Shimonoseki, Treaty of

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Concluded on 17 April 1895, the Treaty of Shimonoseki ended the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) and confirmed Japan's status as a major Far Eastern power. From the beginning of Japan's systematic involvement with the West in the 1850s, the adoption of Western methods, particularly in military and naval spheres, was seen as the way to escape Western domination. At the same time, an emerging generation of diplomats and theorists argued that to survive in its new environment, Japan must develop its own imperium. An island state poor in raw materials, it needed secure sources of the imports on which its industrialization and prosperity depended. Commerce and colonization, underwritten by armed force, were the prerequisites of national identity and national greatness.

A restored imperial government initially sought control of the island of Taiwan, which lay across the southern sea route to Japan, and a sphere of influence in Korea, the strategic bridge to an Asian mainland that during the 1880s seemed increasingly open to Japanese penetration. These initiatives, however, brought Japan into direct conflict with a Chinese empire whose recent contacts with the West had been quite different. Commercial expansion and cultural imperialism produced a series of armed clashes at the same time that the Manchu government confronted major local revolts culminating in the Taiping Rebellion (1851–1864). Impoverished and disorganized, China was unable to undertake the large-scale systematic military reforms its experience showed were necessary for the state's welfare.

Seeking both the specific advantage of control over Korea and the general status of Asia's leading power, Japan forced a quarrel with China in 1894. Most of the fighting took place in Korea and southern Manchuria. Japan by now possessed a national conscript army organized and trained on German lines. The navy, originally linked closely to Britain and still prone to placing orders in British shipyards, had increasingly developed its own approaches to doctrine and training, regarding British methods as too unsystematic. The Chinese land forces, haphazardly recruited and poorly supplied, nevertheless put up a determined resistance, and Japan's inexperience in large-scale war initially resulted in numerous operational and logistical errors. At sea it was another story, with Japan winning a decisive victory at the Battle of the Yalu on 17 September 1894.

In November, a steadily improving Japanese army overran the major fortress of Port Arthur. The navy then transported several divisions south to the Shandong Peninsula. In January 1895 they captured the Chinese naval base at Weihaiwei. What remained of the Chinese fleet, which had taken shelter there after its Yalu debacle, was destroyed or surrendered.

Unsupported and isolated, China sought a peace that came at a high price. The Treaty of Shimonoseki conceded Korea's independence—an obvious preliminary to a Japanese takeover. It also gave Japan Taiwan and the nearby Pescadores, and as a strategic bonus the Liaodong Peninsula and the fortress of Port Arthur on the Manchurian mainland. For the Western powers, who had closely observed the course of the war, that was too much, too soon. France, Russia, and Germany combined to encourage Japan to reconsider its terms for the sake of regional peace. Under the gun, Japan turned over its Manchurian acquisitions to Russia, while the other European powers—Britain included—established lesser footholds along the north China coast, a region Japan considered in its sphere of vital interest.

Shimonoseki left Japan determined to pursue its imperial course, and even more determined that the Europeans would never again be in a position to dictate to Japan on matters of its vital interest. For China, Shimonoseki was a humiliation: a catalyst for the emergence of a nationally based revolutionary movement committed to establishing a westernized government able to protect China from invaders and domestic enemies alike. For both Asian states, Shimonoseki's consequences reverberated through the twentieth century.

See alsoImperialism; Japan; Russo-Japanese War.


Jansen, Marius, et al. "The Historiography of the Sino-Japanese War." The International History Review 1 (April 1979): 191–227.

Lone, Stewart. Japan's First Modern War. New York, 1994.

Dennis Showalter