The 21 Demands (of Japan)

Yuan Shikai of China /

Yuan Shikai of China /

The 21 Demands (of Japan). In 1915 Japan came up with the odd idea of trying to make the whole of China a protectorate – a protectorate of Japan of course. The Great War started in 1914 and Japan promptly declared war on Germany, in order to take over that country’s leased territory in China. As a part of the so-called ‘Scramble for Possessions’ Japanese soldiers landed at Quindao Port in Shandung province, and soon controlled the important port, plus German mining and railway concessions. Having completed this with their usual efficiency, the Japanese presented China with its ‘Twenty-One Demands’, threatening total war if they were to be rejected.

The Demands included an extension of Japan’s lease of Port Arthur, and the South Manchurian Railway, and the grant of mining, commercial and residential rights in South Manchuria and parts of Mongolia; China must recognise Japan’s dominant position in Shandung province, and promise that she would not make any territorial concessions on her coasts to any other foreign power. China must also accept a huge infringement of her sovereignty, with Japanese political and military ‘advisers’, and the creation of a combined Sino-Japanese police force. The Chinese played for time, with the expectation of help to come from the United States and Britain. All these two major powers did was to protest feebly at the last demand (the mixed police force) – and Japan accepted postponement – but not for long.

In a disgraceful turn of events, both the US and Great Britain were not prepared to antagonise Japan: China was thus forced to agree to the demands, which the Prime Minister did on May 25, 1915. Chinese university students called this ‘The National Humiliation Day’, unsurprisingly, and youthful demonstrations were followed by more serious ones and a boycott of Japanese imports. The United States now showed an increasing worry about expansionism, and strongly suggested Japan should control this instinct, as America would not tolerate any infringement of China’s political and territorial integrity. Britain and France meanwhile looked through the telescope with their blind eye and approved Japanese claims in Shandong in 1917.

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