by Piotr Olender
Petersfield, Eng.: MMP Books / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2014. Pp. 226.
Illus., maps, diagr., tables, appends, notes, biblio., index. $45.00 paper. ISBN: 8363678309
The First Sino-Japanese War
Olender, author of Sino-French Naval War 1884-1885 and other works on late nineteenth and early twentieth century naval warfare, gives us an account of how Japan came to be the leading Asian power of the early Twentieth Century. Although the title of the work implies that it covers only the “naval” side of the 1894-1895 war, Olender has actually written a complete account of the war, on land as well as sea, including the political framework.
Olender opens with four chapters that offer some background on the combatants in the years leading up to the war. In one chapter he reviews the history of the two countries over the preceding half-century or so, and then discusses the origins of the conflict in another. The third chapter covers the history, strength, organization, and capabilities of the respective military forces, and the war plans of the two countries. Olender then reviews the events in Korea that precipitated the hostilities.
There follow a series of chapters of varying length that cover the events of the war, setting them within the political developments leading up to China’s defeat and the peace process. Particular chapters focus on the naval operations by the opposing fleets, giving the reader some idea of how each side perceived events, not merely describing what happened. The principal battles, the Yalu, Port Arthur, and Weihaiwei are covered in considerable detail, along with ancillary operations. Olender then discusses the peace process, the conclusion of the war, and the questionable Japanese operations against Taiwan and the Pescadores following the Treaty of Shimonoseki. In the course of the book, Olender gives up looks at some interesting people, China’s Dowager Empress Ts’u Hsi, of curse, as well as Japan’s Meiji Emperor, a number of notable military and naval officers, including Togo Heihachiro, and even the improbable Philo N. McGiffen.
Having the benefit of the most recent research into the war, Olender often points out problems and outright errors in earlier accounts, particularly those done in the period immediately following the war, which were often heavily influenced by personal accounts and newspaper stories.
A volume in the MMP “Maritime Series,” this is a good read for anyone interested in the naval and military history of the period, the respective armed forces, or of the general history of East Asia.