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Ages of Conquest: a Kings and Generals Podcast

Jun 12, 2023

Last time we spoke about the battle of the Yalu River. It was an absolutely catastrophic week for the Qing dynasty. Within just two days they suffered a major land defeat and now a defeat at sea that practically annihilated the Beiyang fleet. Corruption and incompetence ran rampant as the Beiyang fleet crews found themselves undertrained, understaffed, lacking ammunition and what ammunition they did have, some of it was filled with concrete and porcelain. The Qing dynasty’s corruption problems were shown on full display as the IJN combined fleet outperformed them, despite having smaller warships and less of them. Quick firing guns defeated the big guns at Yalu and now the Japanese held control over the seas. The Beiyang fleet now flee’s to Weihaiwei to try and repair their ships for another chance at a decisive naval battle, but will it ever come to be?


#52 The First Sino-Japanese War of 1898-1895 Part 4: The Battle for Port Arthur


Welcome to the Fall and Rise of China Podcast, I am your dutiful host Craig Watson. But, before we start I want to also remind you this podcast is only made possible through the efforts of Kings and Generals over at Youtube. Perhaps you want to learn more about the history of Asia? Kings and Generals have an assortment of episodes on history of asia and much more  so go give them a look over on Youtube. So please subscribe to Kings and Generals over at Youtube and to continue helping us produce this content please check out If you are still hungry for some more history related content, over on my channel, the Pacific War Channel where I cover the history of China and Japan from the 19th century until the end of the Pacific War.

After the battle of the Yalu River, the Japanese had a enormous boost to their propaganda campaign. Despite this the Qing backed press continued their charade of blemishing the losses, take this article from the North China Herald "In spite of the reiterated denials of the Japanese authorities that any of their vessels were badly injured in the recent naval fight, information which we have been able to gather from quarters entitled to all credence, corroborates in a very circumstantial manner the statement that the Japanese lost four vessels in the actual fight, and more probably later on, as the Chinese heavy guns treated them very severely. The Chinese engaged fought with wonderful bravery; there were no skulkers." Despite their claims, by September the 20th the jig was up for the Qing government as foreign military advisers who had participated or witnessed the battle at Yalu arrived to Tianjin. They began spilling the story to the western press, and unlike the Japanese press, the Qing could not simply write them off as mere propaganda. The foreign press corroborated the Japanese reports that 5 Qing warships were had been sunk and “to a man regard the statement that the Japanese lost no ships as a barefaced lie”. Even the foreign eye witnesses could not believe not a single Japanese ship was sunk. The reports caused severe issues for Beijing. This alongside other issues prompted Emperor Guangxu to take an unprecedented move, he summoned Inspector General Constantin von Hanneken, a Prussian officer who was working as a military adviser to the Beiyang fleet for an imperial audience. Von Hanneken was also one of the engineers who helped build the defenses at Port Arthur known to the Chinese as Lushunkou and at Weihaiwei. He of course was present at the battle of the Yalu and the EMperor demanded to learn what actually transpired from him. It certainly says a lot about your Empire, when you would trust a foreigner over your officials.


It is also at this point Japan altered its position on foreign reporters. As mentioned near the beginning of this series, the Japanese opted to have a blackout on news about the war. On August 2nd of 1894 an Imperial Ordinance had been published requiring all newspapers and other publicans to submit any information concerning diplomatic or military affairs to the Japanese government authorities prior to publication. Well after the victories at Pyongyang and Yalu, the Japanese government decided to undermine the Qing war propaganda efforts by allowing foreign correspondence to accompany the IJA. Foreigners would not be given the same accommodation for the Qing ground forces. As explained by a reporter for the Peking and Tientsin times “no one could guarantee the safety of a foreigner accompanying the Chinese troops. Two interpreters accompanying the Second Japanese Army were captured and killed by Chinese forces”.

