Japan's Hand in China

The "Five Groups Of Demands" And Their Sinister Significance — How Japan Has Taken Advantage Of China's Weakness While Europe's Back Is Turned

By Carl Crow

[The World's Work, September 1915]

Those who have been watching the trend of Far Eastern politics and intrigue for the last few years were justified in feeling some surprise at the wording of Japan's ultimatum to Germany which preceded its attack on Tsingtau and its entry into the world war. The declaration was delivered on August 15, 1914. It contained two demands, which were to be accepted within one week. The first demand concerned the withdrawal of German warships from the Far East. The second one read:

"The German Government, with the object of its return to China, shall hand over the leased territory in Kiao-chau to the Japanese Government on or after September 15th, without condition and without compensation."

The tone of the ultimatum was provocative, and there was no surprise in any quarter when the week of grace elapsed without a reply having been received. Passports were then handed to the staffs of the German and Austrian embassies in Tokio, and the attack on Tsingtau began.

That Japan should enter the war was not surprising to those who know the strength of the military party in Japan and the long-cherished ambition of all Japanese statesmen to dominate China and the Far East. But that it should enter the war with such an unselfish purpose as that of taking Kiao-chau from the Germans in order to return it to China—that it should at the beginning of a fight pledge the prize for which it was fighting—was not consistent. There have been many little incidents in the last few years, the Nanking affair, the revision of China's unjust tariff, and a half dozen others, in all which Japan has shown anything but a friendly spirit toward its big neighbor and good customer. It has demanded everything and given nothing in return. The wording of the ultimatum to Germany indicated a change of this policy and Japan's friends and well-wishers were elated. "At last," they said, "Japan is going to abandon its old policy toward China, will champion China's rights, and will bind its neighbor to it by ties of gratitude and friendship."

The plain wording of the ultimatum was enough to justify the belief that it was an unqualified promise to restore Kiao-chau and that Japan was entering the war as a champion of China, but, as if this were not enough) the Japanese Foreign Office made every effort to give wide publicity abroad to this interpretation. The Japanese Government has a very efficient press bureau with ramifications in all parts of the world and is always able to present its views of a question in an effective way. On this occasion the press campaign was unusually vigorous and transparent.

Premier Count Okuma, on August 24th, cabled to the editor of the Independent, New York, a statement in which he said:

"As Premier of Japan I have stated and I now again state to the people of the world that Japan has no ulterior motive, no desire to secure more territory, no thought of depriving China or any other peoples of anything which they now possess.

"My Government and my people have given their word and their pledge, which will be as honorably kept as Japan always keeps promises."

The public was quite justified in believing that Count Okuma's statement meant that China had nothing to fear from Japan's entry into the war and that his reference to a pledge referred to the promise Japan had made. This statement, it should be noted, was cabled to The Independent two days after the ultimatum to Germany had expired, and at a time when it was apparent that Tsingtau would not be surrendered peacefully.

On the following day, when the blockade of Tsingtau had been begun, a remarkable semi-official statement regarding Japan's policy was sent out by the Kokusai Tsushin-sha, a Japanese news agency which has close official connections and is allied with Reuter's and the Associated Press. The cable, printed in many newspapers in America and Europe, began:

"On the highest authority Renter's correspondent is able to state that it is the settled policy of Japan, approved by the Emperor, the Genro, the Privy Council, the Cabinet, and leading business men, that Japan under all future conditions will act strictly in accord with the terms of the alliance with England and the treaties and agreements with America and her pledge to China. She will restore Kiao-chau and will preserve the territorial integrity of China. The ultimatum will be adhered to, whether Tsingtau is taken by force or Otherwise."

Any one who lives in Japan or who has kept in touch with recent events there knows the peculiar relationship which exists between the Kokusai-Reuter news agencies and the Japanese Government and needs no assurance that any statement like this, made by Renter's, is officially inspired. It may also be pointed out that at this time there was a very strict censorship on all cables from Japan, and that all press messages not acceptable to the Japanese Government were refused transmission, While press cables assuring the world of Japan's good faith in the promise were allowed transmission, others which expressed doubt concerning Japan's intention to restore Kiao-chau or her motives in entering the war were censored.

