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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

In the settlement of the Formosan complication



A fact collaterally established by the Formosan affair was that the Ryukyu Islands belonged to Japan, and, in 1876, the system of local government already inaugurated in Japan proper was extended to Ryukyu, the ruler of the latter being pensioned. China now formulated a protest. She claimed that Ryukyu had always been a tributary of her empire. But China's interpretation of "tribute" was essentially unpractical. "So long as her own advantage could be promoted, she regarded as a token of vassalage the presents periodically carried to her Court from neighbouring States, but so soon as there arose any question of discharging a suzerain's duties, she classed these offerings as an insignificant interchange of neighbourly courtesy." Undoubtedly Ryukyu, from time to time, had followed the custom of despatching gift-bearing envoys to Peking, just as Japan herself had done. But it was on clear record that Ryukyu had been subdued by Satsuma without any attempt whatever on China's part to save the islands from that fate; that thereafter, during two centuries, they had been included in the Satsuma fief, and that China, in the settlement of the Formosan complication, had constructively acknowledged Japan's title to the group. Each empire asserted its claims with equal assurance, and things remained thus until 1880, when General Grant, who visited Japan in the course of a tour round the world, suggested a peaceful compromise. A conference

met in Peking, and it was agreed that the islands should be divided, Japan taking the northern part and China the southern. But at the moment of signing the convention, China drew back, and the discussion ended in Japan retaining the islands, China's protests being pigeonholed.


Sufficient reference has already been made in these pages to the series of events that terminated in 1875, when Japan, by a display of partly fictitious force, drew Korea out of international isolation and signed with the Peninsular Kingdom a treaty acknowledging the latter's independence.


During the centuries when China occupied the undisputed position of first in might and first in civilization on the Asiatic continent, her habit was to use as buffer states the small countries lying immediately beyond her borders. But she always took care to avoid any responsibilities that might grow out of this arrangement. In a word, the tide of foreign aggression was to be checked by an understanding that these little countries shared the inviolability of great China, but it was understood, at the same time, that the consequences of their own acts must rest upon their own heads. Such a system, having no bases except sentiment and prestige, soon proved futile in the face of Occidental practicality. Burma, Siam, Annam, and Tonking, one by one, ceased to be dependent on China and independent towards all other nations.

In Korea's case, however, the fiction proved more tenacious, since the peninsula furnished easy access to Manchuria, the cradle of the Manchu dynasty. But while seeking to maintain the old-time relations with Korea, Chinese statesmen clung uniformly to traditional methods. They refrained from declaring Korea a dependency of China, yet they sought to keep up "the romance of ultimate dependency and intermediate sovereignty." It was thus that, in 1876, Korea was allowed to conclude with Japan a treaty describing the former as "an independent State enjoying the same rights as Japan," nor did the Peking Government make any protest when the United States, Great Britain, and other powers concluded similar treaties.

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