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Beiyang Fleet Should Not Be Sole Target of Blame for Defeat in First Sino-Japanese War


 Beiyang Fleet Should Not Be Sole Target of Blame for Defeat in First Sino-Japanese War 

Source: China Times
July 16, 2014
The First Sino-Japanese War (a.k.a. the War of Jiawu, 甲午戰爭) erupted in 1894, and the Qing’s Dynasty’s Beiyang Fleet (北洋艦隊) was defeated by the Japanese fleet.  As a result, the Qing Court was forced to sign the Treaty of Shimonoseki, ceding Taiwan and Penghu to Japan.  For the past 120 years, the Chinese public has always put the blame on the Beiyang Fleet for being defeated by Japan in the First Sino-Japanese War as a result of its poor discipline and unsound tactics.
Kuo Yan-ping (郭延平), a retired Navy captain of the Republic of China, spent eight years studying and collecting materials related to the First Sino-Japanese War before finishing a book titled, “The Yellow Sea War for China’s Naval Academy Graduates Class of 1871,” which clears the reputation of the Beiyang Fleet.  In Kuo’s book, he stated that the reason the Beiyang Fleet had been defeated was mainly due to the difference in the strengths of the navies of China and Japan, not dereliction of duty of the Beiyang Fleet officers and men.
Kuo spent eight years researching the historical facts and found that the battle between the Beiyang Fleet and the Japanese fleet was tantamount to China’s Naval Academy fighting against the entire Japanese Empire.  Kuo stated that he found that his senior officers in the Qing Dynasty had fought courageously to the end and had not been cowards.
The Yellow Sea War during the First Sino-Japanese War was a crucial battle, which revealed the gap in military strengths and the development of national power between the Qing Dynasty and the Japanese Empire.  The period of history had a great influence on the future generations of the officers serving in the Beiyang Fleet and the fate of the ROC Navy.  China’s defeat in the Yellow Sea War caused the ROC Navy to be haunted by a “shadow of failure” to this day.
When it comes to the main reason for the Beiyang Fleet’s defeat, Kuo stated that the Qing Dynasty Navy had ranked in the top ten in tonnage in the world before its defeat, but had not continued to strengthen its capabilities to match Japan’s military forces.   On the contrary, Japan entered the Meiji Restoration  and adopted a strategy of making Japan rich and building up its military power for territorial ambitions in Asia.  During the Meiji Restoration, Japan built up its naval strength using the resources of the entire Japanese Empire, allowing Japan to defeat the Beiyang Fleet with the superior speed and fire power of its navy.
【Editor’s note: 1. After the First Sino-Japanese War, the Qing Court signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki, agreeing to pay large war reparations and cede Taiwan and Penghu to Japan.  It had been unprecedented for a victorious country to ask the defeated country to pay war reparations equal to four times its GDP until Japan forced China to do so in 1895, in a despicable humiliation.  After the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-45) ended, China returned good for evil by not asking Japan to pay war reparations, otherwise, it would have been impossible for Japan to make such a fast economic recovery after the war. 2. Because the Qing Dynasty was founded by the Manchus from Manchuria after the Ming dynasty was overthrown, it is also known as the Manchu Dynasty.  The Manchu Empress Dowager Tzu-hsi (慈禧太后), who reigned during the First Sino-Japanese War, had had no qualms about ceding territory or paying large sum of war reparations to Japan as long as she could keep her thrown.  3. In spite of Japan’s propaganda that it would conquer China in three months (三月亡華), Chiang Kai-shek led the ROC Armed Forces to fight Japan to the end, even moving the capital from Nanking to Chongqing while steadfastly refusing to even consider surrendering the nation to Japan.  Historian Tang Te-kang (唐德剛), a noted Columbia University professor, once stated that Chiang Kai-shek was the only leader in China’s long history to have moved the nation’s capital in order to fight on against enemy invasion and then moved the capital back in victory.】

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