1st Army and he took part in many battles including the attack on Pyongyang, the crossing of the Yalu River and the attack on Niuzhuang. He later served in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) and was promoted to General. After the war he was appointed Governor-General of Kwantung Leased Territory and a member of Japan's Surpeme War Council.
Ōtori Keisuke 大鳥圭介
Japanese soldier, bureaucrat and diplomat of the late Edo and Meiji Periods. In his youth he studied Chinese, Confucianism and military science as well as Dutch and Western medicine. He also learned English from Nakahama (John) Manjirō, the shipwrecked former fisherman who had been one of the first Japanese to visit the United States. He was appointed by the Tokugawa Shogunate as an instructor in its army but during the Boshin War of 1868-1869 he was captured, along with Tokugawa loyalist Enomoto Takeaki, at Hakodate by the forces of the new government. On his release from prison he worked for the Meiji government at the Department of Land Development in Hokkaido and as a Secretary at the Treasury in which capacity he visited Europe and North America. His subsequent appointments included Director of the Imperial College of Engineeering, member of the Chamber of Elders (Genrōin) and President of the Peers' School. He then became a diplomat and in 1889 was named Minister Plenipotentiary to China. In 1893 he was concurrently appointed Minister to Korea and as such was embroiled in the political infighting at the Korean court. The following year he was responsible for diplomatic negotiations in the build-up to the Sino-Japanese War. Shortly after the war broke out he was made a Privy Counsellor and quit the diplomatic stage.
Ōyama Iwao 大山巌
Japanese solider and politician of the late Edo, Meiji and Taishō Periods. He took part in the Boshin War of 1868-1869 against the Tokugawa Shogunate as a samurai of the Satsuma Domain. After the Meiji Resoration he joined the Imperial Army and was sent to France to study, acting as a Japanese military observer during the Franco-Prussian War. On his return to Japan he was promoted Major General and later went back to France for further study. During the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877 he found himself fighting against his cousin Saigō Takamori. From 1880 to 1885 he served as Sectretary for the Army (Rikugunkyō) and in Prime Minister Itō Hirobumi's first cabinet was appointed Japan's first Army Minister (Rikugun Daijin), a post which he continued to hold in successive cabinets. During the Sino-Japanese War he commanded the 2nd Army with the rank of General, directing operations from the landing on the Liaodong Peninsula to the attack on Port Arthur. In 1898 he was appointed Field Marshal and during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 as Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese Armies in Manchuria he was jointly responsible with the Chief of the General Staff, Kodama Gentarō, for the conduct of the war. After the war he was created a Marquess in recognition of his military services and continued to play an influential role in army matters. In 1914 he was appointed Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal and on his death was accorded a State Funeral.
Queen Min 閔妃
Consort of Gojong, 26th King of Korea of the Joseon Dynasty. The title "Queen Min" indicates that the queen came from the Min clan, her offcial (posthumous) title is Empress Myeongseong. The Queen belonged to the Yeoheung branch of the Min clan and was married to King Gojong at the age of 15 on the recommendation of the Heungseong Daewongun's wife who was from the same clan. In 1873 the struggle between Queen Min and her father-in-law, the Daewongun, intensified over the issue of the succession to the throne and the Queen had him removed from office. Power at court was then concentrated in the hands of the Min clan After the Japan-Korea Treaty of Amity of 1876, relations with Japan were strengthened leading to a process of modernisation including the creation of a modern army with Japanese support. Having escaped unscathed from the Imo Incident of 1882, Queen Min again banished the Daewongun, who had briefly returned to power, and pursued a policy of reliance on China. When Chinese troops put down the Gapsin Coup in 1884, China's influence increased further. On the outbreak of the Donghak Peasant Rebellion in 1894, China was called upon to send forces which precipitated the Sino-Japanese War. After the war, concerned at the influence of the Daewongun and his Japanese backers, the Queen tried to strengthen ties with Russia but in the Eulmi Incident of October 1895 she was assassinated by soldiers of the opposition - Japan, the Gaehwapa "Enlightenment Party" and the Daewongun.
Tang Jingsong (Tang Ching-sung) 唐景崧
Chinese bureaucrat of the late Qing Dynasty and President of the Republic of Formosa (1895). As commander of the Yunnan Army Tang played an important role in the Sino-French War of 1884-1885 and during the period of undeclared hostilities that preceded it. In 1894 he was appointed governor-general of Taiwan by the Qing government. Following China's defeat in the Sino-Japanese War, Taiwan was ceded to Japan in April 1895 under the Treaty of Shimonoseki. A number of Chinese officials in Taiwan decided to resist the Japanese, and proclaimed the independent Republic of Formosa. Tang was inaugurated as the Republic's first president on 25 May 1895. However the Japanese invaded northern Taiwan on 29 May 1895 and defeated Chinese forces at Keelung (Jilong) on 3 June. When news of the defeat reached Taipei the leaders of the Republic promptly fled. During the night of 4 June Tang escaped to Tamsui, and from there sailed to the mainland on the evening of 6 June. After Tang's flight, the Republic's forces continued to resist the Japanese under the leadership of Liu Yongfu but by 21 Oct 1895 the Japanese had occupied Taiwan and the Republic of Formosa ceased to exist. Tang died in 1903 at his home in Guilin.
Yamagata Aritomo 山県有朋
Japanese soldier and politician of the late Edo, Meiji and Taishō Periods. After studying with the scholar and military/political philosopher Yoshida Shōin in Chōshū Domain at the end of the Edo Period, he joined the Irregular Militia raised by Chōshū and fought in the Boshin War of 1867-1868 against the Tokugawa Shogunate. After the Meiji Restoration he was appointed Vice-Minister of the Army (Rikugun Taifu). From 1873 he served as Sectretary to the Army (Rikugunkyō) and devoted his energies to establishing a modern Japanese army through the introduction of conscription and other measures. He commanded the government army during the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877. In 1883 he became Secretary for Home Affairs (Naimukyō) and in Prime Minister Itō Hirobumi's first cabinet was appointed Japan's first Minister of Home Affairs (Naimu Daijin), organising a system of local administration, based on a prefecture-county-city structure. In 1889 he became Japan's third Prime Minister and worked to develop military preparedness. He resigned in 1891 and subsequently served as Minister of Justice and President of the Privy Council. When the Sino-Japanese War broke ou t in 1894 he took to the field as Commander-in-Chief of the 1st Army but returned to Japan when he health deteriorated. In 1898 he became Prime Minister for a second term and oversaw the passing of the Public Order and Police Law (1900). During the Russo-japanese War he was in overall command of military strategy and operations as Chief of the General Staff. Thereafter he occupied a number of important offices and became the leader of a powerful faction of bureaucrats and military men, wielding considerable political influence as an elder statesman until his death.