Jia wu feng yun (Naval Battle of 1894) (1962)

 

 

 

 

 

Director:    Nong Lin.

Starring:      Jie Li (Liu Buchu), Muran Li (Deng Shicang), Xueqing Pang (Wang Guocheng), Ke Poo (Ding Rucang), Qiuying Wang (Li Hongzhang), Wenbing Zhou (Fang Boqian).

naval battles of the First Sino-Japanese war (1894-1895)

 

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Admiral Ting tells a meeting of his officers and others that Japan is launching a sinister scheme. The Japanese army surrounds the Chinese army and at sea they look for any incident that could be and excuse for the Japanese attacking Chinese ships. He says the Tsiyuan and the Kwangyi will escort the troop-ship. One fellow suggests that they send as an escort the whole Peiyang Fleet. Others says that this would give Japan an excuse to go to war. Another attendee says the troop-ship Kaosheng is a British merchant ship. A Mr. Bader says the Japanese wouldn’t dare attack the Kaosheng because the U.S. naval fleet would be brought into the picture. Viceroy Li needs to approve this, so the admiral instructs an aide to cable the viceroy for instructions.

On Captain Teng’s ship the signalman shouts down that he has received the order to stop the boiler fire. Teng does not like this and asks the signalman to ask why. He does so and the response comes back: "Obey orders!" But Teng won’t stop his boiler fire just yet. He goes on shore to speak to Viceroy Li. Teng asks the viceroy to please reconsider the order. If the escort vessels are attacked, there will be a great naval disaster.

Not having much luck, Teng starts walking away, but Viceroy Li calls him back. He has received a cable: China is not yet at war with Japan. No need for the entire fleet to go out. "Disobedience will be punished." Teng is saddened and replies: "That means that our two escort ships are finished." He lowers his head and lets the cable slip out of his hand to land on the floor.

The Japanese are firing upon Chinese ships. The Japanese admiral says this is the first step to wipe out the Chinese navy. The Chinese ships are ordered to retreat. The Japanese admiral orders the Japanese ship Naniwa to attack the Kwangyi, while the admiral’s ship, the Yoshino, sinks the Chin ship Tsiyuan.

The master gunner on the Tsiyuan is Wang Kuo-chen. When the Japanese ship Yoshino starts firing on the Tsiyuan, Wang decides to fire back. Captain Fang, however, is scared and starts running up a white flag. Wang investigates and Fang tells him to finish raising the white flag, but Wang won’t obey that order. So Captain Fang raises the white flag. The Japanese are still firing on the Tsiyuan. And the Japanese admiral has no intention of stopping the firing just because there’s a white flag flying. Wang return to his gun crew and tells the sailors: "Fang has betrayed us!" Wang cuts the white flag down. One of his sailors warns him that he will be killed if he orders the crew to open fire. Wang tells the men to never mind that. His rear turret gun is able to land five shells on the Yoshino. With such accurate fire, the Japanese admiral turns his ship around and starts running away. To Wang’s sailors, the hero of the day is Wang.

The Japanese start attacking the troop-ship Kaosheng. Some of the soldiers on board start firing their rifles at Japanese sailors on deck. The Japanese torpedo the ship. Wang is greatly saddened to see the troop ship start sinking.

Fang sweet talks Wang. He says Wang’s family is in Weihai. Wang replies that he’s an orphan, but, yes, he has a pretty fiancee in Weihai. Fang says that he will cover for Wang or Wang will be beheaded. He offers him 20 taels of silver for his wedding gift. The captain tells Wang to be a fisherman. This is important because Wang’s dad was beheaded by the government for his being part of the Taiping army. Wang rejects the silver.

Wang returns to his sailors and tells them that Fang now tells him that he was even wrong to fire on the Japanese. In fact, Wang won’t even let him stay in the navy. One of the sailors tells everyone that if Wang had not opened fire on the Japanese ship, their ship would have been sunk and the men probably killed. Another sailor tells him to go back to Weihai and go fishing with his father.

