The first Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 was one of the most significant conflicts of the late 19th century, and saw Meiji Japan emerge onto the world stage as a major military power, while also marking another stage in the decline of Qing China.
The first two fifths of the book cover the build-up to war and the events of the war itself. For many years Korea had effectively been a vassal stage of China, and just as isolated as Edo era Japan. However as Japan opened up to the outside world, she began to try and exert influence in nearby Korea. We trace the complex series of events that saw clashes between traditionalists and modernizers in Korea grow into a wider conflict. We then trace the events of the war itself, which included fighting in Korea, at sea, and in mainland China, and ended with a crushing Japanese victory.
We then move onto the opposing armies. This is where the difference between the two sides becomes really clear. Twenty years before the outbreak of war the Meiji government in Japan had created a new conscript army based on the European model, with French and later Prussian aid. The Japanese army was well organised, with modern artillery and a common military doctrine.
On the Chinese side things were very different. The central Qing government had largely lost control of the military after the costly Taiping Rebellion, and each regional governor now had their own army. The Imperial Government still had an army, built around the Army of the Eight Banners, but this was dominated by Manchu horse archers. This army did include a number of more modern units, but also the 4,000 strong Tiger-Hunting Establishment. For more modern troops the government had to rely on the Yung-Ying armies, the armies raised by the regional governors and other leading individuals. Some of these were modern, well organised forces, others were virtually feudal war bands. Equipment was equally varied, with some men armed with bows, swords and polearms but others using modern western rifles (in particular the M1981 Mauser).
We also get brief examinations of the Korean army and the Formosan forces that resisted the Japanese takeover after the end of the war.
This is an excellent overview of this largely forgotten but important conflict, which helped shade the course of Japanese and Chinese history for the next half century.
Defenders of Formosa
Author: Gabriele Esposito