Review (I) : 陈舜臣. 甲午战争 (2009). [First Sino-Japanese War, 1894-95]

The author of the above mentioned book is ethnically Chinese. He chose to become a Japanese citizen ultimately.

I read just past 200 pages of the nearly 500 page volume. The language medium is Mandarin (simplified). I stopped as I came upon chapters focusing on how political assassinations were planned and (conducted). It was detailed – going down to the materials used for soaking up the blood; containing the corpse and how to prove that the target was killed; how to lure the target to his doom in ‘neutral’ territory…

I believe that would put me together with Sat Pal Khattar (founder of law firm, Khattar Wong & Partners) who shared such a distaste for criminal law that he went into taxation.

Nonetheless, I have to report that I finally understood more about the Chinese history I did at my GCE ‘A’ Levels. The Qing Dynasty was very much fatigued after the Taiping Rebellion. Further, the military platform was divided such that only the 北洋水师 (Beiyang fleet) was fighting the truly modernised Japanese fleet. There were basically, 2 private armies. One led by 李鴻章 – Li Hongzhang (the equivalent of the Premier or Prime Minister in modern terminology), which had the Beiyang fleet under its command. The other was the fruit of 曾国藩 – Zeng Guofan, who departed from this world in 1872.

I also learnt about (Li’s protege) 袁世凯 – Yuan Shi Kai,  who made an abortive effort to revive the dynastic system after the 1911 revolution. He cut his teeth in Korea and as the top Chinese ‘diplomat’ (that is the next most suitable term since Korea was at least in semblance a Chinese tributary) . From the book, he was what you could call ‘street smart’; a survivor.

Lastly, I understood why there was so great a resistance towards modernisation. It was in the Korean and Chinese eyes – barbarian. China was the Middle Kingdom and the fount of civilisation. It had been that for at least a thousand years (and most would say much more). So it was incredibly hard to embrace what seemingly had taken place in the Opium Wars (which began in 1842 with the British). China lost. It lost to a state thousands of miles away and a tiny one at that…

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