Another major event occurred after the disaster at Yalu, Empress Dowager Cixi abandoned her plans for her extravagant 60th birthday celebration, which really adds to the myth about the embezzlement of naval funds. On September 25th, EMperor Guangxu issued this edict “"H.I.M. the Empress-Dowager, in view of the continuation of the war with Japan, cannot bear to be celebrating her birthday anniversary with great rejoicing while her subjects and soldiers are all suffering from the hardships of war, hence she has commanded that the triumphal progress from Eho [the Summer Palace or Yiheyuan, to the Forbidden City and the celebrations at the former place be given up, and only the ordinary celebrations settled upon in the Palace be observed on the auspicious day. We did our best to try to pray her Majesty to reconsider the above decision, but the grace and virtue of her Majesty has resisted our prayers." It was estimated by the French press that Empress Dowager had spent nearly 80 million francs in preparation for the celebration that was canceled. This is about the time you hear rumors of Empress Dowagers infamous embezzling scandal. It was said by many that she had siphoned naval funds in the figure of 100 million taels which was the reason why the Qing Navy received no significant funding after 1889. As I mentioned in the previous episode, its not so black and white, but indeed the summer palace did see serious renovations. Some of those renovations costs upto 14 million taels and it seems like at least 11 million did come from funds originally dedicated to the navy. There is also a huge amount of irony, as one of these renovations was to refurbish a marble pavilion in the shape of a boat for one of the palace gardens. Too good to be true some would say.

The first two key battles of the war were focused on expelling the Chinese from the Korean Peninsula. After the victory at Yalu, the war theater now shifted to Manchuria. The IJA wanted to clear a way from the Korean border to the Liaodong Peninsula in preparation for an attack upon one of her grandest and most important fortresses and naval bases, Port Arthur. The Fortress of Port Arthur took over 16 years to build and its naval station was considered superior to that of Hong Kong. If Port Arthur were to fall, the Qing would be unable to repair their best damaged ships and would succumb to a naval war of attrition. Guarding the southern shores of the Bohai was China’s second most important naval base, that at Weihaiwei. Weihaiwei and Port Arthur worked together to check any sea approaches to Beijing. If both fell, the rest of the war would literally descend into mop up operations.

Japan’s war plan was to execute a pincer attack against Beijing. Their forces would advance in 3 columns. 1) Part of the 1st IJA would move south through Manchuria towards the Liaodong Peninsula; 2) the 2nd IJA would land on the Liaodong Peninsula and advance upon Port Arthur; 3) another part of the 1st IJA would advance from the Korean border towards Mukden, hoping to seize it and use it as a down payment later on to decapitate the Qing dynasty. Once Port arthur was taken, the 1st IJA would continue their land campaign in Manchuria to clear a path to Beijing while the 2nd IJA would amphibious attack Weihaiwei. If successful this would obliterate the Qing southern naval forces and leave Beijing at their mercy. As a coup de grace, the Japanese were also organizing a 3rd IJA at Hiroshima in anticipation for amphibious landings at Dagu to march upon Beijing. However the Japanese were under no illusions of this all coming to be, they figured great powers would intervene at some point to limit their war aims. The Qing counterstrategy was quite minimal; it rested upon the assumption the Japanese would never be capable of crossing the Yalu River.

After their defeat at Pyongyang the Qing ground forces made their next stand 125 miles to the north along the Yalu River. The river constituted the boundary between Korea and China. It was deep and wife, making it a formidable obstacle for the advancing Japanese army. Two fortified outposts faced another fromm opposite sides of the river, one at Jiliancheng on the Manchurian side and the other at Uiji on the Korean side. These became the headquarters for the opposing armies. General Song Qing fortified the northern bank of the Yalu for 7 miles going as far south as Andong and 10 miles north to Hushan. General Song Qing was 74 years old, famous for helping suppress the Taiping 30 years prior. He was one of Li Hongzhang’s subordinates during the campaign against the Taiping and Nian rebellion. Since 1880 he had served as an assistant to Li Hongzhang, overseeing the defenses of Manchuria. By 1882 he alongside his troops took up a station at Port Arthur, and apparently there he had done very little to modernize the Manchurian army. After the battle of Pyongyang, Li Hongzhang put him in charge of directing the war and gave him authority to reorganize the army.

Meanwhile the 1st IJA led by Field Marshal Count Yamagata Aritomo departed from Pyongyang on October 23rd. The 56 year old Yamagata was the father of the modern Japanese army, a leading Meiji era statesman. He had overseen the introduction of national conscription in 1873, the reorganization of the army along first French, then Prussian lines in 1878 and the adoption of an independent General staff system. During the 1880s he also oversaw the organization of the national police force and system of local government. He was prime minister from 1889-1891, during his time he introduced the imperial rescript on education. So needless to say he was a colossal figure. His plan was based on Napoleons successful tactic of making a feint to the front while delivering a blow to the flank, this time directed at Hushan. He planned to use a small force to attack the Qing left flank, in the hopes of turning its flank and feinting the movements of the main bulk of his army. The main bulk would concentrate on the center of the Qing lines. But to do all of this, he had to cross the Yalu. 

