120th Anniversary: Chinese Strategists Reflect on the First Sino-Japanese War

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A collection of essays on the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 has obvious implications for modern China.

For The Diplomat, Shannon Tiezzi writes;  China is gearing up for the 120th anniversary of the First Sino-Japanese War, which began in 1894 and ended with China’s defeat in 1895. The war was a devastating blow to China’s then-rulers, the Qing dynasty, as China had always considered Japan a ‘little brother’ rather than a serious competitor. The war is often seen as the defining point when power in East Asia shifted from China to Japan, as Tokyo claimed control of the Chinese territories of Taiwan and the Liaodong Peninsula (site of the port city of Dalian) as well as Korea (which changed from being a Chinese vassal to an officially independent state under Japanese influence).

” The war was a devastating blow to China’s then-rulers, the Qing dynasty, as China had always considered Japan a ‘little brother’ rather than a serious competitor.”

To commemorate the 120th anniversary of the war, Xinhua published a special supplement to its Reference News newspaper. The supplement consisted of 30 articles by members of the People’s Liberation Army “analyzing what China can learn from its defeat” in the Sino-Japanese war. Summing up the articles, Xinhuasaid that “the roots of China’s defeat lay not on military reasons, but the outdated and corrupt state system, as well as the ignorance of maritime strategy.” This conclusion has obvious modern-day applications, as China’s leadership is currently emphasizing both reform and a new focus on China’s navy.

“Japan’s victory proved that its westernization drive, the Meiji Restoration, was the right path, despite its militarist tendency.”

The PLA authors laid the bulk of the blame for China’s defeat on the Qing dynasty’s failure to effectively modernize. “Japan’s victory proved that its westernization drive, the Meiji Restoration, was the right path, despite its militarist tendency,” Xinhua summarized. Political commissar of China’s National Defense University Liu Yazhou compared Japan’s reforms to China’s: “One made reforms from its mind, while another only made changes on the surface.”

Though these comments are referencing a conflict from 120 years ago, it’s easy to see the relevance for today. Xi Jinping is trying to spearhead China’s most ambitious reform package since the days of Deng Xiaoping, including not only difficult economic rebalancing but also an overhaul of the way China’s bureaucracy (both civilian and military) is organized. In other words, China still needs to finish the modernization project that the Qing half-heartedly began in the 19th century. Westernization (what today China would call modernization) remains “the right path.”

Other PLA officers argued that corruption was a major contributing factor to China’s defeat by the Japanese in 1895. Vice Admiral Ding Yiping, a deputy commander in the PLAN, blamed the defeat on “corruption and fatuity in politics.” Major-General Jin Yinan, a strategist at NDU, said that China’s Beiyang Fleet at the time had all the necessary equipment, but that the period of peace before the war led to “the general mood of the fleet becoming depraved.”

As part of these reforms, Xi has repeatedly warned about the danger of corruption, particularly in the military. In one of his first major policy pronouncement after being named Secretary General of the Communist Party, Xi urged China’s military to be ready for battle. “It is the top priority for the military to be able to fight and win battles and it is fundamental that the military consolidates itself through governing the troops lawfully and austerely,” Xi said in a speech in Guangzhou. One could say that Xi saw a “depraved” mood in China’s own military, where personal profit concerns outweighed national security. It’s no coincidence that a PLA general now highlights that same factor as a major cause in one of China’s most stinging military defeats….(read more)

The Diplomat


One Comment on “120th Anniversary: Chinese Strategists Reflect on the First Sino-Japanese War”

  1. […] Pundit from another Planet A collection of essays on the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 has obvious implications for modern […]


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