An overview of the First Sino-Japanese War


The Sino-Japanese War was fought between the Empire of Japan and Qing dynasty China from 1894 to 1895. It was a conflict over control of Korea and Manchuria and resulted in a decisive victory for Japan. 


In this article, we will provide a comprehensive history of the Sino-Japanese War, including all the major battles and turning points. We will also explore the reasons behind Japan's victory and discuss the consequences of the war for both countries.

Causes of the war

Since 1868, Japan had undergone a period of rapid modernisation, called the Meiji Restoration, and they had become a leading power in East Asia. This alarmed the Qing dynasty of China, which saw Japan as a threat to its own position in the region. In 1894, tensions between Japan and China boiled over into open conflict.


The immediate cause of the war was the dispute over control of Korea. Both China and Japan had long been interested in the peninsula, which was seen as a valuable strategic location. In 1876, Japan had signed a treaty with Korea that gave it certain privileges, including the right to station troops in the country.


The war was also partly caused by the Donghak Peasant Revolution, which began in 1894 in Korea. This was a revolt against Korean rulers, who were seen as being too influenced by foreign powers (such as China and Japan). The rebels called for an end to foreign influence, and for a return to traditional Korean values. 


The rebels were supported by China. Japan saw this as a threat to its interests, and so they sent their own troops into Korea to counter the Chinese presence.


On July 23, 1894, the Japanese captured Joseon King Gojong and renamed him Gwangmu Emperor, as a way of indicating that he was now no longer under Chinese control. Then, on the 25th of July, 4,000 Japanese soldiers marched south towards the port city of Asan to drive out the 3800 Chinese troops.

Battle of Pungdo

The first naval battle of the war was the Battle of Pungdo. This took place on 25th of July 1894, near Asan, Korea, between the Japanese Navy and a Chinese fleet. Chinese troops south of Seoul were being supplied by sea through the Bay of Asan. 


The Chinese had twice as many ships as the Japanese, but they were no match for the Japanese navy. Japan won the battle, stopping vital Chinese supplies and troops from reaching Korea. The Battle of Pungdo was a turning point in the war, as it showed that the Japanese were superior to the Chinese in terms of military technology.

Battle of Seonghwan​

The first major land battle of the war was the Battle of Seonghwan, which took place on July 28, 1894. The Japanese used infantry, cavalry and artillery outflanked the Chinese defenses. After a two-hour battle on the morning of 28 July 1894, the defenders fled to Asan, leaving behind weapons and supplies.

Battle of Asan​

The Japanese forces pursued them and quickly took Asan on 29 July 1894. 500 Chinese were killed and wounded, while less than 100 Japanese were killed or wounded. The surviving Chinese forces fled towards Pyongyang and, the two sides officially declared war on August 1.


Most of the First Sino-Japanese War would be fought on the oceans. However, the land battles provide a clear demonstration about the key differences between the two military powers.

The Battle of Pyongyang

The next major battle of the war was the Battle of Pyongyang, which took place on September 15, 1894. The Japanese army, led by General Oshima Yoshimasa, attacked the Chinese forces in Pyongyang from three sides. 


After a day of fighting, the Japanese captured the city, with 2,000 Chinese dead and 4,000 injured or missing, while the Japanese Imperial Army only reported 568 men injured, dead, or missing.


The Chinese were quickly overwhelmed and retreated from the city. This victory gave the Japanese control of North Korea.

Battle of Yalu River​

The largest naval battle of the First Sino-Japanese War and took place on 17 September 1894. Both fleets were similar in size, but Japan had far better technology, so the Japanese navy defeated the Chinese fleet. Japan sank a third of the Chinese fleet while not losing a single ship.

Port Arthur Massacre

Following Pyongyang and Yalu River, China withdrew from Korea, and, in October 1894, the Japanese marched into Manchuria and the Liaodong Peninsula. They took the Chinese cities of Mukden and Lushunkou (Port Arthur). On November 21st, 1894, Japanese troops killed thousands of Chinese civilians in the Port Arthur Massacre.

Siege of Weihaiwei

The Chinese fleet was trapped by Japanese ships and troops at Weihaiwei. Weihaiwei surrendered on February 12, 1895. In April, Japanese forces marched to Beijing and the Chinese finally asked for peace.

End of the war

On February 11, 1895, Japan and China signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki, which formally ended the war. Under the terms of the treaty, China recognised Korea's independence from China, and ceded Taiwan and the Penghu Islands to Japan. In addition, China agreed to pay Japan a large indemnity of 200 million taels (approximately US$600 million).

Practical reasons for Japan's victory

One of the main reasons for Japan's victory was its superior military technology. At the time, Japan was far more modernised than China, and had better weapons and equipment. 


Another reason for Japan's victory was its better-trained and disciplined troops. The Japanese army was much better organised than the Chinese army, which was often poorly led and lacked discipline. 


Finally, Japan had a strong motivation to win the war, while China did not. The Japanese were determined to take control of Korea, while the Chinese were content to maintain the status quo.


The Sino-Japanese War was a watershed moment in the history of both countries. For China, it marked the end of its centuries-long domination of East Asia. For Japan, it was the first step on the road to becoming a major world power. 


The Sino-Japanese War also laid bare the weakness of traditional Chinese military tactics and technology, which would be exploited by other foreign powers in the years to come. For China, it was a humiliating defeat that showed the world how far behind Japan they had fallen. The Qing dynasty was weakened politically by the war, and this led to a series of rebellions that eventually toppled the dynasty in 1911. 


Finally, the war demonstrated the growing power of Japan as a regional hegemon and set in motion a series of events that would lead to the country's eventual domination of East Asia. 


Russia, Germany, and France objected to Japan's seizure of the Liaodong Peninsula, and they forced Japan to return it to China in the Triple Intervention of 1895. This did not sit well with the Japanese, who felt humiliated by the other powers. In particular, it led to increased tensions between Russia and Japan, which would eventually erupt into the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905).