Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

Hung Chang in particular was her associate and ally, and after his temporary disgrace it was only her protection that prevented his losing his head. But the world was taken into the confidence of the ruling powers at Pekin when it was announced in 1894 that the Chinese Court had decided to celebrate the sixtieth birthday of the Empress Dowager in an extraordinary manner. The proposition was seriously

. . made, and the arrangements were far completed towards executing it, that the sum of five millions sterling should be expended on this Jubilee. The reader need not discover in that extraordinary proposition proof of the excessive affection of the Emperor Kwangsu to one of the widows of his uncle, but the evidence it supplies as to the power of that lady is irrefutable. The Imperial lady's expectations were on this occasion doomed to disappointment. For over thirty years she had lorded things as she chose, but just as she was on the point of receiving the much-desired public tribute to her success and worth, the cup of anticipated triumph was dashed from her lips by the outbreak of the war with Japan. The millions had to be expended or wasted elsewhere, but they were not destined to obtain a triumph either in the streets of Pekin or in the field against the national enemy.

( 515 )

CHAPTER XXII.

THE WAR WITH JAPAN.

The most striking passage in the modern history of China since the Taeping rebellion has now been reached; but in order to understand the events of the war with Japan it is necessary to describe the gradual development of the Corean question until it became the cause of strife between the two principal races of the Far East. The old struggles between China and Japan have been mentioned at different periods, but although the Japanese in the sixteenth century practically overran the peninsula, they retired, and Corea reverted to that position of dependence or vassalage under China which was the common condition of all her neighbours. The tie binding Corea to China was neither weaker nor stronger than that between China and Tonquin. In each case the essential point was whether China possessed the power to make good the letter of her rights. In Tonquin the result showed that she had not the power ; but much had happened in the ten years intervening between the wars with France and with Japan to justify the opinion that China could make at least a good fight for her claims over Corea, and, moreover, Corea by its position was so far more important to China that it was felt she ought to make a special effort to maintain her hold on a country which had been called her "right arm of defence.

If these considerations pointed to the conclusion that the Chinese would fight hard for their rights in Corea, the weak and uncertain policy that preceded the outbreak of war shook faith in the wisdom and firmness of the Pekin Government

long before the crisis arrived. The Chinese Government, and at that moment the phrase signified Li Hung Chang, was induced to believe, first, that something should be done to regulate the position in Corea, and, secondly, that this could only be effected by opening the country to the trade and influences of the outer world. Several disputes with foreign Powers, arising out of attacks on ships, missionaries, and travellers, had not merely raised an external interest in Corea, but had created some justification for interference in its affairs. Allowance must be made for the fact that while China was anxious to cling to her shadowy claim over Corea, and to invest it with substance, she was not anxious to accept the responsibility for every act committed by the truculent and quarrelsome Coreans.

In 1876 Japan began operations in Corea by securing the opening of Fushan to her trade as compensation for an outrage on some of her sailors. About the same time China annexed the so-called neutral territory on the frontier, and in 1880 Chemulpo was also opened to Japanese trade. The activity of the Japanese compelled the Chinese to act, and in 1881 a draft commercial treaty was drawn up, approved by the Chinese authorities and the representatives of the principal Powers at Pekin, and carried to the Court of Seoul for acceptance and signature by the American naval officer Commodore Schufeldt. The treaty was, of course, accepted by Corea, and all the Powers in turn became parties to it

. The success of the Japanese had filled them with confidence, and when they saw the Chinese asserting their claims over Corea, and putting forward a pretension to control its destinies, they determined to advance their old right to have an equal voice with China in the peninsula. As the most effectual way of carrying out their plans they allied themselves with the so-called progressive party in Corea, which naturally took Japan as their model, while China, with equal appropriateness, was obliged or inclined to link her fortunes with the old and reactionary party in the state.

The plans of the Japanese met with much opposition, and in June, 1882, the Coreans attacked the Japanese Legation, murdered some of its inmates, and compelled the survivors

[blocks in formation]

to flee. Thereupon the Japanese sent a force to exact reparation, and the Chinese also sent a force to restore order. An arrangement was effected, but for two years a Chinese and Japanese force remained in proximity under the walls of Seoul. In December, 1884, a fresh collision occurred between the Japanese and the Coreans, aided this time by the Chinese. The former were again compelled to flee. This second outrage stirred the Japanese Government to take decided action, and while it obtained compensation from the Coreans for the outrage, it sent Count Ito to China to effect an arrangement with the Pekin Government. At that moment China occupied a stronger position in Corea than the Japanese. She was popular with the people, the old ties were undoubtedly strong, and the Treaty Powers were more disposed to work through her than Japan in extending trade influence through the peninsula. It now remains to show how completely the Government of China threw away these advantages by an agreement which tied her hands and placed her in a very different position from that she claimed, and had so long possessed.

Li Hung Chang was appointed Chinese plenipotentiary to negotiate with Count Ito, and a short but pregnant Convention was signed by them at Tientsin on the 18th of April, 1885. It consisted of only three articles : first, that both countries should withdraw their troops from Corea ; secondly, that no more officers should be sent by either country to drill the Corean army; and thirdly, that if at any future time either country should send troops to Corea, it must inform the other country. By this Convention China admitted Japan's right to control Corea as being on an equality with her own. After that date it was impossible to talk of Corea as a vassal state of China, and all the advantages she possessed by tradition were surrendered by Li Hung Chang to the more astute representative of Japan.

For nine years after the Tientsin or Li-Ito Convention there was peace in Corea. In the spring of 1894 the assassination at Shanghai of Kim-Ok-Kiun, the leader of the Corean revolution in 1884 and a so-called reformer, drew attention to the affairs of the peninsula. Happening outside

it, this event was still the originating cause of the important occurrences that followed during the summer of 1894 in Corea. Evidence was soon forthcoming that the murderer had been put up to commit the deed by the Corean authorities. On his return to Corea honours and rewards were bestowed upon him, while the body of Kim-Ok-Kiun was quartered as that of a traitor. At this moment the Tong Haks, a body of religious not political reformers, began to agitate for various concessions, and failing to obtain them, broke into open rebellion. At the end of May the Tong Haks obtained a considerable success over the Corean forces, three hundred of whom were slain. This defeat caused such consternation at Seoul that a request was at once sent to China to send a force to save the capital.

There was no reason why China should not comply with that request, and there were many reasons why she should. By the oth of June 2000 Chinese troops were encamped at Asan, a port some distance south of Seoul, and its recognized port Chemulpo. A few Chinese men-of-war were also sent to the coast. Notification was made to Japan of the despatch of these forces to Corea under the terms of the Convention. The Japanese Government, having equal rights with China, determined to do the same, and, acting with extraordinary vigour and promptitude, they possessed within forty-eight hours of the arrival of the Chinese at Asan a far superior force of troops at Seoul and of ships at Chemulpo. They were also in complete possession of the capital and of the Court, which was wholly in sympathy with China and opposed to Japan.

In these circumstances China revived her pretensions to regard Corea as a vassal state. Japan refused to tolerate the pretensions on the ground, first, that she had never at any time admitted them, and secondly, that the Li-Ito Convention was clear in its tenor as to the equality of the rights of the two states. The Japanese made another very astute move. They called attention to the obvious evil consequences of misgovernment in Corea, and they proposed to China that she should join them in executing the needful reforms. China, hampered by her alliance with the reactionary party at Seoul,

« AnteriorContinua »