The Japanese had learned bitter lessons about fording large rivers at Pyongyang, they could have massively lost the battle because they never prepared the tools to ford such things. This time the IJA carefully prepared themselves. Yamagata occupied Uiju by October 23rd with around 10,000 troops of the 3rd and 5th divisions of the 1st IJA. On the other side of the Yalu, General Song Qing had 16 km’s of fortifications in the form of hundreds of redoubts and trenches manned by nearly 23,000 troops. 

On the night of October 24th, the Japanese crept up to the Yalu river near Uiji and secretly erected a pontoon bridge to get the main body of their forces across. Miraculously this went undetected. The IJA 3rd division led by General Katsuro Taro performed a night attack against Hushan. Incredibly, upon attacking Hushan, the Japanese found the Qing garrison had deserted their fortifications the night before! Simultaneously the IJA 5th division led by General Nozu Michitsura sent his men over the pontoon bridge and attacked Jiuliancheng, also finding positions deserted. In fact only a Qing rear guard even bothered to make a token resistance! In less than 3 hours of combat the fortifications at Hushan and Juliancheng were already in Japanese hands? According to a military analyst named Du Boulay, "The Chinese garrison [at Jiuliancheng] which might have inflicted great damage on the hostile army from behind battlements of solid masonry, silently decamped during the night, keeping up a desultory fire in the meantime, in order to encourage the belief that they intended to retain possession of the stronghold." When the Japanese came to Dandong the situation was the very same. The Qing had abandoned enormous quantities of weapons, rice and other war materials. The battle to stop the Japanese from entering Manchuria resulted in about 34 deaths and 111 wounded or the Qing and practically nothing for the Japanese. 

It had turned out the field commanders, Generals Yikteang’a, Ye Zhicheng and Nie Shicheng had all retreated to Fenghuangcheng. Yiketang’a was a Manchu general in control of banner forces from Heilongjiang province and not under direct command of Li Hongzhang. The 1st IJA split into two groups to pursue the fleeing Qing forces. One group was commanded by Lt General Taro who advanced northwards towards Fenghuangcheng chasing after General Nie Shichengs men. At Fenghuangcheng, Yiketang and Nie chose to torch the city and fled the scene by October 30th. By November 15th, the Japanese seized Xiuyan just due west of Fenghuangcheng. By taking both these cities the land approaches to Port Arthur were now severed.  Meanwhile the other Japanese group led by Lt General Oku Yasukata were advancing north towards Mukden. Severe winter conditions began to hit the region as General SOng Qing moved his forces to Liaoyang to block the Japanese advance upon Mukden. Because of the descending winter, both sides went into winter quarters.

The Qing sources at this point stopped claiming victories, and instead began presenting events as brave encounters against overwhelmingly superior numbers. Take this from the North China Herald on November 2nd "When the Japanese army of forty odd thousand attacked Chiuliench'eng [Jiuliancheng] on the 24th of October there were only a little over 5,000 Chinese troops to oppose the enemy. But it took the latter two whole days to take the city. When the city was abandoned all the modern Krupp and Hotchkiss guns, over twenty in number, were carried along with the army, the ones left to the enemy being some thirty odd old muzzle-loading pieces, a hundred years old, which had been placed there many years ago as a defence against possible native or Corean marauders." Because of the absence of decent telegraph lines or good roads, communications were extremely slow to come out of the Manchurian campaign. Initial coverage tended to be based more so on rumor than fact, kind of like social media today. It would often take more than a month for a comprehensive account to become known. 

General Song Qing’s forces had retreated in the general direction of Liaoyang to protect Mukden. It was after all the ancestral home of the Manchu, thus it held tremendous symbolic importance for their dynasty. The city could not afford to lose if the Manchu hoped to still control China. But for the Japanese, Mukden was like their trump card to play later, their primary target of course was Port Arthur. The Manchu leadership were following the traditional strategy focusing on the land war and dynastic continuity while overlooking the need to deny the Japanese access to the coast to continue landing their forces. They assumed China’s vast territory and population would prove too much for the Japanese Army, that time was on their side and a war of attrition would deliver victory. This was a possibility of course, a strong government could abandon their capital and continue to fight, but the Manchu’s fought under the belief they would lose the dynasty if they left the capital too long. If they were absent too long, perhaps the Han would strike a deal with the Japanese. Thus it was imperative to the Manchu they must thwart Japanese landings in China proper; the key to this of course was to deny Japan access to the key ports in Bohai. To do this they had to hold Port Arthur which held the only repair facilities capable of maintaining their best warships. Their land forces needed to concentrate at Port Arthur, not disperse in Manchuria. 