This Japanese press campaign had its effect, for newspapers all over the world commented on the magnanimity of Japan's move, and a number of officials in Europe and America made statements in praise of her disinterested motives. As I write this I have before me a file of Tokio newspapers for last autumn, and it contains column after column of this praise for Japan, most of which was cabled to Tokio by Japanese diplomatic agents and made public by the Japanese Foreign Office. There is in none of this comment of last autumn any hint from a responsible quarter that Japan's participation in the war was prompted by any motive other than a desire to carry out what she believed to be her obligations under the terms of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, to secure peace in the Far East, and to restore to China a territory which rightfully belonged to her. Japan's rewards would be apportioned at the peace, conference at the end of the war.


At the beginning of the war in Europe China had declared her neutrality, which was respected by the combatants, who withdrew their warships from Chinese waters and interned the Yangtze River gunboats. But with the certainty of fighting at Tsingtau it became apparent that it would be impossible to maintain a strictly neutral position, that is, to prevent fighting on Chinese territory. Tsingtau was so fortified as to make an attack by sea alone a long and expensive undertaking. It was evident that Japan, in order to secure an early victory, must make a land attack as well, and to do that would necessitate moving troops over Chinese territory. The situation was much the same as in the Russian-Japanese War, which was fought out on Chinese territory.

At the suggestion of one of his foreign political advisers, a Japanese subject, President Yuan Shih Kai followed the precedent established in the Russian-Japanese War and marked out a zone which, according to all neutral opinion, was big enough for any operations which Japan might carry on against Tsingtau. It included the port of Lunkow, at which Japan landed troops, and extended far enough west of Tsingtau to afford Japan perfect freedom in her military operations. Germany protested against the establishment of the zone, insisting that if Japan was to attack Tsingtau she should do so without violating China's neutrality. China's establishment of the zone offered every advantage to Japan and none to Germany, as the position of the latter would have been greatly strengthened if Japan had been compelled to confine her operations to a sea attack.

China's position was exactly the same as that of Belgium. She had no part in the quarrel and was not even suspected of sympathy for either side, but it was expedient for Japan to cross her territory in order to make an attack on Tsingtau, just as it was expedient for Germany to cross Belgium to attack France. China was not able to enforce her neutrality and, unlike Belgium, could look to no powerful friends for help. Candidly admitting the situation, she sought to escape from it as easily as possible. The war zone was established as a means to that end; and in order to avoid any possibility of a clash, all Chinese troops were at once withdrawn from the zone.


The first Japanese troops landed on Chinese soil at once took possession of a section of the German railroad which connects Tsingtau with Tsinan, the capital of Shantung province. This force, instead of advancing on Tsingtau, faced the opposite direction and proceeded west. It soon reached Weihsien, the location of a large Chinese garrison, 100 miles west of Tsingtau and well outside the war zone as marked out by China. The Japanese troops occupied the Weihsien railroad station, and rather ostentatiously located their camp in gunshot distance of the Chinese garrison. The encampment of Japanese troops on Chinese soil under the very noses of a Chinese garrison was such a patent challenge that it appeared for a time that trouble could not be avoided. Soldiers on each side were itching for a fight, but China averted trouble by removing a large part of her troops.

The Chinese Government at once called the attention of Japan to the fact that . troops had been sent outside the war zone. Japan's reply was that she did not recognize the war zone and would not be bound by it in any way. She contended that China's neutrality had already been violated by the Germans who had used the Shantung Railroad for the transportation of supplies to Tsingtau. The contention was a bit of sophistry, for the Shantung Railroad had been used only as any railroad in the United States might be used to ship supplies destined for combatants.

Japan continued to push her troops farther west, and some time before the main attack on Tsingtau was begun had occupied the entire line of the Shantung Railroad, had stationed troops in Tsinan, 260 miles from Tsingtau, and had taken possession of the German coal mines in Shantung. In all these military operations, as well as in her diplomatic dealings with China, Japan exhibited none of that spirit of friendliness toward China the existence of which was suggested by the promise to restore Kiao-chau, proclaimed by Premier Okuma and by other responsible spokesmen for Japan. She in no case showed any appreciation of the painful position in which China was placed, but on the contrary her actions were brusque and provocative. During the entire time of the operations against Tsingtau, clashes between the Chinese and Japanese troops were averted only by the great caution of the Chinese commanders, who were instructed by President Yuan Shih Kai to avoid the conflict which Japan seemed to be inviting.


