"The Massacre at Port Arthur"


Then followed the Port Arthur massacre, horrible stories of which flooded the world for the next few days. It has been strenuously denied that any massacre took place, but this is not correct. Few, if any, civilians were killed; there were next to none in the place, the supposed dead civilians being Chinese soldiers, who had discarded the overcoats, which were the only uniform they had, in order to continue the fight on guerilla lines. But very little quarter was given.

A Japanese disavowal and explanation will be found below:-

To the Editor of the Japan Mail.

Sir,- In September last, for the purpose of studying the practical application of International Law, I joined the fleet, and embarked in a man-of-war of the Imperial Japanese Navy. I am now staying in Port Arthur, after witnessing several battles. Being a subscriber to your paper, I saw in the issue of the 21st January some singular statements by Mr. Creelman, to which you refer. It being impossible for an eyewitness like me to pass over such a matter in silence, I enclose an explanation of this affair, in the hope that you will kindly have it translated at your office, and published through the columns of your valuable paper. What I write is an accurate and faithful description of the things that actually happened, and I vouch for their truth in the sight of Heaven. Convinced that the contents of my letter are of value to the public at large, I venture to trouble you, especially since my facts may furnish material to strengthen the position you take in the matter. Harassed by official business of various kinds, I cannot find leisure to write at greater length, and must crave your kind indulgence.

I am, sir your obedient servant,
Takahashi Sakuye,
Professor at the Naval University, and Ex-legal Adviser to
the Commander-in-Chief of the Regular Imperial Fleet.


On the occasion of the battle of Port Arthur I was on board the Itsukushima, and accurately observed the fight as carried on both on shore and at sea. I saw how the Imperial troops fought, and how the squadron cooperated with the army off the coast of Port Arthur, and I watched the movements of the enemy with the utmost vigilance. Similarly, I carefully looked out for any incident that might furnish material for the study of my special subject, and I do not therefore hesitate to say that I am among those best informed as to what actually took place on that occasion. Equally, I do not hesitate to declare that I saw nothing blameworthy about the assault on Port Arthur.

I have seen today in a copy of the Japan Mail that reached me, that Mr. Creelman, the war correspondent of the New York World, wrote to that paper to the following effect: "Torpedo boats were going through the waves, sinking junks loaded with men, women, and children endeavoring to escape. Ten junks, laden with terror-stricken people, were thus sunk, and the water was filled with drowning inhabitants." While regretting, for the sake of Mr. Creelman, whose honor as a gentleman may be impaired by such absurd fabrications, I fear that the public might be led astray by what he has written, and therefore I feel constrained to refute the false statements made by him.

In the first place, the assertions of Mr. Creelman are entirely imaginary; for his allegation that he saw from the shore, on the day of the assault upon Port Arthur, that is, on November 21, 1894, Japanese men-of-war and torpedo boats in motion, cannot be founded on actual fact. It is true that on the 21st men-of-war and torpedo boats were off the coast of Port Arthur, but for two days, from the evening of the 21st, they were away from the coast, owing to the stress of weather. Now, Port Arthur was not entirely taken on the 21st. Severe struggles were still in progress on that day. Hence it was practically impossible at such a juncture to see the warships and torpedo boats in motion off the coast of Port Arthur, and the fictitiousness of any statement to the contrary will be admitted by any one actually at the scene of the battle. On that same day certain staff officers of the Army, desiring to communicate some intelligence to the fleet, could only effect their object by braving extraordinary dangers and hardships, and by passing through the lines of the enemy. How, then, could Mr. Creelman have seen the movements of the fleet and the torpedo flotilla except in pure imagination!

Secondly, while the fleet and flotilla were lying off the coast of Port Arthur and in vicinity, from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the 21st, not a single Chinese junk was captured. Only two junks escaped that day, at a little past 5 p.m. But the commander of the fleet had specially ordered that any small vessel of the kind should be let alone, attention being paid to the larger only. No other junk escaped. It is true that there were five or six junks on the shore, close by the foot of Lao-Tie-Shan, but they were all beached. Thus the statement that junks, loaded with men, women, and children, were sunk is not only absolutely groundless, but the very allegation that such a number of junks attempted to escape is a fabrication.

Thirdly, it is a fact that at a little past 4 p.m. two steamers emerged from Port Arthur. It was subsequently known by the confession of Chinese prisoners that a number of Chinese officers were on the vessels. It is also a fact that torpedo boats pursued these steamers. It would have been a neglect of duty on the part of the fleet to disregard the escape of such vessels. When the torpedo boats gave chase to the steamers, they signaled, "Heave to, or take the consequence." The steamers not obeying, two blank cartridges were fired after them, but they still kept on their course. Moreover, they returned the fire of their pursuers, and the latter therefore began to chase them with more vigor. Thereat one of the steamers turned back into the harbor, and the other changing its course, ran ashore, and all the persons on board fled. Was not this procedure on the part of the Japanese officers perfectly proper, and in strict accordance with the canons of western nations?

The foregoing explanations are sufficient to prove the falsehood of Mr. Creelman's statements. I regret that he should be so lost to the sense of honor as to fabricate such injurious stories. In order that public may not be deceived, I beg you to give publicity to these facts.

Your obedient servant,
Takahashi Sakuye,

Port Arthur
February 11, 1895.

This disposes of the most gruesome fictions about the massacre, but it does not deal with what took place on shore.

The true story, as I had it from a Japanese army officer who was there, is as follows:

The battle was over, and the Japanese were marching into the town, a few Chinese retreating before them. Isolated fighting continued; but the place was, to all intents and purposes, captured.

As the victorious Japanese pressed forward , a young officer suddenly came across the remains of his brother, who had been captured, wounded, a day or two before. The body showed that death had been inflicted with atrocious Chinese tortures.

Maddened at this dreadful sight, the young officer practically ran amok. Crying "No quarter," he began to kill. His men, understanding the cause, started on the same career of vengeance; and it spread like wildfire through the army, that the town was full of the corpses of tortured Japanese prisoners, and two or three regiments got out of hand. For some time "Vengeance" was the battle-cry, and terrible things happened that night.

Before we blame the Japanese, we should remember that our own hands are not quite clean in this matter; human nature has its limitations, and there are many men still living who can recall what they did when, in the Indian Mutiny, they found rebels red-handed among the tortured and outraged bodies of British ladies and children. Armchair ethics may condemn; but the armchair critics sit at home doing the condemnation. It is less easy to be philosophical in the hour of the battle. The philosopher must have been through it, and abstained from slaughter, for his strictures to be worth anything. Personally, I think few things come more under the head of "excusable" than the Port Arthur massacre, so long as human nature remains human.

Port Arthur was converted into a Japanese base, and for a few weeks events languished, while preparations were made for the attack on Wei-hai-wei.

source: The Imperial Japanese Navy, Fred T. Jane, 1904