The next order of business for the Japanese was to seize Jinzhou and then Dalian which were on either neck of the Liaodong Peninsula. Once they were taken the Japanese could launch a land offensive against Port Arthur whose primary defenses anticipated an attack by sea. The 2nd IJA of Major General Nogi Maresuke and Lt General Baron Yamaji Motoharu began arriving at  Pi-tse-Wo, present day Pikou along the Liaodong Peninsula on October 24th. Their first objective was Jinzhou, the most important fortified town in southern Fengtian province. It was a major transportation intersection, located at the fork in the road from China proper to the Liaodong Peninsula and Korea. One route followed the western coast of the Peninsula going to Niuzhang and further to parts of the Great Wall of China at Shanhaiguan. The other route went northward to the Yalu River.

Jinzhou held a garrison of 1500 soldiers equipped with four 240mm, two 210mm and two 150mm artillery pieces. On November the 6th, General Nogi’s men stormed Jinzhou, taking it with very little resistance. Jinzhou was actually quite a tough position to defend because it was surrounded by hills, making it easy for an enemy to position their artillery to batter the fortifications. The next day General Nogi’s men advanced upon Dalian. Dalian was garrisoned by 3500 soldiers equipped with 5 forts and batteries consisting of eight 240mm, four 210mm, 6 150mm and two 120mm artillery pieces. It was a formidable fortress and it was taken without a single shot fired. Yes Dalian defenders had all fled to Port Arthur the night prior. Taking Jinzhou and Dalian was literally a cake walk. Dalian was a port town and its dock facilities greatly aided the Japanese supply lines. The Qing defenders of Dalian had left so fast they had even abandoned plans that showed the minefield locations for Port Arthur’s defenses.

While all of this was going on, the Beiyang fleet and limped back to Port Arthur by early November only to receive orders from Li Hongzhang over in Tianjin, to withdraw to Weihaiwei. It seemed Li Hongzhang did not want to risk another tussle with the IJN combined fleet. Thus Port Arthur would not be reinforced by the Beiyang warships big guns, and to add insult to injury, as the Beiyang fleet was pulling  into Weihaiwei, the battleship Zhenyuan struck some rocks at the entrance to her harbor and had to be beached. The only dockyards capable of repairing either of the two giant German built battleships were at Port Arthur, thus one of China’s best warships was out of commission. The commander of the Zhenyuan, Commodore Lin Taizeng, who was the grandson of the famous Lin Zexu who had legendary destroyed the crates of Opium that led to the opium wars was so ashamed of what had happened he committed suicide via opium overdose. That is quite the case of bad luck. 

After the battle of Yalu, both Li Hongzhang and Admiral Ding Ruchang’s top priority was the preservation of the Beiyang Fleet. Ding was given instructions throughout the rest of the war to defend the Bohai coast from Weihaiwei to the Yalu, basically this meant protecting Beijing where the Manchu leadership were. This strategy wasted the Beiyang fleet on convoy duty instead of interrupting the IJN transportation of troops and materials to the theater of war. But from the Manchu point of view, the top priority was the protection of the dynasty and their most dangerous enemy was not necessarily the Japanese, but rather the Han population of China. Before the battle would commence over Port Arthur, Colonel J.F Maurice of the British Royal artillery informed the London and China express this “a comparatively small Chinese naval force could make it very difficult for the Japanese to transport large quantities of troops to the Asian mainland. Yet Admiral Ding did nothing to impede their troop build up to assault Port Arthur”. The Japanese Weekly Mail were complete dumbfounded at this time and produced this in an article “"When we begin to think what the loss of Port Arthur would signify for the Chinese Fleet, and what the abandonment of the place to its fate would imply under the circumstances, we can not but marvel at China's apparent inaction. Port Arthur is the only dock in north China. Did it come into Japanese possession, the Chinese war-ships would have no place to go for repairs and consequently dare not risk an engagement. Moreover, Port Arthur alone is not invested. The Japanese are holding the entrance to Pechili [Bohai] Gulf...Yet despite its easy accessibility for purposes of relief, and despite the crippling consequences involved in its capture, the Chinese seem resolved to leave it to its fate." It was unbelievable from the Japanese point of view. The very lifeline of the Japanese military relied upon her sealanes and transport. It was so direly needed, even merchant ships were helping the Japanese military to perform the task and they did so completely undaunted. As explained by the North China Herald “ordinary unarmed merchantmen, have been regularly plying to and fro without any escort, and they could have been waylaid and sent to the bottom time after time had China but risen to the occasion. The movement of the Chinese fleet have throughout the war been. . . utterly and incomprehensibly imbecile. . . The Chinese fleet has not attempted to meet the Japanese fleet in the open sea, or weighed a single anchor to hinder and debar the unprotected transports of Japan passing to and fro with their freight of eager invaders”.

