The Art of Propaganda: Sino-Japanese battle triptychs
Japan and China fought the first Sino-Japanese War during 1894 and 1895, primarily over control of Korea, which China had long regarded as a tributary state. Although brief in duration, lasting only eight months from August 1894 until May 1895, the war galvanized the Japanese with patriotic fervor and a thirst for territorial expansion. A succession of quick and easy victories, marred by relatively few (5,000) casualties, proved the clear-cut superiority of Japan's military forces. Woodblock-print artists, benefiting from an insatiable public demand for news from the front, did much to reinforce the ugly chauvinistic perception of China as backward and primitive, populated by a cowardly and ignoble species. Kobayashi Kiyochika produced more than 80 triptychs for the Sino-Japanese War.
The Japanese victory on land at Pyongyang in northern Korea on September 16, 1894 cleared the Chinese troops out of Korea and was followed by the important naval battle in the Yellow Sea (September 17), in which the Chinese suffered heavy losses. On October 26, the Japanese put down a pontoon bridge across the Yalu River and captured Jiuliancheng on the Chinese side of the river (see illustration above), an early victory in the Manchurian campaign. On November 21 they also captured the great Port Arthur by attacking from the landward side. Approaching Weihaiwei on the Shandong Peninsula, where the northern fleet of the Chinese navy was concentrated, the Japanese met fierce resistance at the strongly fortified Liu-kung Island. The town of Weihaiwei, however, was deserted by the Chinese and was occupied by the invaders on February 2, 1895. Intense cold, snow and ice numbed the Japanese troops. The Japanese fleet made Rongcheng Bay, in the extreme northeast part of the Shandong Peninsula, its headquarters, and daring night attacks by Japanese torpedo boats sank many Chinese vessels. The West was astounded and the Chinese admiral surrendered to the Japanese flagship, the Matsushima, on February 12th. The battle of Niuzhuang involved fierce house-to-house fighting in heavy snow. Toward the end of March a column of Japanese troops seized the Pescadores Islands near Taiwan. The Treaty of Shimonoseki ending the war was signed on April 17, 1895. China recognized the independence of Korea, and ceded the Liaotung peninsula (modern Lianing province), the islands of Taiwan and the Pescadores to Japan. The treaty was drafted by John A. Foster, former American Secretary of State, advising the Qing dynasty. With victory, Japan became the first Asian imperialist power.
For further reading see Elizabeth de Sabato Swinton, In Battle's Light: Woodblock Prints from Japan's Early Modern Wars, exh. cat. (Worcester: Worcester Art Museum, 1991).