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Lesson from the past

Peng Yining
Updated: Sep 24,2014 12:47 PM     China Daily

Sailors on a PLA navy cruiser hold a maritime memorial ceremony.on Aug 27 off the coast of Weihai, Shandong province. That day marked the 120th year of the start of the First Sino-Japanese War (also called the Jiawu War) in 1894.[Photo by Cha Chunming/Xinhua]

This year marks the 120th anniversary of the First Sino-Japanese War, called the Jiawu War in Chinese.

Jiawu refers to the year in the 60-year cycle of the traditional Chinese calendar. This year marks another Jiawu year, adding weight to the anniversary.

The Qing Dynasty government at that time was corrupt. A huge fortune was spent on a spectacular birthday celebration for the Empress Dowager Cixi, but only one cruiser was added to the Beiyang Fleet in six years.

When the coal for battleships was running out, Chief Commander Ding Ruchang had to write several letters begging for more resources.

When the sea battles erupted in 1894, the Qing’s naval forces were badly damaged by the Japanese ones.

Deng Shichang was the captain of the Zhiyuan cruiser at the Yellow Sea Battle in September 1894. When the ammunition ran out, he ordered a seemingly suicidal attempt to ram a Japanese battleship.

Unfortunately, a torpedo hit Zhiyuan and Deng fell into the sea. He decided to go down with his ship and refused to be rescued. When his dog seized him by his robe, he still plunged into the water. The dog died with him.

The war ended in April 1895, when the Qing court agreed to a treaty.

The Shimonoseki Treaty, signed to conclude the war, ceded the Liaodong Peninsula in northeast China, Taiwan and the nearby Penghu Islands to Japan. China also paid Japan 200 million taels of silver.

The humiliation exposed the brittleness of China’s military power, which a bout of policy changes failed to overcome, and the dynasty collapsed in 1911.

Ding Xiaoming and Ding Xiaolong, Ding Ruchang’s descendants, head to Weihai every summer and make a living by selling their history books about the Jiawu War in front of the Jiawu War museum on the island of Liugongdao.

Ding Xiaoming, 52, said he has not had much education and does not want to use his ancestor’s name to make money. But the books allow more people to know about the Jiawu War, which Ding said is “a lesson that should never be forgotten”.