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Mudan Incident


Mudan Incident


Source: Wikipedia


August 9, 2011


On August 7, the Taipei-based China Times published four articles on major incidents which changed Taiwan’s fate, one of which, the Mudan Incident was the referred to in the West as the Taiwan Expedition of 1874. The Mudan Incident occurred in 1874 when Japan sent a military expedition to Taiwan in retaliation for the murder of shipwreck survivors from the Kingdom of Ryukyus (Okinawa) by Taiwan’s “wild” and “unsubjugated” aborigines after diplomacy between the Qing government of China and the Meiji government of Japan failed to resolve Japan’s demands. 


This was the first time the Japanese government deployed troops overseas since the Meiji Restoration, and the first major diplomatic incident between the Qing Dynasty and Japan.  The incident is referred to in Taiwan and Mainland China as the Mudan Incident, but in Japan it is referred to as Taiwan Shuppei (Expedition).


Japan began its overseas expansion after the Meiji Restoration, but it was diplomatically difficult to conquer the Korea Peninsula, so Japan started to consider attacking Taiwan.


On October 18, 1871, a ship from the Kingdom of Ryukyus encountered a violent typhoon, but made it to the southeastern tip of Taiwan (Jiupeng Bay in Pingtung nowadays).  54 of the 66 passengers on board were beheaded by Taiwan’s aborigines after making it to shore.  The remaining 12 were rescued by Han Chinese and transferred to Tainan in southern Taiwan. The local Chinese government officials transferred them to Fujian province in Mainland China. From there, the Qing government arranged to repatriate them.  Japanese history books teach that islanders from Ryukyus Hoso Island were killed in Taiwan.  Such incidents occurred very often and the Qing government always compensated the victims and sent them back to the Kingdom of Ryukyus, having nothing to do with Japan.


In 1871, the Meiji government adopted “the Abolition of the Han System and Establishment of the Prefecture System” (廢藩置縣)to replace the traditional feudal domain (han) system and introduce centralized government authority (Prefectures of Japan).  The Meiji government established Kagoshima Prefecture to replace the Satsuma Domain, and included the Kingdom of Ryukyus under the jurisdiction of Kagoshima Prefecture.  In 1872, the Japanese government unilaterally abolished the Kingdom of Ryukyus and established Ryukyus Domain.  In 1873, Soejima Taneomi, Foreign Minister in the Meiji government, led a mission to Beijing’s Zongli Yamen (Office of Foreign Affairs in the Qing court) to protest the murder of 54 islanders of a wrecked Ryukyus merchant vessel by Paiwan aborigines on the southwestern tip of Taiwan in December 1871.  Mao Changxi, a Zongli Yamen minister told Soejima Taneomi that both Ryukyus and Taiwan belonged to the Qing Empire, people who attacked each other within the Qing empire was our responsibility, how the Qing Empire compensated the victims would be our business, and it had nothing to do with Japan, so why did the Meiji government bother to ask?  However, the Japanese delegation showed evidence that four islanders were from Japan’s Okayama Prefecture, and asked Mao since the Qing government knew to compensate the Ryukyus victims, why didn’t they punish Taiwan’s aborigines?  Mao answered that the aborigines who killed the Ryukyus islanders were “unsubjugated.”  Consequently, Soejima Taneomi went on to say that the aborigines killed innocent people, and the Japanese government must find those who were accountable, because our country and your country were good friends, our government hereby informed your government in advance.  Mao failed to understand the true intentions of the Meiji government, and answered randomly, saying that unsubjugated aboriginals in Taiwan were out of our control, if your government wanted to find some who were accountable, it was your government’s call.  Therefore, the Meiji government took the opportunity to send troops to Taiwan.


On May 8, 1874, Japanese troops landed on Sheliao (nowadays Sheliao village in Checheng Township, Pingtung County), and faced fierce resistance from the aborigines.  Finally, Mudan Tribe was defeated by the Japanese troops when their chief Aruqu Kavulungan and his son were killed.




In the middle of May 1874, the Japanese government sent troops to Taiwan, and Qing government dispatched Minister of Maritime Transportation Shen Baozhen to Taiwan to handle coastal defense and foreign affairs with other countries.  Li Hongzhang, Viceroy of Zhili and Minister of Beiyang, agreed to send Tang Dingkui at the head of 13 battalions of Huai Army (an army founded by Li Hongzhang), with a total strength of 6,500 to Taiwan.  Tang’s troops were the main force of Huai Army and familiar with western weaponry.  Tang’s troops arrived in Taiwan between the ninth moon and tenth moon (lunar calendar) in 1874, giving Shen Baozhen the military upperhand and more bargaining chips in negotiations with the Japanese government.


On September 22, 1874, the Qing government signed a treaty with the Japanese government in Beijing.  The treaty included three articles:


1. The Qing government will not blame the Japanese government for its action in Taiwan because the Japanese government was trying to protect its people.

2. The Qing government would compensate all victims from the incident, and the Qing government would take over all roads and houses built by Japan in Taiwan and pay for them.

3. All official correspondence between the Qing Empire and Japan in dealing with the incident will be withdrawn and cancelled, not to be brought up ever again.  As to the aborigines in that locality, the Qing government will do everything it can to constrain them, so that seafarers would not be killed or harmed again.


  The Meiji government of Japan concluded that the Qing government did not deny that the Ryukyus belonged to Japan since the treaty stated that the Meiji government's military expedition was trying to protect its people.  In 1875, the Meiji government of Japan continued its invasion of the Ryukyu Islands, and ordered Ryukyus to stop paying tribute to the Qing Empire.  The Meiji government forced Ryukyu's King Shō Tai to move to Tokyo, sent troops and policemen to the Ryukyuas, and abrogated Ryukyus Domain to re-established Okinawa Prefecture.  However, the Qing government of China did not give up its suzerainty over the Ryukyus, and lodged a protest against Japan.  In 1880, under the mediation of US President Ulysses S. Grant, Japan proposed that the northern part of the Ryukyu Islands belonged to Japan, while Ryukyu Hoso Island and Yaeyama Islands belonged to China.  But the Qing government of China refused Japan’s proposed resolution because the Qing government concluded that it was unjust to Ryukyus .  However, after the First Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1894, Japan defeated the Qing Dynasty and subsequently, China ceded Taiwan to Japan.  The Qing government of China was too weak to control Ryukyus, so the Ryukyu Islands fell under Japan’s administration with the tacit agreement of the international community.  However, the Qing government of China did not sign any treaty to give up its suzerainty over the Ryukyu Islands.  Even to this day, the Republic of China or the People's Republic of China has not signed any treaty to recognize Japan's sovereignty over the Ryukyu Islands.


  The Qing government of China recognized the importance of Taiwan after the Mudan Incident, and actively ruled Taiwan.  The Qing government of China increased the number and scope of government agencies in Taiwan and established Taiwan as a province of China in 1885.  The Qing government of China developed the eastern part of Taiwan and tried to prevent any foreign forces from invading Taiwan on the pretext of ruling the aborigines.


  However, Japan never forgot Taiwan, and forced the Qing government of China to cede Taiwan to Japan in the treaty of Shimonoseki after defeating Qing forces in the First Sino-Japanese War.  Japan reluctantly returned Taiwan to the Republic of China after being defeated in World War II.


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