China Only Yesterday, 1850-1950: A Century of Change

By Emily Hahn | Go to book overview

Chapter Fourteen

China has given no offence--has done no wrong--does not wish to fight, and is willing to make sacrifices: She is a big 'sick man," convalescing very slowly from the sickening effects of peaceful centuries, and is being jumped on when down by this agile, healthy, well-armed Jap--will no one pull him off?"

This passage was in a letter from Sir Robert Hart to Campbell, written at the crucial moment, in 1894, when the Japanese had at last succeeded in precipitating a showdown battle with China over Korea. Japan was well prepared for it, having planned the war for years past. The Chinese were not. The fact was, Korea had progressed too fast to suit Tokyo. The Maritime Customs Service that Hart set up was well managed, and provided a steady source of income for the government. Korea had even paid off a small debt she owed to Japan, a payment that did not gratify the recipient. The Japanese had hoped to possess Korea through default and weakness. Russia shared Japan's fears of a strong Korea, but it was Japan that finally took action.

When von Möllendorfs plans for getting Russians to train the new Korean army fell through, the vacuum was filled in the obvious way by the Chinese. Li Hung-chang appointed Yuan Shih-k'ai, a promising young general, to oversee the task. Consequently the troops were shaped according to Chinese fashion, and, as the King was already pro-Peking, Korea became more and more Sinicized. This tendency was disapproved of by the Japanese, but they bided their time and waited for the right moment to strike. It seemed to arrive in April of 1894, when the pro-Japanese Korean, Kim Ok Kiun, who had plotted to bring about the coup of '84, was lured out of Tokyo where he had found refuge, and persuaded to go to Shanghai. There he was assassinated by the son of the postmaster general of

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