The economic and political ultimatums presented to China by Japan in 1915 are called the “Twenty-One Demands.” They marked the beginning of Japan’s emergence as the most aggressive foreign power pressuring China.

In January 1915 the Japanese government presented the Chinese government with a diplomatic ultimatum that came to be known as the “Twenty-One Demands.” Many of these demands were fairly specific, aimed at expanding Japan’s economic and political influence in China, especially in south Manchuria and eastern Inner Mongolia. The Japanese were particularly interested in the right to build railways in China and to deny other powers the right to do so. Specific demands also aimed at increasing Japanese control over the Hanyeping mines in central China, Japan’s most important source of coal and iron. China was also to allow Japan to keep the German concessions it had recently seized in Shandong Province.

Most troubling to the Chinese government was the fifth set of demands, requiring the Chinese to hire Japanese political, financial, and military advisors and to allow joint Japanese-Chinese administration of certain districts in China. All of the other demands were expansions of Japan’s existing position in China; the fifth set suggested that the Japanese were moving toward turning China into a protectorate.

From the Japanese point of view the Twenty-One Demands were a way of taking advantage of World War I to increase Japanese influence in China. Japan had been expanding its formal and informal empire in China ever since the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895), but rivalry between the powers had limited the expansion of Japanese control. With the coming of World War I Japanese imperialism was no longer constrained by the balancing interests of other imperialist powers. The Japanese were not entirely sure what to do with this newfound freedom of action, as reflected in the mixed goals of the demands.

Yuan Shikai’s Chinese government realized that it could neither risk a war with Japan nor accept the demands as given, and so it attempted to negotiate a compromise. Yuan conducted these negotiations as publicly as possible. As expected, these public negotiations led to popular outcry among Chinese both in China and overseas. Anti-Japanese boycotts were organized, mass rallies were held, and citizens donated money to national salvation funds to prepare for war. Yuan’s attempts to resist the demands briefly increased his popularity, and Sun Yat-sen’s refusal to denounce them further isolated him from possible supporters. Yuan Shikai’s government was able, partially because of support from England and the United States, to get the Japanese to agree to withdraw the fifth set of demands and accepted the modified demands on 9 May. This result was unacceptable to almost everyone involved. Yuan himself called the agreement a “national humiliation” and the date was later remembered as National Humiliation Day. The Kato government in Japan eventually fell because it had not secured enough from the Chinese. The long-term effects were limited. The popular anti-Japanese movement quickly died out, although Chinese became increasingly unlikely to take Japan as a model for Chinese development after 1915. The Twenty One Demands were a harbinger of things to come because in the following decades Japan would be the chief imperialist power attempting to expand its power in China, and China would attempt to resist by mobilizing public opinion and seeking aid from the United States and England.

Japan’s Demands on China

Translations of documents given to Chinese president Yuan Shikai by Japanese minister Hioki Eki on 18 January 1915.

The Japanese Government and the Chinese Government being desirous of maintaining the general peace in Eastern Asia and further strengthening the friendly relations and good neighbourhood existing between the two nations agree to the following articles:

Article 1. The Chinese Government engages to give full assent to all matters upon which the Japanese Government may hereafter agree with the German Government relation to the disposition of all rights, interests and concessions, which Germany, by virtue of treaties or otherwise, possesses in relation to the Province of Shantung [Shandong].

Article 2. The Chinese Government engages that within the Province of Shantun and along its coast no territory or island will be ceded or leased to a third Power under any pretext.

Article 3. The Chinese Government consents to Japan’s building a railway from Chefoo or Lungkow to join the Kaiochow-Tsinanfu Railway.

Article 4. The Chinese Government engages, in the interest of trade and for the residence of foreigners, to open herself as soon as possible to certain important cities and towns in the Province of Shantung as Commercial Ports. What places shall be opened are to be jointly decided upon in a separate agreement.

Source: Wood, Ge-Zay.. (1921). The Twenty-One Demands. New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 108–109.

Further Reading

Chi, M. (1970). China diplomacy 1914–1918. Cambridge, MA: Harvard East Asian Research Center.

Dickenson, F. R. (1999). War and national reinvention: Japan in the Great War 1914–1919. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Zhitian, L. (1993, May). National humiliation and national assertion: The Chinese response to the Twenty-One Demands. Modern Asian Studies, 27(2), 297–319.

Source: Baumler, Alan (2009). Twenty-One Demands. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 2335–2336. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Twenty-One Demands (Èrshí Y? Tiáo Y?oqiú ??????)|Èrshí Y? Tiáo Y?oqiú ?????? (Twenty-One Demands)

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