chapter
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Introduction

Sino-Japanese relations throughout history, although culturally enriching, have seldom been without their tensions. In modern times, the memory of the second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45) looms large, and the legacy of history still burdens the relations between both countries. However, if the second war was certainly the most painful, more fateful and lasting in its consequences was the period that spanned the first Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). Within a mere decade, China’s and Japan’s positions in international politics, their relations to each other and toward the Western powers underwent a fundamental change, the consequences of which can still be felt, especially in the mutual perspectives of Chinese and Japanese in the present. Defeat in the first Sino-Japanese War hurtled China down a slope of for-

eign greed, domestic turmoil and financial distress. The Boxer Incident and the following Protocol of 1901 is generally seen as the unprecedented, or even all-time, low of China’s international status in modern history, although during the Russo-Japanese War China arguably found itself in no better position.1 The Sino-Japanese War and its consequences reduced China from a sovereign empire of relative strength in East Asia to a ‘powerless power,’ subject to the whims of international politics. Despite valiant attempts at progress and reform, the Qing Empire suffered its eventual demise in 1912, barely seven years after the Russo-Japanese War, and the tumultuous years of Republican China began. Japan, on the other hand, thrived. The brilliant victory over China cata-

pulted Japan on its trajectory toward status as a great power, which – after some difficult years of adaptation to the new situation – was finally achieved through another victory over Russia in 1905. Within a decade, Japan had made its way from a regional power in the shadow of China and Russia to the status of the new key power in East Asia.2 The achievement was paralleled by the completion of Japan’s internal development as a modern, centralized state and the beginning of a second phase of modernization in line with similar efforts of the Western powers. By 1905, Japan was accepted into the hitherto all-Western club of ‘civilized’ great powers, albeit with considerable reservations.3 However, although Japan’s ascent to power during

this era is often seen as a singular success story, it should be noted that the geostrategic thinking that developed during this time, and the decisions it motivated, also created the problems that sent Japan, fewer than three decades later, into another war with China and, finally, to defeat at the hands of the United States and its allies. The period between the Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War

was not only a watershed for China and Japan (and Russia, of course), but also for international politics in general. The historian William Langer has observed that of all the issues that confronted European governments between 1890 and 1904, the ‘Far Eastern Question’ was the most serious and most complex; especially from 1895 until 1905, the problems connected with China stood at the center of the powers’ attention and came to dominate the course of international relations.4 The European contemporaries were well aware of the gravity of East Asian affairs, although they often misjudged the dimension of the changes and the breathtaking speed at which this transformation took place. Thus, as late as 1895, the British prime minister Archibald Rosebery declared: ‘We have hitherto been favoured with one Eastern question, which we have always endeavoured to lull as something too portentous for our imagination, but of late a Far Eastern question has been superadded, which, I confess, to my apprehension is, in the dim vistas of futurity, infinitely graver than even that question of which we have hitherto known.’5 Little did the speaker know that these ‘dim vistas of futurity’ contracted into a mere ten years of time. Considering the momentousness of the events, it is hardly surprising that

scholars have lavished their attention on the various factual aspects of the transformation of Sino-Japanese relations within the international context of the time. And yet, despite these efforts and the rich knowledge it produced, we are still left with some important questions, mainly pertaining to the intellectual background of the transformation. Thus, one would expect that the momentous shift of power relations was accompanied by an equally dramatic revision of mutual perceptions. However, for the Japanese side, there seems to exist a remarkable disagreement about what the Japanese attitude actually was after the decisive victory, and how it developed over time. Thus, on the one hand, we find the more traditional assurance that the war almost instantly transformed the Japanese attitude from respect and friendship for the former cultural model to scorn and contempt for the defeated.6 On the other extreme, it is argued that such an assessment is tainted by hindsight of what Japanese imperialism had in store for China in the following decades, and that, on the contrary, Sino-Japanese relations between the war and the fall of the Qing had been surprisingly harmonious and constructive, constituting something of a ‘Golden Decade’ of Sino-Japanese relations.7