After the war, Hilary A Herbert the United States secretary of the navy provided an analysis on China’s performance against the Japanese. "China had in this war a chance, and only one chance to win, and that lay in her fleet. To seize this chance required aggressive and daring use of that navy. Instead, China had entered upon a losing game of transporting troops to Korea, the battle ground Japan had chosen, in competition with an enemy, whose lines by sea were shorter and whose transports were as three to one. The result of this game was shortly seen in the numbers that met each other at the battle of Ping Yang [P'ydngyang]. Japan, having beaten China in transporting troops to Korea, was then allowed to choose her own time and place for a sea fight in the battle off the Yalu. The first of the untoward results of the unfortunate policy of scattering her war ships upon which China had embarked, was that she was worsted off Asan [at Feng Island], where three of Japan's ships attacked two of the Chinese vessels." The Chinese were doomed. To defeat Japan, China needed to be aggressive and daring. But the whole incentive system in the Qing dynasty penalized anyone who left its traditional war path, which was losing them said war. To break with the norm, to defy traditions and such, even if met with success in battle meant the creation of enemies within the Qing court. No one was willing to take daring action, not even the champion of China at this time, Li Hongzhang. 

With Dalian in hand, the Japanese had gained yet another perfect location to have their massive convoys deliver troops and materials. Dalian in many ways was the perfect base of operations to launch an attack upon Port Arthur. Reports began to circulate that within the fortress of Port Arthur, the soldiers had lost all discipline. The foreign military advisor Captain Calder reported this to Li Hongzhang “at Port Arthur with the growing unruliness of the so-called defenders, that the fabric was tottering. The Generals did little else but quarrel amongst themselves and act in opposition. Soldiers were wandering about in mobs, taking pot-shots at electric light lamps and destroying everything in the most wanton way. In some of the smaller forts the soldiers were finding amusement in discharging the smaller guns at everything and anything a small fishing boat for instance”. Before the Japanese made it to Port Arthur, the Chinese defenders of the city began looting it. The North China Herald stated on December 21st "commander of the submarine mines and torpedo corps, in his fright, cut the connecting electric wires and carrying away the firing apparatus immediately fled, his example being well imitated by those under him, so that of the 600 odd torpedoes laid in the harbour not a single one was fired against the enemy. "news of the fall of Port Arthur has been expected every day...Foreigners from Newchwang [Niuzhuang] and Port Arthur give a most deplorable account of the state of things among the common people. All who can are fleeing with such of their possessions as they can take away.""

Skirmishes between the Japanese and Chinese began on November 20th on the outskirts around Port Arthur. The next day the main attack began. The Japanese lacked the proper grade and range of ammunition for their larger siege guns, thus the Qing held an enormous advantage in artillery. But the Japanese were able to storm the forts. As reported by the Japan Weekly Mail on December 8th "Chinese gunnery was hopelessly ineffective...What fighting followed was mere carnage...The Chinese officers abandoning their men to their fate, got on board two small steamers that remained in the harbour and put out to sea." It proved unnecessary for the Japanese to besiege the fortress, because the Chinese had given up quickly. The Japanese had begun their assault at midnight on the 21st under some heavy fire initially, but they had stormed all the important landward defenses by noon the following day. Defense by land required coordination among the forts on the semicircle hills surrounding the fortress. But the Chinese were not coordinating, thus the Japanese picked the smaller forts off one by one, turning their fort guns upon the others. Eventually the Japanese took forts closer to Port Arthur and began using their guns on the dockyards and arsenal. The shore fortifications held out a bit longer, but the final one was neutralized by 5pm. During the night of the 22nd, the Chinese defenders began deserting their remaining positions. Most of the Qing officers fled using two small boats in the port, literally ditching their men to their fate. The Qing had abandoned 57 large caliber and 163 small caliber artillery pieces. Within the fortifications and the dockyards were enormous stores of coal that the Japanese would readily take for their warships. 

