With a world at war, and new nations joining the fight, the events of May 25th, 1915 would have seemed blessedly contradictory – two nations signing a peace treaty.
There was little drama or media fanfare as representatives from Japan arrived in Peking to meet with the Republic of China’s first (semi-democratically) elected President, Yuan Shika. The course of nearly five-months of bitter negotiations, and the threat of expanded war in Asia, had led to this meeting. At issue were Japan’s “Twenty-One Demands” – a list of diplomatic concessions Japan wanted from China, including territories, industry, and most concerning for Japan’s fellow Western allies, de facto control of Chinese government ministers.
If accepted, China would become little more than a Japanese protectorate. If refused, the Great War would expand even further.
When we started this retrospective on World War I, we mentioned that it made sense after covering World War II since the conflicts “really were two different phases of the same war.” And most assuredly, the seeds of Japan’s imperialist designs on China - and war against the United States and Britain – were firmly planted on May 25th, 1915. Continue reading