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- 2. Outbreak of the war : Japan and China dispatch troops to Korea, fighting begins – Declaration of war
2. Outbreak of the war : Japan and China dispatch troops to Korea, fighting begins – Declaration of war
Japan and China both take the decision to dispatch troops to Korea
On 3 June 1894 the Korean government, having come to the conclusion that it would have difficulty putting down the Donghak Peasant Rebellion on its own, asked China to send troops to help. Up to this point China had refrained from military action but when the formal request was received, Li Hongzhang, Minister of Beiyang Commerce and Viceroy of Zhili, immediately began preparations to dispatch armed forces to Korea [Document 1]. Two warships reached Incheon on 5 June, followed by an armed force 2,000 strong which landed on the Korean peninsula between 8 and 12 June and established a garrison at Asan.
Meanwhile on 2 June the Japanese Cabinet approved the dispatch of troops to Korea [Document 2] with the aim of protecting the Japanese legation and residents in Korea from the disturbances caused by the popular uprising. At this point the Japanese suspected that the Korean government was considering asking China to send troops but it was not clear whether China would actually do so. This Cabinet decision was taken as a matter of urgency and having notified China of its intentions under the terms of the Treaty of Tientsin (18 April 1885) Japan dispatched troops immediately, while still leaving open the possibility of future cooperation between Japan and China to quell the rebellion [Document 3].
On 5 June the Imperial General Headquarters was set up within the General Staff Office and Japan officially moved to a war footing. At this point it was decided that a large-scale deployment was needed to ensure that the Japanese were not outnumbered by Chinese forces and so on 10 June Ōtori Keisuke, Minister to Korea, who had temporarily returned to Japan, entered Hanseong with a force of some 400 soldiers and sailors. On 12 June a Mixed Brigade 8,000 strong, capable of fighting independently, began landing at Incheon and the situation that had arisen during the Gapsin Coup of 1884 was repeated with both Japanese and Chinese armies stationed in Korea.
The end of the Donghak Peasant Rebellion and increasing Sino-Japanese tension
In accordance with the Treaty of Tientsin, the Japanese and Chinese governments notified each other of their deployment of troops to Korea on 7 June [Document 4]. The Donghak Peasant Rebellion, which had prompted their military intervention, came to an end on 11 June when the Treaty of Jeonju was signed by the Korean government and the Peasant Army. This removed the reason for the presence of the Japanese and Chinese forces and the Korean government requested both sides to withdraw their troops.
At this juncture the Japanese government proposed to its Chinese counterpart that they should work together to reform Korea's internal affairs, that both countries should maintain their military presence in Korea while this was being done and that if China could not agree to co-operate over the reforms, Japan would proceed unilaterally. However, on 22 June China replied that as the rebellion had already been suppressed, troop withdrawal should begin immediately and that reform was a matter for Korea itself [Document 5]. Japan refused to withdraw its troops [Document 5] and directed part of the 4,000-strong advance force that had landed at Incheon towards Hanseong. It also resumed the transport of the remaining army units to Korea.
Further, the Japanese government urged Korea to allow Japan to carry on alone with its plan to reform Korea's internal affairs and asked the Korean government to confirm the tributary nature of its relationship with China [Document 6]. However, Korea replied that it was an independent, sovereign state. This response strengthed a view within the Japanese government that if Korea was an independent state, the presence of Chinese troops was an unfair attempt by China to treat Korea as a vassal and that Japan should attack China on Korea's behalf.
Seeing the increasing tension between Japan and China, other nations began to take action. On 30 June Russia demanded the simultaneous withdrawal of both Japanese and Chinese forces but the Japanese government refused [Document 7]. Then Great Britain, which at the time was deeply concerned about Russian advances into East Asia, offered to act as mediator. The British government asked Japan and China what each required of the other with regard to reform in Korea. Japan demanded that it be accorded the same rights and privileges as China but on 9 July the Chinese government responded without acceding to this request but insisting that simultaneous removal of Japanese and Chinese forces was the top priority. The Japanese government thereupon sent a letter of complaint to the Chinese government [Document 8] and resumed its military preparations which had been suspended during the negotiations with Russia and Great Britain. At the same time China came to recognise that war with Japan was unavoidable.
The Japanese army occupies the Korean royal palace
On 3 July the Japanese government submitted a concrete proposal for reform to its Korean counterpart [Document 9]. However, the Korean government, heavily influenced by the faction led by the family of Queen Min, which set great store by Korea's relationship with China, replied that the withdrawal of Japanese forces was a prerequisite for any reform. At the same time it set up an office called the Gyojeongcheong "Board of Review and Rectification" to show that Korea intended to carry out its own programme of reform [Document 10]. The Japanese, however, believing that this was an empty gesture and that the Korean government had no desire to effect change, prepared to adopt strong measures.