Weihai. Wang’s fiancee tells him to go see Captain Teng about what happened, because he has a reputation as being a very fair officer. Wang says Teng won’t take him on his ship because taking on a discharged sailor is a punishable offense. The fiancee’s father urges Wang to go see Teng.

Wang does meet with Teng and does tell his sad story to him. Teng says the incident was shameful. Wang now asks to server under Teng. Teng thinks about it for awhile, but does decide to take Wang aboard his ship. Wang is given a uniform and he puts it on immediately.

Captain Teng tells Admiral Ting that he is not going to the celebration feast to honor Fang for the first victory over Japan The reason is that he fells Captain Fang has disgraced them all and because he is a fraud. The admiral convinces Teng to go along with him to the feast.

At the feast Fang is toasted twice. Teng speaks up and says the tradition is to offer three toasts, so he is offering a toast to the army martyrs who died on the troop-ship. Fang and his supporter are displeased with this toast, seeing it as an insult.

One of the men asks Fang to tell them what he did in the battle against the Japanese. Fang blames others, not himself. He says the ship Kwangyi had the job of protecting the troop-ship, but the Kwangyi ran away. The troop-ship sank with over 1,000 men aboard. Teng speaks up asking three insulting questions to Fang. If Fank were attacking the Japanese ship, the Yoshino, why did he use his rear turret guns and not the front turret guns? The second question: Why didn’t Fang go to the rescue of the sinking ship? And, finally, he asks Fang why did he fly a white flag on his ship if he was attacking the Yoshino? Fang says that the last accusation is nonsense and that Teng has no proof of his ship flying a white flag. But Teng does have proof. He calls for gunner Wang to testify. Wang is brought in. He tells his story, which angers Fang so much that he pulls out his pistol and tries to shoot Wang. Others at the meeting stop Fang from firing.

A supporter of Fang tells Admiral Ting to drop this matter or he will get in trouble for filing a false report. In addition, he must not investigate the matter.

Admiral Ting goes to the fishing village of Weihai. The villagers are very happy to see him in their village. The admiral drinks three toasts. Wang’s fiancee’s father tells the admiral that the people of the village want to petition the Emperor to declare war on Japan. Ting says: "Very well." Dad says the problem is that no one in the village can read or write and they don’t know how to get the letter to the Emperor. Ting volunteers to take care of these matter himself. All the villagers know deeply bow to the admiral.

Admiral Ting is told by his friend that it may be the wrong time to be petitioning the viceroy and then the Emperor. The viceroy is now asking the European nations to mediate a rapprochement with Japan.

Teng goes with the admiral to see the viceroy. The viceroy is very busy with his dinner and conversation with the European powers. The captain and the admiral have to wait just outside the dining area. Teng closely listens to the conversation and tells the admiral that there is a spy at the dinner. He says this Mr. Roper, a senior secretary, is much too interested in the internal affairs of China.

The European representatives, like China, want the Japanese out of Korea. Russia wants to send part of its army into Korea, but Britain says reason should be used to approach Japan about Korea. The Russian representative insists on troops, so the British representative says that Russia takes this stance because they are very interested in getting their hands on Manchuria. A representative of the USA says the Japanese have given his nation assurance that they would not start a war with China. At this time, Mr. Roper says that the Japanese have told him that the shelling of the Yoshino is a grave provocation to Japan.

Teng accidentally creates a loud noise and the viceroy wants to know who is it that made the noise? Teng stands up saying it’s him. He uses the opportunity to denounce what Mr. Roper said as an insult to China. The Japanese attacked the Chinese, not the other way around.

The outburst causes the Europeans to think that China will not be reasonable in the negotiations with Japan. The European and American representatives leave. Li is very angry at Captain Teng. In his defense Teng says that the European powers only pretend they will mediate, while they continue to carve up China for themselves. Li tells Teng that he was trying to set one European power against another, but Teng has made that very difficult now. Teng presents two petitions to the viceroy asking for the Emperor to declare war on Japan, one from the sailors and one for the village. The viceroy is not happy.

Li, Viceroy of Peiyang, receives a royal decree. It says that the Japanese are invading their territory, so Li should go to Weihai and prepare the fleet for war. A little later a letter comes to Li from the Empress Dowager. It says: "Do it at once!"

