Taiwan in Time: How the Qing lost Taiwan

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter / Taipei Times /April 16, 2017

April 17 to April 23

Just eight days after being shot in the cheek during an assassination attempt, Qing Dynasty official Li Hongzhang (李鴻章) emerged healthy enough for the first round of peace negotiations with the Empire of Japan at the tail end of the First Sino-Japanese War.

After about eight months of military conflict, the two sides signed a three-week armistice on March 30, 1895, with the Qing Empire as the clear loser. Over the next 18 days, Li and Japanese prime minister Ito Hirobumi met several times, finally signing the Treaty of Shimonoseki on April 17 — one of the conditions being that the Qing cede Taiwan and Penghu to Japan.

Despite opposition from Qing officials to the ceding of Taiwan, there was not much room for discussion. According to The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 by S.C.M. Paine, the armistice that the Japanese emperor offered did not include Taiwan and Penghu, and although Japan ceased its march on Beijing, it sent a force to Penghu on March 23 and swiftly occupied the entire archipelago before treaty negotiations began.


Japan had long been interested in Taiwan because of its strategic location. As early as 1593, Toyotomi Hideyoshi sent an envoy to Taiwan to demand tribute, which was unsuccessful because there was no central government during that time. Talks of occupying Taiwan continued and intensified in the 1800s, with Westernization advocate Sato Nobuhiro proposing that Japan take Taiwan and use it as a base to assault China.

Taking Taiwan became an integral part of Japan’s expansion strategy after the Meiji Restoration. Plans were made long before the war began. In 1887, general Ogawa Mataji wrote, “Taiwan and Penghu are parts of the Qing Empire which many countries are drooling over … We must take these two islands. We shall heavily fortify them … and use them to control the central and southern provinces of the Qing Empire as well as a base for our southward expansion.”

These views were repeated by many politicians during the later stages of the war, several stating that if they did not capitalize on this victory to take Taiwan, it would almost certainly be swallowed up by a Western power. General Kawakami Soroku even advised Ito that agreeing to a ceasefire and obtaining Taiwan would prove far more valuable in 100 years than continuing the war and attacking Beijing.

Japan’s intentions were no secret. During the first meeting between Ito and Li on March 20, 1895 to discuss the ceasefire, Ito asked about the character of the people of Taiwan.

“Surely you mention this because you want to conquer Taiwan,” Li replied. “No wonder you don’t want to stop the war. But I’m sure that the UK would not just watch and let you occupy Taiwan.”

Ito replied that the matter was between Japan and the Qing, and third parties should not be considered.

“We’ve already made Taiwan a province, and there’s no way we will give it to another country,” Li stated. The Qing obviously had little clout in the negotiations as the losing side, and three days later, Japan attacked Penghu anyway.

Interestingly, according to A Study on Ming and Qing Policy Toward Taiwan (明清對台政策之研究) by Chen Chin-chang (陳錦昌), the Western powers were surprised at Japan’s decisive victory and changed their stance to supporting its demand for Taiwan.


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