The Sino-Japanese War Cripples China

The first Sino-Japanese war, fought from August 1894 to April 1895, shook China to its very core. China had traditionally been the center of the world. Previous defeats to European powers chipped at this veneer. The defeat by Japan, a supposedly inferior Asian power, shattered this notion. Following the Arrow War, China attempted a modernization movement, known as the Self-Strengthening movement, to increase the economic and industrial potential of China. The Treaty of Shimonoseki ended the Self-Strengthening movement and destroyed China’s ability to further industrialize which also impeded China’s ability to function as a sovereign nation.

The treaty begins by stating Korea is completely independent.(1) The origins of the first Sino-Japanese war can be traced to an escalating rebellion in Korea. When a rebellion was incited on the peninsula, Japan sent troops claiming that the Chinese were unable to control the territory. Chinese troops later arrived and the situation escalated.(2) By declaring Korea independent, the Japanese are effectively claiming rights to the region because there are no other major powers in the region besides the Japanese. In the next article of the treaty, Japan claims a series of regions. These include Taiwan, the Pescadores Islands, and areas of southern Manchuria.(3) When a empire can not hold onto the territories there is a serious threat to its sovereignty. Both Western nations and the citizens of China recognized this weakness. The people living in China likely thought that the empire could no longer serve their needs and protect them. When there is a belief that the empire is not able to function, instability and uncertainty result.

The Treaty of Shimonoseki further harmed China by forcing indemnity payments. Japan requested “200,000,000 Kuping Taels; the said sum to be paid in eight installments,…”(4) These payments would have been devastating for the Chinese empire. Following the loss of the Arrow war, leading Chinese bureaucrats pushed a policy of self-strengthening and industrialization. Most impressive was the development of a modern navy. Unfortunately many of the accomplishments were lost in war with France over Vietnam and the Sino-Japanese war. (5) The extra money that is needed to pay the indemnity would make industrialization impossible and possibly hinder more basic government duties.

China was further handicapped economically by the treaty. Japan required China to allow Japanese businesses to manufacture goods in ports that are open to foreign trade.(6) Compounding the effect of this clause is the “Most Favored Nation Principle”, established earlier by a series of unequal treaties with foreign nations. All foreign powers were now able to manufacture goods on Chinese soil. This fact further hampers China’s economic sovereignty. Any industrialization would help foreigners and not the Chinese. The fact that foreigners could exploit China’s resources shows the weakness of the Chinese state. The weakness of China, evident to foreign powers, gave China no flexibility to negotiate previous treaties. China was pinned to the consequences of the Treaty of Shimonoseki.

The Treaty of Shimonoseki highlights the failings of the Chinese empire. The effort to industrialize was thwarted by a large indemnity and the foreigners’ ability to build factories. This combines with the loss of territory to weaken Chinese sovereignty and status as a world power. As a result of the Treaty, China sovereignty was weakened by the loss of territory to the Japanese and by the considerable economic losses. If this was the result of the Self-Strengthening movement, it can only be considered a failure.

1. David G. Atwill and Yurong Y. Atwill, ed. Sources in Chinese History (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2010), 92.

2. R. Keith Schoppa, Revolution and its Past: Identities and Change in Modern Chinese History (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2011), 109.

3. Atwill and Atwill, Sources in Chinese History, 92.

4. Ibid.

5. Schoppa, Revolution and its Past, 101.

6. Atwill and Atwill, Sources in Chinese History, 93.


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