The sailors talk with Captain Teng asking him to help them. Teng says he will try again to get the viceroy to declare war. The sailors bow before him.

In disguise Roper offers silver to dad and Wang’s fiancee to take him out to sea. At first they refuse, but Wang keeps talking and they let him jump in their boat. In the distance are Chinese warships. Roper tells them not to head for the Chinese warships, but they keep rowing in that direction. Roper pulls a pistol on dad, but Wang’s fiancee comes to the rescue. She throws a large basket over his head and pushes him into the water. She and dad then jump into the water and start trying to drown him. Sailors on the nearest Chinese warship see all this and dive into the water to go get the man being drowned. Roper is brought onto the warship and Captain Teng speaks with him.

The viceroy is ready for the naval review. The ships go by the reviewing stand and fire a gun salute to the viceroy. But when Captain Teng’s ship goes by, there is no salvo. Those on the reviewing stand regard this as a grave insult.

The viceroy goes on Teng’s ship. From there he watches as the gun crew starts firing on a target practice ship. Wang’s crew explodes the practice ship to bits. The viceroy is impressed.

 

From the viceroy, Captain Teng is given 2,000 silver tael to distribute among his sailors. Fang protests asking: what about the insult? Teng explains that his men did try to fire their salvo, but 200 of their shells were filled with sand rather than gunpowder. The viceroy says he will have the matter investigated.

Teng now says that they have caught a Japanese spy, namely Mr. Roper, who originally was a citizen of Japan, but is now an American citizen. The viceroy is skeptical, so Teng shows him a sketch by Roper of their Chinese fort. The foreign adviser says that they must be careful. The US will surely protest the arrest of one of their citizens. The representative of Britain says that the viceroy should hand Mr. Roper over to the U.S. Minister to China. The viceroy agrees and Teng protests. For this the viceroy has Teng’s insignia of rank torn from his uniform. He then says: "Drive him out!"

Admiral Ting speaks up on behalf of Teng. He says that the navy can’t lose this valuable captain and the admiral will personally vouch for him. He asks the viceroy to let Teng prove his worth in naval battle. All the other captains, except Fang and a supporter, start saying one by one that they agree with the idea. The viceroy does not budge.

Japan opens fire on the small fishing boats of Weihai. Wang’s fiancee is hit by a piece of shrapnel and falls into the water. She is brought onto the beach. Wang comes to see her and so does Captain Teng. Soon after the arrival of Teng, the fiancee dies. Her father asks Teng what should they do now? Dad is joined by the other villagers who all want revenge on the Japanese. They urge Teng to strike back at the enemy.

With the latest news, the Empress Dowager says that the only alternative is to declare war. So she allows the Emperor to declare war on Japan. The viceroy has to remain behind, but he cables that war preparations are to be at a minimum. Teng is placed in command.

As Teng prepares to head out to sea, dad presents a big sign to him. He says: "May you be ever victorious!" The sign says to defend the nation and protect the people. Teng tells dad: "I won’t let you down."

Roper gets his hands on a cable that says to send at once 12 battalions to Antung, an area in northeast China bordering the Yalu River which is the border between China and Korea. The cable says to avoid a clash if Japanese ships are met.

Admiral Ting is informed that a naval fleet is headed their way. He looks through his telescope and says they are Japanese. But Fang and his friend say that the ships are American. Fang spots an American flag flying on the front ship. Captain Teng, however, disagrees. He says the lead ship is the Japanese Yoshino, which he knows all too well. His identification is confirmed when the Japanese run down the American flag and run up the Japanese flag. The Yoshino fires and hits the Chinese ship. Admiral Ting is hit by shrapnel and has to be taken to the ship’s hospital. Teng takes over.

The Japanese admiral gives the order to isolate Teng’s ship. The Chinese ship the Chihyuan is already surrounded by Japanese ships, but Teng watches as the ship starts to break out from the enemy ship encirclement.