When Tsingtau fell into their possession the Japanese exhibited almost indecent haste to make the most of their new property. They at once claimed ownership of the Shantung Railroad and of the German coal mines in the province. In fact, experts to operate the railroad and to work the coal mines had accompanied the expeditionary force.

The coal mines and the railroad had been operated by a few German executives, all the other employees being Chinese. When the Japanese took possession of these properties they replaced the Chinese by Japanese employees. Formerly all the trainmen on the Shantung Railroad were Chinese but now no Chinese are employed by the railroad except as coolies. On the railroad and in the city Chinese currency was replaced by Japanese. In Tsingtau the street names were at once changed, the German street signs being taken down and new Japanese street names put up in their place. A large and beautiful monument which had been erected to commemorate German occupation of the place was defaced. Even the name of the place in its Romanized version was changed and it is now referred to in all Japanese official publications as Sei-tou.

It was announced that the German noncombatants would not be interfered with in any way and would be allowed to continue in business as before. However, in a short time after their occupation the Japanese officials began announcing the discovery of evidence that certain business men had taken part in the defense of the place, and these, a few at a time, were sent to Japan as prisoners of war. Out of a former population of several thousand, less than one hundred German men remained in the place four months after its surrender, and most of the business enterprises they had built up had passed into Japanese hands. A similar procedure was followed in regard to German factories, residences, and real estate. Investigations carried on by the Japanese officials purported to disclose the fact that certain buildings had been used for military purposes, and these have been confiscated. An instance of this is found in the Prince Heinrich Hotel, formerly a popular tourist resort. It was confiscated because it was the residence of German officers during the attack, and it is now in the possession of a Japanese. The confiscated property includes the principal buildings and factories of Tsingtau, the Shantung Railroad, the German bank, and the German coal mines in Shantung. For several months after the surrender of the place none but Japanese steamers were allowed to call at the port, and severe restrictions were placed around any foreigner who attempted to go to Tsingtau. On the other hand, the Japanese were allowed free entry, and so great was the rush to secure the rich pickings afforded by the confiscation of German property that more than five thousand Japanese took up their residence there within a few weeks after the surrender. The cost of Japan's war operations was about $25,000,000, and at the very lowest estimate the value of the confiscated property is easily twice that amount.

The German Government had spent $100,000,000 in the improvement of the place, and much of this money was spent on buildings, etc., which are now the property of Japan.


The world at large, despite many circumstances which gave it reason to be skeptical, had continued to believe in the sincerity of Japan's promise to restore the colony to China, until the early part of December, when a new statement was made. The Japanese Diet was then in session and Baron Kato, the Foreign Minister, was bombarded with Opposition questions regarding Japan's war policy. A report of these interpellations was sent out on December 9th by the Kokusai news agency, the same news agency which had, less than four months before, assured the world "on the highest authority" that Japan would restore Kiao-chau no matter under what circumstances the place was secured. The opening paragraphs of the Kokusai report of December 9th were:

"The first interpellations in the new session of the Japanese Diet referred to the subject of the return of Kiao-chau to China. The Opposition asked whether Kiao-chau would be returned, whether the Government was pledged to China or any other Power in the matter of the final disposal of the territory, and whether the clause in the Japanese ultimatum to Germany referring to the final restitution of Kiao-chau to China did not bind the action of Japan.

"Baron Kato, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, replied that the question regarding the future disposal of Kiao-chau could not at present be answered, but it could be definitely stated that Japan had never committed herself to any foreign Power on this point. 'The purpose of the ultimatum,' he continued, 'was to take Kiao-chau from Germany and so restore peace in the Orient. The restitution of Kiao-chau after a campaign was not thought of, nor was it referred to in the ultimatum.'"


At this time the Japanese were in secure possession of Tsingtau. The German combatants had surrendered, and all except the wounded in hospitals had been removed to Japan as prisoners of war. There had been no German war vessels in the Far East for several months, and there were no German troops nearer than Poland, Apparently the Tsingtau campaign, was a closed incident.

