Another Jiawu Year


THE year 2014 is a Jiawu Year according to the Chinese sexagenary cycle. This traditional method of numbering days and years adopted by many Asian countries through history no longer has any significance in modern calendrical matters. But it is still relevant in Chinese contemporary astrology and fortune telling. It was during the Jiawu Year 120 years ago that the Sino-Japanese War broke out. Known in China as the Jiawu War, it completely reversed the national status of China and Japan, and led to a long-term state of war between the two countries. Nowadays, we see constant disputes and friction between China and Japan, and a strong smell of gunpowder emanates from the arms race. In the new Jiawu Year of 2014, China and Japan appear once more to be on the brink of war.

At the regular Foreign Ministry press conference on the last day of 2013, one reporter asked: “The year 2014 marks the 120th anniversary of the Jiawu War. How does China see the future of Sino-Japanese relations?” The spokeswoman answered: “Past experience, if not forgotten, is a guide for the future. China of today is not the China of 120 years ago. We have the ability and confidence to safeguard the nation’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and national dignity.”

The Jiawu Year of 1894 is significant in the history of both China and Japan and their bilateral relationship. It marked a key historical conflict that changed the East Asian order. The war lasted from July 25, 1894 to April 17, 1895, and ended with the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki. China was defeated, and its Beiyang Fleet destroyed. After signing the treaty, the Qing Dynasty paid war “indemnities” of 200 million taels of silver to Japan.

The Japan-Qing War, as it was referred to in Japan, was the latter’s first foreign conflict in modern times. Japan’s victory greatly enhanced its international status, and war indemnities bolstered the country’s military might to the extent that it became an Asian power. Historical records show that 84.5 percent of the indemnities that Japan exacted went to war expenses and arms expansion. The national mentality also underwent great changes. Before the conflict, many Japanese were skeptical about the war. But as news of victories, one after another, came in, celebrations were held all over the country. “Long live the empire” became the national slogan, and even children’s toys bore war colors. A bellicose sentiment was thus incited among the Japanese populace.

The Jiawu War ended the Chinese government-backed Westernization Movement. It led China into an unprecedented crisis, deepened the semi-colonization of Chinese society, and hastened the fall of the Qing Dynasty. This plummet in China’s international status resulted in major powers either encroaching upon or taking Chinese territory by force. It also dealt a devastating blow to national morale. Generally speaking, the war reversed the ratio of national power to a situation where Japan, and not China, was the stronger of the two nations.

The Jiawu Year of 2014 signifies another adjustment of national mentality. In 2010, China surpassed Japan in GDP and became the world’s second biggest economy. Compared with China, Japan is stuck in an economic downturn and mired in various social problems. The sense of superiority that the Japanese once felt has been gradually diluted, to the extent that they now perceive a strong psychological gap. They are impressed by Chinese tourists’ lavish spending, strong consumption and purchasing power, as highlighted in the Japanese media. China’s high-speed railway has also broken speed records, leaving Japan far behind. The Japanese now display ambivalence about the Sino-Japanese relationship. It will take some time before the people of both countries are able to attune their respective psychologies.

It is worrying that on September 11, 2012, the then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of the DPJ “nationalized” the Diaoyu Islands, which are Chinese territory. This dealt a severe blow to the Sino-Japanese relationship. On December 26, 2013, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of the LDP visited the Yasukuni Shrine where Class-A World War II war criminals are enshrined. This also has severely impaired the bilateral relationship. Is Japan preparing during this Jiawu Year of 2014 to directly provoke military conflicts in pursuit of a “strengthened” Japan-U.S. alliance, under the guise of being bullied by China? Or does it plan to inflict further damage on Sino-Japan relations? History shows that Japan fired the first shot on more than one occasion with the intent of inciting war. Is it about to “fire the first shot” again? We have to maintain high vigilance.

Having entered the Jiawu Year, we understand the importance of peace, but also know that there are times when peace must be defended with blood, or even lives.


First published at, January 2, 2014.