Teng give the order to close in with the Chihyuan. A little later it is reported that the Chingyuan is coming, but the Tsiyuan is running away. Fang is the captain of the latter ship and he is definitely ordering his helmsman to keep running away. The helmsman resists, Fang declares him a mutineer and shoots the helmsman in the back. He then takes over as helmsman.

The sailors come to investigate the shot and see that Fang has shot the helmsman, who tells them that the captain is trying to run away. The sailors corner Fang and then one of them kills the captain with a large knife.

Wang is able to hit the Yoshino. The Japanese admiral says they will leave Teng alone for now and get him later. The Japanese start sinking the Chingyuan first. The Japanese ship Seikyo advances on Teng’s ship. Wang blows up the Seikyo.

Teng orders that the ship head at full speed toward the Yoshino. Along the way they blow up the Akitsu, but Teng’s ship is hit by shells again. Teng orders that the Yoshino be sunk, but Wang has to tell him the bad news that they have fired all their shells.

Teng gathers the men together on deck. The Yoshino is only 1,500 yards away from them. Teng declares: "We can turn the tables" He shouts: Ram the Yoshino! The sailors are supportive of the captain.

Teng’s ship is hit by more shells. Soon the Japanese admiral realizes that Teng intends to ram his ship. So the admiral launches torpedoes. The first one misses the Chinese ship, as does the second torpedo. The third torpedo, however, finds its target and sinks Teng’s ship.

 

The film is a little hard to follow, and unless one reads the historical background, confusion may reign. The sub-titles are used sparingly and this leaves one wondering what different people said. Nevertheless, although I was confused at times, I enjoyed the film. There was a lot of action. It looks like they used miniatures of the ships to film the battle, but I didn’t mind, because it was easier to follow the action that way. In the film Captain Teng and gunner Wang disobey orders in order to strike back at the aggressor Japanese ships. War with Japan, however, seemed inevitable anyway. The Japanese modeled their navy after the British navy and had a modern western navy. With such a navy, the Japanese figured they could easily beat the Chinese on the high seas. They were right. But, the film highlights the bravery, courage and willingness of the Chinese sailors to stand up to the Japanese.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 


Historical Background:

1868 – the Meiji Restoration in Japan.

1894 (August 1) - 1895 (April 17) – the First Sino-Japanese War between the Qing Dynasty of China and the Meiji government of Japan. The dispute originated over control of Korea.

The newly modernized navy in Japan had a fleet of 12 modern warships, one frigate (Takao), 22 torpedo boats, and numerous armed merchant cruisers. Many of the ships were built in England and France. The Imperial Japanese Army was a modern western army that had 120,000 men in two armies and five divisions.

The Japanese have near continuous successes over the Chinese for more than six months.

1894 (July 25) – the Japanese cruisers Yoshino, Naniwa and Akitsushima patrolling off Asan, encountered the Chinese cruiser Tsi-yuan and gunboat Kwang-yi. The Chinese gunboat Kwang-yi became stranded on rocks and then its powder-magazine exploded.

The Japanese cruiser Naniwa (under the command of Captain Togo Heihachiro) captured a Chinese gunboat . The Japanese ordered the Chinese ship the Kow-shing to follow the Naniwa. But there were 1,200 Chinese on board who wanted to return to Taku. They threatened to kill the English captain of the Chinese ship. Captain Togo orders his crew to fire upon Kow-shing. The Chinese ship is sunk. Some 900 Chinese die. The Japanese refuse to rescue any Chinese stranded in the water.

1894 (September 17) – the Imperial Japanese Navy destroys 8 out of 10 Chinese warships of the Beiyang Fleet off the mouth of the Yalu River. Japan now commanded the sea.

1895 (February) – China loses the port of the Chinese port of Weihaiwei.

1895 (February) – the Qing government sues for peace. Japan became the dominant power in East Asia. China recognizes the total independence of Korea and ceded the Liaodong Peninsula), Taiwan and the Penghu Islands to Japan "in perpetuity". China also had to pay Japan 200 million Kuping taels in reparation. China has to permit Japanese ships to operate on the Yangtze River and opens four more ports to foreign trade.

1911 – the weakening of the Qing Dynasty because of the war led to the 1911 Revolution in China.

 

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