On 19 July Japanese Minister Resident Ōtori Keisuke submitted to the Korean government a request that it establish an electric cable between Hanseong and Busan for military use and construct barracks for Japanese troops, both of which were extremely problematic for the Koreans to accept. The next day two further demands were added: the withdrawal of Chinese forces from Korea and the cancellation of The China-Korea Treaty of 1882 and other trade agreements concluded between Korea and China over the years [Document 11]. These demands were designed to nullify the tributary relationship between Korea and China. Japan set a deadline of 22 July for a response.
The reply delivered by the Korean government at midnight on 22 July merely reiterated that it would carry out its own reforms and that Japanese and Chinese troops must be withdrawn. The Japanese therefore put into practice their plan to overthrow the existing Korean regime by force and have the Heungseong Daewongun form a new government to implement reforms.
Before dawn on 23 July, acting on orders from Minister Ōtori, the Mixed Brigade under Major General Ōshima Yoshimasa, which was stationed at Yongsan on the outskirts of Hanseong, entered the capital. Just after 4.30 a.m. the troops surrounded the royal palace (Gyeongbokgung), the residence of King Gojong and the seat of the government, broke down the gates and forced their way inside. Immediately a firefight began with the Korean soldiers guarding the palace.
The fighting lasted several hours with casualties on both sides and ended with the royal palace being occupied by the Japanese army. King Gojong, who had hidden during the fighting, was discovered and seized by Japanese troops. When the fighting was over the Heungseong Daewongun was brought to the palace under Japanese guard. Later that day, King Gojong summoned Minister Ōtori to the palace and in his presence announced that he was entrusting all responsibility for the government and for reform to the Daewongun and required him to act in all things in consultation with Minister Ōtori [Document 12]. Having thus achieved the establishment of a new government under the Daewongun, the Japanese drove the Chinese army stationed at Asan out of Korea [Document 13]. In this way the Japanese army was given a legitimate reason for attacking the Chinese forces, marking the beginning of war between the two countries.
The start of naval engagements (The Battle of Pungdo and the Kowshing Incident)
With the Japanese army's preparations for the opening of hostilities already underway, on 19 July the Japanese navy established a Combined Fleet made up of the Standing Fleet and the newly formed Western Fleet and dispatched it from the port of Sasebo to the west coast of the Korean peninsula [Document 14].
The Qing army was also preparing for war, sending more troops to Korea to strengthen its forces already on the ground. In the midst of this, on 25 July, the British-registered merchant ship 'Kowshing', which was transporting a large number of Chinese reinforcements for the garrison at Asan, and its escort of two warships, together with a further Chinese warship that had steamed out of Asan, encountered part of the Japanese Combined Fleet that was patrolling the seas around Pungdo Island. Both sides opened fire leading to the first naval confrontation between Japan and China.
The battle ended with Chinese vessels either sinking, being wrecked, surrendering or escaping. However, the sinking of the British-registered "Kowshing" (the British crew were rescued by a Japanese warship) and the fact that this occurred before any declaration of war were a major problem. The issue attracted international attention and provoked a fierce reaction in Great Britain. However, the situation calmed down following the appearance in "The Times" newspaper of the views of a series of leading jurists to the effect that the Japanese fleet's action was justified in international law as a hostile act in time of war (at that time there was no requirement in international law for a declaration of war to indicate the start of hostilities).
The start of land warfare (The Battle of Seonghwan)
Since the justification for Japan's commencing hostilities against China was the Korean government's request to expel the Chinese forces garrisoned at Asan, an attack on Asan was the top priority once the Japanese military operation was underway. The Mixed Brigade had been landing at Incheon since the middle of June, with some units under the brigade command Major General Ōshima Yoshimasa stationed in Hanseong to protect the Japanese legation and the royal palace, while the rest were in Yongsan on the outskirts of Hanseong or garrisoned in Incheon where they had landed. On 25 July these troops began to head south for an attack on Asan.
Meanwhile, on the Chinese side, in addition to the units stationed at Asan under General Ye Zhichao, forces led by General Nie Shicheng had moved from Jeonju to set up camp at Seonghwan, slightly closer to Hanseong than Asan. When the Japanese army advancing on Asan reached Seonghwan on 29 July the area saw the first land engagement between the Japanese and Chinese forces.
After the fall of Seonghwan the Japanese army continued its advance on Asan but the forces of General Nie Shicheng had already moved on to avoid fighting in this difficult to defend, mountainous terrain.
Declaration of war
Following the initial sea and land engagements at the Battle of Pungdo on 25 July and the Battle of Seonghwan on 29 July respectively, and after discussion within the Japanese government, Emperor Meiji issued an Imperial Rescript declaring war on China on 1 August [Document 15]. On the same day the Qing Emperor Guangxu declared war on Japan China [Document 16]. In this way both countries received international recognition that a state of war existed between them. At the time the Japanese government decided that the Sino-Japanese War began, not on the 1 August when the official declaration was made, but on 25 July when fighting actually began [Document 17].
