Rigidly closed to foreigners before 1882, the Korean Peninsular had been within the Chinese sphere of influence for many centuries despite repeated attempts at interference from Japan. From 1868, the Japanese officially manifested what they themselves termed a "peculiar" interest in Korea - their nearest mainland territory - to the extent that, as the nineteenth century drew to a close, a Sino-Japanese War became inevitable. The catalyst for the War was a serious rebellion in Korea in May 1894; the Chinese government sent 2,000 troops to quash it who were closely followed by a Japanese force determined to do the same. The arrival of two foreign armies, in fact, defused the insurrection without bloodshed whereupon China and Japan each demanded that the other's forces be withdrawn immediately. This stand-off continued for two months until matters rapidly came to a head as a result of the infamous Kowshing incident.
Determined to reinforce her military presence in Korea, China despatched three heavily-loaded troopships from Taku, the last of which, Kowshing, with 1,100 men aboard, left on 23rd July. Even though there had been no formal declaration of war, the warships of both countries were already at sea and, on 25th July, the Kowshing and her two armed escorts ran into three fast cruisers of the Japanese 'flying squadron' comprising the Yoshino, Naniwa and Akitsushima. After badly damaging the Chinese cruiser Tsi Yuen, which departed the scene chased by Yoshino, the Japanese then dealt with the little gunboat Kuang Yi before turning their attention to Kowshing. She posed more of a problem as she was a British-owned transport under charter but, after due deliberation, Naniwa's captain opened fire on the defenceless troopship and sank her with massive loss of life and only 150 survivors. The repercussions of this massacre brought China's declaration of war on 1st August and, barely six months later, Japan emerged victorious, in possession of Korea, and with a hugely enhanced profile in the eyes of the western powers who now realised that Japan had suddenly become a 'force to be reckoned with'.