The Japan-Qing War of 1894 provides important background information. The following is a “book report,” with my own reactions, based on S.C.M. Paine’s excellent book, The Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895.

(At the bottom of this page is a timeline if you need to refresh your memory on E. Asian history)

Here are a ten lessons from the first — of how many? — Korean wars.

1) China should have avoided this war. They could have granted Korea sovereignty and avoided war. Or, after the war started and Japan decimated their navy, instead of sending emissaries to Japan to insult the Japanese as “bandit dwarves,” they could have begged for peace. China simply couldn’t evolve their mindset and their people paid a price. Japan could have marched on Peking.

2) Western “racism” against Asians was nuanced. Europeans and Americans criticized Asians as uncivilized. But Asians actually were uncivilized compared to the West. After the War, the West eagerly praised Japan and were happy about Japanese progress. England actually ended their “splendid isolation” in 1902 by signing an alliance with Japan.

China, on the other hand, was intent on calling Westerners “barbarians” and making us kowtow to the Emperor even while their country stagnated in abject filth and we zoomed ahead in the industrial age. They insisted on calling repeatedly calling the Japanese “dwarves” while Japan beat them in war.

Where does sound geopolitical analysis end and pernicious racism begin?

3) Chinese society was totally barbaric. Their Confucius “culture” meant that decorum was more important than kicking butt. When they got Japanese prisoners of war, they tortured them, disemboweled them, cut off their noses, cut off hands. Yuck.

It seems to me whatever thin veneer of civilization China covers up with today could easily slip off at any moment.

Is this the country that is going to surpass American GDP and become the innovator of the world? Hm…

4) Never start a war.

In the War, China raped Koreans and stole from Koreans. Japan paid Koreans for any supplies they took. But Korea won’t ever forgive Japan for this war.

5) Koreans are not like us. They were the Hermit Kingdom for hundreds of years. Despite the fact that China kept them down, Korea doesn’t take issue with China. However, Korea virulently hates Japan, who is also an American ally now.

America tried nation building in Iraq and got destroyed. It seems we generalized that into, “Iraqis are not like us. Don’t nation build in Iraq.” We should generalize it to, “Almost all of the world is not like us. Koreans are not like us.” We cannot recreate America in Korea. We faked it for a while. But now that is coming to an end.

6) We will never understand East Asia. An American could spend his entire life studying it and not understand it like the locals do. Not well enough to make policy there. There is no way for Americans to fully grasp their culture of saving face, and intricacies like how Korea is more inward facing than Japan, or the fact that China was terribly backwards and full of chaos and death. Instead of the arrogant policy of assuming we understand them we should back off.

7) There will be a war in Korea. It’s a flash point for 150 years now. Geographically, it is right in the middle of China, Russia, and Japan. These are three proud powers who express themselves. Korea is a power vacuum. It’s where they collided throughout the 19th century, in 1894, in 1905, then throughout the 20th century too. America should not go out of it’s way to get into their war.

8) Before the War, everyone thought China would win. They had always won and were bigger. Then Japan mauled them. Somehow the smaller power, despite having to cross a sea, and defeat Chinese fortifications, killed them. It shocked the world.

Who will be the surprised China today? Is it China again? Hopefully it’s not America.

9) Standard tellings of the history explain that America “exploited” Japan by opening them up for trade in 1854. Then Japan “exploited” Korea by opening them up for trade starting from 1875.

If that is exploitation, does that mean when China “opened” America up for trade, despite the fact that many Americans are sketched out, they are the ones “exploiting” us? Does America need tariffs to prevent foreign exploitation?

10) If any period and place in the world were going to be home to patriarchy it would be 19th century regressive East Asia. Yet Korea was ruled by the highly influential Queen Min. China was ruled by Empress Cixi for near fifty years. Well. So much for patriarchy! Just another feminist lie. By the way, they were both terrible leaders.

1592 — Japan pillages Korea

1636 — Manchus, of Manchuria, or northeast China, conquer China and Korea. Korea is a vassal to China.

1839 — Opium War. China banned opium, and simultaneously confiscated much opium and Brits. England won.

1856 — Second Opium War.

1850–1864 — Taiping rebellion. Chinese civil war. Chaos. 50,000,000 dead.

1866 — American boat enters Korea. All killed.

1868 — Meiji restoration begins. Japan learns from the West.

1875 — Treaty of Ganghwa. Establishes Korea as independent from China. Increases trade between Korea and Japan.

1884 — Gapsin Coup. Koreans tried a coup, to modernize and end corruption, with Japanese support. Failure

1894 — Donghak rebellion. Peasants of Korea revolt! China sends troops in, Japan sends troops, war.

1894, September — Japan smashes China in Pyongyang. Forces them to leave Korea

1894, November — Japan wins and massacres at Port Arthur

1895, April — Treaty of Shimoneseki




Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

LEPIDUS as Moneyer — Triumvir with Mark Antony Augustus Silver Roman Coin i58248

‘That Others May Live’

The Wraith of London

Hedy Lamarr, Actress, Inventor & Film Producer

Africa — Overcome Our Misconceptions

Why is the United States such an Individualistic Country?

Pray for the Dead, Fight Like Hell for the Living!

Lethal Weapons of Mythology are similar to the Nuclear Weapons of the Modern Era

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Daniel Ashman

Daniel Ashman

More from Medium

Under Great-Power Competition, Human Rights are First out the Window

Meet the Officer Commanding a light cavalry squadron deployed to Poland

Singapore National Museum’s ‘Surviving Syonan’ Exhibit through the lens of Michel-Rolph Trouillot

American Civil War Sparked