During the drafting of the declaration of war there was discussion within the Japanese government as to whether Korea should be included alongside China in the text, an indication of Korea's ambiguous status at the time. In the event only China was included in the declaration and on 26 August Japan and Korea signed the Japanese-Korean Alliance. The terms of this alliance stated that Japan and Korea would work together to expel the Chinese army to preserve Korean independence, that Japan would conduct the war on China and that Korea would do whatever it could to assist [Document 18]. On this basis the Korean government supplied Japan not only with food and other supplies but also with military manpower.
- Document 1
- Reference Code： C08040476000 Title： B: Qing preparation for campaign
- This document provides a summary of information obtained by the Japanese relating to movements within the Chinese army from early June to the eve of the outbreak of war. Image 2 onwards contains an account dated 4 June reporting that Ye Zhichao, General-in-chief of Zhili, with General Nie Shicheng and others, was continuing preparations to head to Korea and giving details of their weaponry etc.
- Document 2
- Reference Code： C08040626900 Title： From June 1894 to December 1894 Diary (1)
- Section of the journal of the Imperial General Headquarters for the period June to December 1894. Image 5 onwards is a report on events of the 2 June and includes the Cabinet's decision to send troops to Korea and the progress of preparations for the dispatch of warships.
- Document 3
- Reference Code： C08040460700 Title： Korean policy for Qing
- Summary of the main elements of the Japanese government's military policy for the first half of the Sino-Japanese War. Image 2 onwards gives the content of the 2 June Cabinet decision to send troops to Korea.
- Document 4
- Reference Code： B03030204700 Title： 1. From 4 June, 1894 to 6 June, 1894
- Digest of documents relating to the diplomatic negotiations between Japan and China at the beginning of June 1894. Image 7 onwards is the draft of the communiqué sent by the Japanese government on 7 June notifying its Chinese counterpart of the dispatch of troops to Korea. Image 22 onwards is the original Chinese text (with Japanese translation) of the Chinese government's notification of its dispatch of troops to Korea. The document was sent by Weng Fengzao, Chinese Minister Resident in Japan, to Foreign Minister Mutsu Munemitsu on 7 June 1894.
- Document 5
- Reference Code： B03030205100 Title： 5. From 8 June, 1894 to 24 June, 1894
- Digest of documents relating to the diplomatic negotiations between Japan and China in mid-June 1894. Image 25 onwards is the original text (with Japanese translation) of the Chinese government's response to Japan's proposal that both countries maintain their military presence in Korea. In this document, sent by the Chinese Minister to Japan Weng Fengzao to Foreign Minister Mutsu Munemitsu on 22 June 1894, China insists that both Japan and China withdraw their forces immediately . Image 29 onwards is the Japanese government's reply, sent the following day by Foreign Minister Mutsu to Minister Wang, which repeats Japan's refusal to remove its troops. Foreign Minister Mutsu later referred to this document as the "First letter of severance of diplomatic ties" (Zekkōsho 絶交書).
- Document 6
- Reference Code： B03050308400 Title： 4. From 2 July, 1894 to 23 July, 1894
- Digest of documents relating to the diplomatic negotiations in July 1894 between Japan and Korea over the issue of reform. Image 11 shows a document sent by the Japanese Minister to Korea, Ōtori Keisuke, to Jo Byeong-jik, the Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs, on 28 June 1894 in which he demands that the Korean government acknowledges by the following day whether Korea is a tributary of China or not. Image 12 onwards is the Korean government's reply sent by Foreign Minister Jo to Minister Ōtori on 30 June which expressed the view that Korea was a sovereign nation and had established relations with Japan and China on this footing.
- Document 7
- Reference Code： B03030205400 Title： 8. From June 29, 1894 to July 2, 1894
- Digest of documents relating to the diplomatic negotiations between Japan and China from late June/early July 1894. Images 1-2 are an official letter (in French) handed by the Russian Minister to Japan Mikhail Khitrovo to Foreign Minister Mutsu Munemitsu on 30 June containing the Russian government's demand that Japanese troops be withdrawn from Korea Image 4 is the Japanese translation of the letter. Image 28 onwards is the official Japanese response to the Russian government agreed by the Japanese Cabinet on 1 July.
