BEIJING, April 17 -- Few conflicts have been reflected upon as much as the First Sino-Japanese War, but its significance continues to reverberate through Chinese society more than 100 years on.
As the 120th anniversary of the war draws near, a series of articles by senior Chinese officers and military experts has sparked a rethink of why the once-great Middle Kingdom would surrender to the long-time student of Chinese culture.
Between March 3 and the end last week, Reference News, a Xinhua-run newspaper with a circulation of three million in China, carried a special supplement containing 30 articles analyzing what China can learn from its defeat.
They were written by 28 military experts, all of them from the People's Liberation Army (PLA), including 12 generals. They theorized that the roots of China's defeat lay not on military reasons, but the outdated and corrupt state system, as well as the ignorance of maritime strategy.
DEFEAT NOT ON BATTLEFIELD, BUT STATE SYSTEM
The First Sino-Japanese War was fought from July 1894 to April 1895 and ended with Japan's overwhelming victory both on the sea and land. The result of the war carried extreme significance for both countries, as it was the first time that China had lost to Japan in a military conflict, and for the first time the regional dominance in East Asia shifted from China to Japan.
Liu Yazhou, political commissar of the PLA's National Defence University (NDU), told Xinhua that neither the Chinese navy nor ground force were to blame for the defeat, but the whole state system of the Qing.
China's defeat was a declaration of the failure of its attempt at westernization in the second half of the 19th century. However in comparison, Japan's victory proved that its westernization drive, the Meiji Restoration, was the right path, despite its militarist tendency.
"One (Japan) made reforms from its mind, while another (China) only made changes on the surface," Liu said. "It was also a defeat of Chinese culture."
Vice Admiral Ding Yiping, deputy commander in the PLA Navy, said in his article that the defeat, especially that of the elite Beiyang Fleet, was rooted deeply in the corrupt, impotent and fogyish imperial Qing court that failed to address domestic and international threats.
"Corruption and fatuity in politics were the ultimate reason for China's defeat," added Ding.
Major-General Jin Yinan, a prominent military strategist with the NDU, noted that defeat should not be ascribed to the Beiyang Fleet, which was quite strong in terms of hardware. But many historical materials have pointed to the general mood of the fleet becoming depraved in the peaceful years before the war.