Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds When the Chinese and Japanese fleets went to war in the Yellow Sea in 1894 the world was watching closely, because these were two modernised Naval forces. And it was thought that some secrets of the new elements in sea power might be revealed from their clash on the waters between China and the Korean peninsula. You can watch in the related file for this week a short, very short video clip of some of the Naval battle engagements. And from that you’ll see these were not Chinese junks or Korean turtle ships fighting one another. These were modernised warships engaging in a new kind of Naval warfare.
Skip to 0 minutes and 46 seconds And you’ve learned about an American soldier of fortune who happened to be on one of those Chinese ships and gave us a firsthand witness account of what it was like. Now I want to talk about actually another American, another professor back at the US Naval War College, where the American Philo McGiffin had graduated from who was also watching very closely and who also wrote an important article describing the Sino-Japanese War. Now this college professor’s name was Alfred Thayer Mahan. And just a few years before the Sino-Japanese war in 1890 he had published a treatise that became an instant classic, one that is still read in war colleges all around the world today.
Skip to 1 minute and 29 seconds It was called the Influence of Sea Power in History from 1660 to 1783. And in that book Mahan provided a comprehensive theory of Naval power. Introducing a new vocabulary, talking about sea command, control, and denial. And also a whole new playbook for strategies based on how to use sea power in modern warfare. Mahan, a few years after his book was published, was now watching closely, reading reports, for example, of the American McGiffin who you learned about, and thinking about the broader significance of Japan’s victory over China in 1894. His conclusions were interesting.
Skip to 2 minutes and 12 seconds He argued, for example, that Japan’s basic victory was based on the superior technology that it employed, using light weaponry rather than the heavy guns relied upon by the Chinese ships. Also, Mahan argued that because Japan focused on killing sailors on the enemy ships, by stopping the personnel from operating their ships rather than actually trying to sink the ships they had a superior strategy to the Chinese vessels. But Mahan’s analysis which you can read in a related file this week hinted at a deeper problem.
Skip to 2 minutes and 49 seconds That in fact, in technological terms, in material terms the Qing fleet was just as strong as the Japanese fleet, but that the Chinese problem lay somewhere else, somewhere deeper in the systems, the systems that supported those ships sailing in the Yellow Sea, the political system, the economic system, the military system, and the educational system. At this systemic level China couldn’t compete with Japan. The Qing couldn’t compete with Meiji. In other words, China had the hardware at this stage in the game, but didn’t have the proper software to operate it. The main result of the Battle of the Yalu that you’ve learned about this week was that the Qing ceded the eastern side of the Yellow Sea to Japanese ships.
Skip to 3 minutes and 37 seconds Now remember from what we learned about the Black Dragon War, this was the key point of the Korean and Chinese strategy that had stopped Hideyoshi’s attempt at an invasion of China 300 years earlier. But in the 1890s the Chinese strategy failed utterly to deny Japan access to the Yellow Sea. And as a result, the China/Korea relationship was changed permanently.
Sea power in history
The clash between China and Japan off Korea’s west coast, in the Yellow Sea, had global significance, gaining the attention of the premier naval strategist of modern times, A. T. Mahan.
© John Delury