- Document 8
- Reference Code： B03030206700 Title： 7. From 28 July, 1894 to 1 August, 1894
- Digest of documents relating to the diplomatic negotiations between Japan and China from late July/early August 1894. Image 30 onwards is a record of the exchanges at the interview which the Japanese Chargé d'affaires to China Komura Jutarō had with Prince Qing Yikuang and other princes and leading officials of the Qing government on the afternoon of 9 July. It includes China's insistence that to avoid armed conflict both countries should withdraw their forces as a matter of urgency. Image 42 is a letter of protest dated 14 July sent by the Japanese government to Komura, Prince Qing and the other Chinese officials. Foreign Minister Mutsu Munemitsu later referred to this document as the "Second letter of severance of diplomatic ties" (Zekkōsho 絶交書).
- Document 9
- Reference Code： B03050308300 Title： 3. From 5 July, 1894 to 17 July, 1894
- Digest of documents relating to the diplomatic negotiations from early to mid July 1894 between Japan and Korea over the issue of reform. The left-hand side of Image 23 onwards shows a document entitled "Summary Plan for Reform of Internal Affairs" presented to the Korean government by the Japanese on 3 July. The left-hand side of Image 26 onwards shows the detailed version of the Plan.
- Document 10
- Reference Code： B03050308400 Title： 4. From 2 July, 1894 to 23 July, 1894
- Digest of documents relating to the diplomatic negotiations in July 1894 between Japan and Korea over the issue of reform. Image 49 onwards shows a document sent by the Japanese Minister to Korea Ōtori Keisuke to Foreign Minister Mutsu Munemitsu on 18 July 1894 reporting the Korean response to the Japanese government's reform proposals.
- Document 11
- Reference Code： B03050308500 Title： 5. From 18 July, 1894 to 30 July, 1894
- Digest of documents relating to the diplomatic negotiations in the 2nd half of July 1894 between Japan and Korea over the issue of reform. Images 42 to 45 and 49 are documents sent on 19 and 20 July by Ōtori Keisuke, Japanese Minister to Korea, to Jo Byeong-jik, the Korean Foreign Minister, containing the Japanese government's demands. Images 46 and 47 are the Korean government's response.
- Document 12
- Reference Code： C06060811000 Title： 23 July. From Minister Ōtori to Minister Mutsu. "After the fighting the King sends his Foreign Minister to our Minister Resident entrusting him with responsibility for the government"
- Telegram sent on the evening of the 23 July by Ōtori Keisuke, Japanese Minister to Korea, to Foreign Minister Mutsu Munemitsu. It reports that after the fighting in the royal palace earlier that day the Korean Foreign Minister had visited the legation and requested Ōtori to come to the palace. Then in Ōtori's presence King Gojong announced that he was entrusting all responsibility for the government and for reform to the Heungseong Daewongun and required him to consult Ōtori in all matters.
- Document 13
- Reference Code： B03050308500 Title： 5. From 18 July, 1894 to 30 July, 1894
- Digest of documents relating to the diplomatic negotiations in the 2nd half of July 1894 between Japan and Korea over the issue of reform. Image 19 is a telegram sent on 25 July by Ōtori Keisuke, Japanese Minister to Korea, to Foreign Minister Mutsu Munemitsu. At the end he reports that he has received an official request from the Korean government for Japan to act on its behalf to expel the Chinese forces stationed at Asan.
- Document 14
- Reference Code： C08040479900 Title： Combined Fleet expedition 1st report
- Report of the Combined Fleet's campaign during July 1894. Image 1 shows the orders sent by Imperial General Headquarters in Japan to Vice Admiral Itō Sukeyuki giving him command of the Combined Fleet, ordering him to take control of the seas off the west coast of Korea and to occupy a base near Pungdo or Anmyeongdo islands and, in the event of any Chinese reinforcements being sent, to attack immediately any Chinese warships or transport vessels. Image 6 onwards records the composition of first units which made up the Combined Fleet. Image 10 onwards shows the action plan for each unit's departure from Sasebo.
- Document 15
- Reference Code： A03020165600 Title： Original script signed by the Emperor, 1894, Imperial Edict, August 1, Declaration of War Against Qing
- The original promulgated version of the Imperial Rescript declaring war on Qing China which bears the signature of Emperor Meiji (Mutsuhito).
- Document 16
- Reference Code： B07090537400 Title： Promulgating an imperial edict to declare a war between Japan and Qing
- Digest of responses from various countries following Japan and China's declaration of war on each other. Image 9 gives the content of China's declaration of war on Japan.
- Document 17
- Reference Code： C06060168000 Title： Deciding the start date of the war
- Document recording the Japanese government's discussions on when the war should be considered to have started. Image 3 records that at a Cabinet meeting on 25 August it was decided "the actual day the war began should be determined". Image 4 shows the decision taken on 10 September that 25 July, the date of the Battle of Pungdo should be regarded as the start of the war.
- Document 18
- Reference Code： B13091011800 Title： Japanese-Korean Alliance
- Signed text of the Japanese-Korean Alliance concluded between Japan and Korea on 26 August 1894.