Sino-Japanese War prints

Today’s post highlights one of our recent acquisitions from a conflict that doesn’t get much attention in the United States. Recently, we were fortunate to receive a donation of eight Japanese woodblock prints showing scenes from the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). This event was an important conflict in Japanese history that marked Japan’s emergence as a modern military and industrial power in the late nineteenth century. China’s defeat and subsequent loss of influence over Korea signaled a shift in regional dominance and foreshadowed future conflict with the expanding Japanese empire.

click to enlarge

The Sea Battle Victory at Hioake Yama, c.1894
Ogata Gekko (1859-1920)
Woodblock print, ink and color on paper
The largest naval engagement of the war took place on 17 September 1894, one day after a Japanese victory on land at the Battle of Pyongyang. The Chinese faced a difficult problem in attempting to reinforce their army. Given the poor condition of the roads, the only practicable way to move a large body of troops and supplies was by sea. Doing so, however, would force the Chinese to risk their best ships in battle. The newest vessels were bigger and more heavily armed than their Japanese counterparts, but they suffered a significant disadvantage in speed. For this reason, they usually avoided open water where the quick Japanese ships would have the greatest advantage. Nevertheless, the Chinese ruler, the Guangxu Emperor, ordered his fleet to push back the Japanese and keep the coastal routes safe. After completing a convoy escort, the Chinese encountered an attacking Japanese force late on the morning of the 17th near the mouth of the Yalu River.

Deficiencies in ammunition and training also limited the effectiveness of the Chinese fleet. Signaling confusion and poor seamanship resulted in the Chinese starting the battle in a wedge formation rather than a line, their preferred tactic. Seeing this, Admiral Ito Sukeyuki ordered his fleet to split into two columns and circle around behind to engage the weakest Chinese ships. Using their speed to avoid incoming fire, the Japanese sank five ships and damaged three while suffering only four heavily damaged of their own. The remnants of the Chinese fleet retired to their base at Lüshunkou for repairs and were later destroyed in a combined land and naval attack.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum


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