The taking of Port Arthur was a colossal victory for Japan. There were outrageous estimates from the Japanese that they had inflicted over 4000 casualties upon the Qing at Port Arthur and only received 300 in return. Regardless of the real figures, it was the turning point of the war from the perspective of the western world. But while it was a grand victory it would represent a defeat for the Japanese. Ever since the sinking of the Kowshing, the Japanese had striven to acquire a reputation for absolute impeccable behavior on the battlefield. Since then they had demonstrated their military prowess, their high degree of civilization and their humane treatment of civilians and POW’s. From a public relations viewpoint, they were brilliant. Even the anti-Japanese North China Herald reluctantly had to agree "Official corruption has certainly sapped China's strength and brought about defeat and loss, and Japan's humane treatment has certainly been the chief cause of her victories." Japan had signed the Geneva Convention and Minister of War Marshal Oyama Iwao had alerted the IJA of their responsibilities as such “Japanese soldiers must never forget that however cruel and vindictive the foe may allow himself, he must nevertheless be treated in accordance with the acknowledged rules of civilization; his disabled must be succored and his captured kindly and considerately protected.Our Army fights for the right and in accordance with the principles of civilization. Our enemies are the military forces of the country with which we are at war, not the individuals of the country. Against the force of our foe we must fight with all resolution, but as soon as any of his soldiers surrender, are taken prisoners, or receive wounds, they cease to be enemies, and it becomes our duty to treat them with all kindness." But at Port Arthur the Japanese would fail tremendously.

Because of how the Japanese had treated civilians so well, alongside Oyama’s publicized promises, countless civilians stayed within Port Arthur when the Japanese took it. When the Japanese patrols first entered the Port Arthur region on November 18th, they came upon mutilated Japanese bodies. Thomas Cowan of the London Times and James Creelman of the New York World were traveling with the Japanese patrol forces and witnessed this. Cowan had this to say "The sight was most revolting and was sufficient to excite revengeful feelings in the hearts of the best disciplined men." Creelman described what they saw when entering Port Arthur “the Japanese troops found the heads of their slain comrades hanging by cords, with the noses and ears gone" and "a rude arch in the main street decorated with bloody Japanese heads." Throughout the war, the IJA would discover severed heads and other mutilated body parts of their fallen comrades, but until Port Arthur they had not taken their revenge it seemed. One particularly bad incident occurred on November 18th when the IJA found a large group of wounded soldiers they had left behind in an area, were severely mutilated with their hands and feet cut off. As one eye witness, James Allan wrote after the war "Strongly as the massacre by the Japanese troops in Port Arthur is to be condemned, there is not the slightest doubt in the world that the Chinese brought it on themselves by their own vindictive savagery towards their enemies...[O]ne of the first things I saw on the morning of the 19th was a pair of [Japanese] corpses suspended by the feet from the branches of a huge camphor tree...They had been disemboweled; the eyes were gouged out, the throat cut, the right hand severed. They were perfectly naked, and groups of children were pelting them with mud and stones." When the Japanese began moving into the region on November 18th, the Qing government had issued bounties on POW’s. Up to 50 taels were given for Japanese heads or other body parts. 

When the Japanese came to the fortress of Port Arthur there were several mutilated body parts of their comrades displayed at the entrance to the city. Several soldiers including Lt Kijiro Nanbu vowed revenge. The IJA entered the city at around 2pm and they began killing everyone who remained in the city.  Here is a diary entry from Makio Okabe of the 1st division “As we entered the town of Port Arthur, we saw the head of a Japanese soldier displayed on a wooden stake. This filled us with rage and a desire to crush any Chinese soldier. Anyone we saw in the town, we killed. The streets were filled with corpses, so many they blocked our way. We killed people in their homes; by and large, there wasn't a single house without from three to six dead. Blood was flowing and the smell was awful. We sent out search parties. We shot some, hacked at others. The Chinese troops just dropped their arms and fled. Firing and slashing, it was unbounded joy. At this time, our artillery troops were at the rear, giving three cheers [banzai] for the emperor.” James Allen tells us "Nobody was spared, man, woman, or child, that 1 could see. The Chinese appeared to offer no resistance. Many of them prostrated themselves on the ground before the butchers with abject submission, and were shot or stabbed in that posture. The dead were mostly the townspeople; their valiant defenders seemed to have been able to make themselves scarce.the diabolical orgy of murder and mutilation, rape, lust, and rapine.""