China's futile war zone, which had never existed except on paper, no longer had any reason for existence even there. Accordingly, early in January a Chinese Government notice announced that it had been abolished. Japan was at this time in exactly the same position as Germany was at the time the attack on Tsingtau was begun. She was in secure possession of the place, and it was to her advantage, as it had been to the advantage of Germany, to limit any possible attack to the sea. From a military standpoint the abolition of the war zone was to the advantage only of Japan, just as its establishment had been.

It will be remembered that when the war zone was established Japan had refused to recognize it, and all her actions had been taken without any consideration of the zone. She had carried out her military operations on the assumption, apparently, that she might use any part of Chinese territory that she wished. She had even established a garrison at Tsinan and exercised a censorship over telegrams at that place. But it soon developed that though she had refused to recognize the zone, she would not overlook the fact that it had been abolished. A few Japanese soldiers remained within its boundaries, and it was assumed that the action of China in abolishing the zone was a hint that these soldiers should be removed. This was construed as an insult to Japan. It was the first act on the part of China which could possibly be construed as unfriendly, and that portion' of the Japanese press which is in close touch with the Foreign Office raged and raved over the incident. They insisted that China pay dearly for the "insult" and pay at once.

China, alarmed at this unexpected development, immediately cancelled the order abolishing the war zone; but this failed to mollify Japan. She had been seeking cause for a quarrel too long to overlook this opportunity and the result was the presentation of the now well-known demands, which revealed for the first time the programme with which Japanese statesmen entered the war. It was the opportune time for Japan's ambitious plans. China has been protected in the past largely by the jealousies of the Powers, for though each might wish to close the open door none will allow any other to close it. With Russia, France^ England, and Germany fighting in Europe, Japan was left with practically a free hand—Germany powerless. England silenced by Japan's pretensions of a sacrifice in support of the Alliance, Russia satisfied by a secret agreement with Japan which gives Russia a free hand in Mongolia, and France too hard pressed at home to pay any attention to affairs in China. There remained only the United States, which, though the originator of the policies which have preserved China, is pledged only to pacific means to support them.

Such a situation had been provided for by the many treaties guaranteeing the open door and the independence and integrity of China, but these Japan ignored by placing on her own demands and on the treaties what a Chinese statesman ironically referred to as an "extratextual interpretation." The demands, if accepted in full, would have made China a dependency of Japan. Yet the terms of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance itself preclude such action, for it declares as one of its objects: "The preservation of the common interest of all Powers in China by insuring the independence and integrity of the Chinese Empire and the principle of equal opportunity for the commerce and industry of all nations in China."

One involuntarily recalls the preamble to the earlier Anglo-Japanese Alliance, signed in 1902, which began; "The high contracting parties, having mutually recognized the independence of China and Korea, declare themselves to be entirely uninfluenced by any aggressive tendencies in either country." Only a few years after signing that Alliance, Japan approached Korea with demands similar to the demands on China with the result that Korea is now a Japanese colony.

In a half dozen other treaties and understandings Japan was pledged not to do the very things she attempted, and partially accomplished, by forcing these demands on China. In the American-Japanese understanding of 1908 the fourth article reads: "They [Japan and the United States] are also determined to reserve the common interests of all Powers in China, by supporting, by all pacific means at their disposal, the independence and integrity of China and the principle of equal opportunity for commerce and industry of all nations in that Empire."

The demands were presented on January 18th, and during their discussion, which lasted more than three months, Japan abandoned all pretense of a friendly attitude toward China. The negotiations were carried on as between a victor and a fallen and helpless foe. The military forces established at Tsinan and Tientsin, within easy striking distance of Peking, were strengthened and Chinese mails and telegraph service tampered with. Large bodies of troops were sent to Manchuria, ostensibly to relieve the garrison there. According to the official record of the conference held on the demands, the Japanese Minister to Peking was asked when the retiring troops would be withdrawn and replied that they would remain until the satisfactory conclusion of the conference. Later, when Japan's final ultimatum was delivered to China, I was traveling between Seoul and Mukden. Except for the daily passenger train, all traffic on the Japanese railroad between these two cities had been stopped and large bodies of troops were massed just below the Chinese border ready for an immediate invasion in the event China's reply was unsatisfactory. Japan had gone to war with Germany and was ready to go to war with China—to preserve the peace of the Orient!

On May 9th the long negotiations came to a close with China's acceptance of a part of the demands. As a result Japan has secured from China many valuable rights and privileges which close the door to other nations and threaten the existence of China.

China agrees in advance to assent to any arrangement which may be arrived at between Germany and Japan regarding German rights and concessions in Shantung province. This debars China from a hearing at the peace conference when the disposition of Shantung will be decided.

China agrees not to cede or lease to any Power any portion of Shantung and to give to Japanese capitalists a monopoly of railroad building in the province.

New treaty ports are to be opened in Shantung and Eastern Mongolia for the residence of foreigners. These places are to be selected after consultation with the Japanese Minister to Peking and will naturally be places so located as to be favorable to Japanese trade.

The leases of Port Arthur and Dalny, which were to expire in 1923, are extended to 1997. The lease of the South Manchuria Railroad is extended from 1938 to 2002 and of the Antung-Mukden Railroad to 2007. It was possible that China, at the expiration of these leases or at some time soon thereafter, would have found it possible to redeem this property and thus accomplish one part of her great ambition to regain her complete sovereignty. The new terms put this beyond the possibility of accomplishment in this or the succeeding generation.

Japanese subjects acquire the right of free residence and travel in South Manchuria, also the right to lease land for business and agricultural purposes. This is one of the most vicious of the agreements wrested from China, for while the Japanese have gained the right of residence and practical land ownership they also retain the extra-territorial rights possessed by all foreigners in China. Under its terms they will be required to submit only to police ordinances and tax regulations which are. approved by the Japanese consuls and in both civil and criminal cases are subject to trial before Japanese officials only. This serves to extend the Japanese administrative machinery from the zone of the South Manchuria Railroad and a few ports, where it is now confined, to all parts of South Manchuria. The residence of a single Japanese in a district of the province gives the Japanese officials power over the local police and tax system. The residence of Japanese in remote parts of the province where the Chinese police system is not able to protect them from the hostility of the natives, coupled with the extraterritorial rights the Japanese retain and the energy and persistence with which the Japanese Government prosecutes injuries to Japanese subjects, makes constant trouble in South Manchuria unavoidable in the future. With the increase of Japanese residents there it is easy to foresee the development of complications which will lead Japan to demand still further rights and privileges and still further curtail China's sovereignty. Taken in conjunction with other rights and concessions, this right of residence goes far toward making South Manchuria what the Japanese hope it will some day be—an actual province of Japan.

Japanese subjects are to be allowed to open gold, coal, and iron mines in nine districts in Manchuria.

Japanese capitalists are granted a monopoly in all railroad construction in South Manchuria and Eastern Inner Mongolia and in all loans with South Manchurian and Eastern Inner Mongolian taxes as security.

Japanese are to be employed by the Chinese Government as advisers or instructors on political, financial, military, or police matters in South Manchuria.

The complete control of the Kirin-Changchun railroad (an important feeder of the South Manchuria system) is given to Japan.

The Japanese are promised ultimate domination of the Han Yeh Ping Company (the Krupps of China). Hitherto Chinese control of this important steel mill with its valuable coal and iron mines has been assured by certain legal restrictions as to the ownership of stock, and there have been several proposals to make it a state enterprise. China now pledges herself in advance to consent to any agreement "for cooperation" which may be reached between Japanese capitalists and the owners of the company. China also agrees not to make the concern a state enterprise, not to confiscate it, and not to allow it to use any foreign capital other than Japanese. It is quite conceivable that Chinese revolutionists, some of whom have intimate Japanese connections, might gain possession of this plant and use its vast resources against the Chinese Government, yet under the agreement wrested from China she would be powerless to retaliate in the most practical and usual way—by confiscation of the property.