Thomas Cowan had this to say during the first day of the cities capture "I was greatly surprised next day to find them still killing the Chinese. They practically routed out the whole of the town: every house was entered and searched; the Chinese were driven out and killed; some were even killed in the houses." The Japanese press tried to place the blame of the massacres upon coolies working for the IJA, but as Cowan explained “The murders were all done by soldiers in uniform; not the work of coolies, so far as I could see." The Japanese press also tried to argue the case that it was difficult to distinguish civilians from combatants, and indeed many Qing soldiers wore civilian clothing, but this did not account for the killing of women and children. Again Cowan tells us  "the hillsides around Port Arthur were strewn with their uniforms. I saw scores of Chinese hunted out of cover, shot down and hacked to pieces, and never a man made any attempt to fight...I watched intently for the slightest sign of cause, confident that there must be some, but I saw none whatever. The Japanese perhaps also are barbarous at heart, like the Chinese. To prove it, for the fact remains that a dozen white men saw these Japanese commit these savageries for four clear days after the day of the fight." Western press reports like Cowan were corroborated by diaries from Japanese soldiers. 

Creelman ran into a Japanese legal advisor named Agria Nagao of the 2nd IJA who told him this "On the night of the second day [of the massacre] the legal adviser of the army told me that Field Marshal Oyama regarded the continued slaughter as quite justifiable. 'Prisoners are a burden.We took a few hundred prisoners at Pingyang [Pyongyang], and we found it very expensive and troublesome to feed and guard them. We are taking practically no prisoners here."'" The massacre lasted several days, and one of the reports many Western audiences would remember was this chilling one from Cowan “Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were spent by the soldiery in murder and pillage from dawn to dark, in mutilation, in every conceivable kind of nameless atrocity, until the town became a ghastly Inferno to be remembered with a fearsome shudder until one's dying day. I saw corpses of women and children, three or four in the streets, more in the water ... Bodies of men strewed the streets in hundreds, perhaps thousands, for we could not count – some with not a limb unsevered, some with heads hacked, cross-cut, and split lengthwise, some ripped open, not by chance but with careful precision, down and across, disembowelled and dismembered, with occasionally a dagger or bayonet thrust in the private parts. I saw groups of prisoners tied together in a bunch with their hands behind their backs, riddled with bullets for five minutes and then hewn to pieces. I saw a junk stranded on the beach, filled with fugitives of either sex and of all ages, struck by volley after volley until – I can say no more.” 

The scale of the killing has long been debated. Figures range dramatically. Scout reports sent by Li Hongzhang placed civilian deaths at 2700 within the city, but this did not account for the countless people slaughtered in the surrounding area. After WW2 the CCP built a cemetery proclaiming the death toll to be 20,000, this figure includes the soldiers as well, but the number has been orthodoxy ever since. Creelman asserted 60,000 were slain, which would have represented the entire population around Port Arthur. It was a atrocious beyond imagination. As Creelman explains in the greater context of national status "The Japanese troops entered Port Arthur on Nov. 21 and massacred practically the entire population in cold blood. The defenseless and unarmed inhabitants were butchered in their houses and their bodies were unspeakably mutilated. There was an unrestrained reign of murder which continued for three days. The whole town was plundered with appalling atrocities. It was the first stain upon Japanese civilization. The Japanese in this instance relapsed into barbarism." Japan’s meticulous crafted public image as the only civilized nation in the Far East was shattered. It would even threaten to upset the ratification of an American-Japanese treaty providing japan juridical equality. Japan had undone so much they had worked for in just a few days of senseless slaughter.

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The victory and capture of Port Arthur was a major turning point of the war, but it represented not just victory but also a defeat in many ways for Japan. Her public image had been shattered by senseless slaughter, would it undue everything?