China agrees not to cede or lease any bay, harbor, or island along the coast of China to any Power, and agrees not to use foreign capital in the construction of a dockyard, coaling station for military use, or a naval base on the coast of Fukien province. As in the present state of China's finances she cannot carry on construction of this sort without foreign capital, this agreement compels her to leave defenseless the coast of this important province, which can be reached in a few hours from the Japanese colony of Formosa.

The other demands, which China did not accept, have been, according to the terms of Japan's ultimatum, postponed for future negotiations, which doubtless means that they will be brought forward again by Japan as soon as it sees an opportunity to push them through successfully. These demands include:

(1) Employment of influential Japanese as advisers to the Chinese Government.

(2) Japanese churches, schools, and hospitals to be granted the rights of owning land in the interior of China.

(3) Joint administration by Japanese and Chinese of the police in important places in China.

(4) China to purchase 50 per cent. or more of her war munitions from Japan or establish in China a Sino-Japanese arsenal which is to employ Japanese technical experts and purchase Japanese material.

(5) Japan to have the right to construct railroads, which with existing lines would establish a system from the Wu-Han cities (the location of the plant of the Han Yeh Ping Company) with coast outlets at Hangchow and Swatow.

(6) A monopoly for Japanese capitalists in the development of Fukien province.

(7) The right of Japanese missionaries to propagate Buddhism in China.

Aside from the actual privileges which Japan has wrested from China in these extraordinary negotiations, and the other privileges for which she is still contending, there is left a sequence of evil of which this generation will probably not see the end. Of the many evil results probably the most immediate and most important is the tendency to weaken the prestige of the Chinese Government at home just at a time when its position seemed most secure. Under the firm hand of Yuan Shih Kai the disorders which followed China's recent revolutions had disappeared. White Wolf and the other powerful brigands had been put down and the country had been extraordinarily peaceful for some time. The work of exterminating the growth of the poppy and the use of opium was going on relentlessly and successfully despite the discouraging opposition of powerful foreigners interested in the sale of the drug. The confidence of the Chinese people in their Government had been shown in the payment of the new taxes which had been imposed, such as the marriage tax, inheritance tax, income tax, etc. Despite the deep aversion of the Chinese to the payment of any taxes not established by old custom, these new taxes brought in an amount of revenue surprising to the most optimistic. Still another remarkable achievement of the Government was the successful flotation of a voluntary domestic loan of 30 million dollars, an achievement unprecedented in the long history of the country. All of China's obligations, including the military bonds floated during the republican revolution, had been paid in cash when due, and the old policy of paying off old loans by floating new ones was abandoned. These accomplishments silence those who have predicted a break-up of China through her own weakness. They prove that if left to herself China, instead of falling apart, would grow stronger. The Chinese, until a few years ago so apathetic regarding their government, were beginning to take a pride in it and to feel that they were being led out of the old hopelessness and helplessness into a new strength which would prevent future encroachments by foreign Powers. Now the Japanese demands have revealed the weakness of Peking and broken its prestige. It has furnished the discredited revolutionists with new arguments and made easily possible revolts more serious than that which shook the foundations of the Government two years ago. Following immediately on the close of the negotiations have come rumors of rebel activity in many centres.

The evil results do not end there, for Japan has reopened the old game of scrambling for concessions and rights and special privileges. She has upset the nicely adjusted balance of power and established new spheres of influence, setting an example of greed as brazen as that which John Hay's open door policy stopped fifteen years ago. Already Russia, despite the distractions of the European war, has begun negotiations to consolidate and strengthen her position in Mongolia in order to counterbalance the position which Japan has secured for herself in Manchuria. This is but the prelude of what may be expected later when the European Powers can give their usual attention to China.

In the meantime the old promise to restore Kiao-chau, of which so much had been heard at the beginning of Japan's entry into the war had, apparently, been forgotten. But it was again referred to, after the conclusion of the negotiations, by Baron Kato, who said in the Japanese Diet that if at the end of the war the Peace Conference gives Kiao-chau to Japan she will return the colony to China under certain conditions. What these conditions are to be will be decided later, but in view of the events which followed Japan's first promise to restore the place no one can be surprised at the statement of the Japanese Minister to Peking that "even with regard to the offer of the Japanese Government to restore Kiao-chau to the Chinese Government, the latter did not manifest the least appreciation for Japan's good will and difficulties."

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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