The Sino-Japanese War 1894-95, leading to the Russo-Japanese War, a conflict between Japan and China that marked the emergence of Japan as a major world power and demonstrated the weakness of the Chinese Empire. The war grew out of conflict between the two countries for supremacy in Korea. Korea had long been China's most important client state, but its strategic location opposite the Japanese islands and its natural resources of coal and iron attracted Japans interest. In 1875 Japan, which had begun to adopt Western technology, forced Korea to open itself to foreign, especially Japanese, trade and to declare itself independent from China in its foreign relations. In 1884 a group of pro-Japanese reformers attempted to overthrow the Korean government, but Chinese troops under General Yuan Shih-k'ai rescued the King, killing several Japanese legation guards in the process. War was avoided between Japan and China by the signing of the Li-ito Convention, in which both nations agreed to withdraw troops from Korea.

In 1894, Kim Ok-kyun the pro-Japanese Korean leader of the 1884 coup was lured to Shanghai and assassinated, probably by agents of Yuan Shih-k'ai. His body was then put aboard a Chinese warship and sent back to Korea, where it was quartered and displayed as a warning to other rebels. The Japanese government took this as a direct affront, and the Japanese public was outraged. The situation was made tenser later in the year when the Tonghak rebellion broke out in Korea, and the Chinese government, at the request of the Korean king, sent troops to aid in dispersing the rebels. The Japanese considered this a violation of the Li-Ito Convention, and they sent 8,000 troops to Korea. When the Chinese tried to reinforce their own forces, the Japanese sank the British steamer 'Kowshing', which was carrying the reinforcement troops, further inflaming the situation.

War was finally declared on 1st August 1894, and although foreign observers had predicted an easy victory for the more massive Chinese forces, the Japanese had done a more successful job of modernizing, and they were better equipped and prepared. Japanese troops scored quick and overwhelming victories on both land and sea. By March 1895 the Japanese had successfully invaded Shantung and Manchuria and had fortified posts that commanded the sea approaches to Peking. The Chinese sued for peace. In the Treaty of Shimonoseki, which ended the conflict, China recognized the independence of Korea and ceded Taiwan, the adjoining Pescadores, and the Liaotung Peninsula in Manchuria, to Japan.

China also agreed to pay a large indemnity and to give Japan trading privileges on Chinese territory this treaty was later somewhat modified by Russian fears of Japanese expansion, and the combined intercession of Russia. France, and Germany forced Japan to return the Liaotung Peninsula to China. At the same time, encouraged by Russia the Korean government began to take an anti-Japanese course. The Japanese thereupon engineered the assassination of Queen Min (October 1895), the suspected mastermind behind the anti-Japanese stance. Fearing for his own life, King Kojong took refuge in the Russian legation, where he granted such concessions as mining and lumbering franchises to Russia and other powers. A popular movement for the restoration of Korean sovereignty arose in 1896 under a political organization called the Independence Club (Tongnip Hyophoe). On the urging of Tongnip Hyophoe, the king returned to his palace and declared himself emperor and his kingdom the Great Korean (Tae Han) Empire.

Important mail is shown in this exhibit from the war zone during 1894 and 1895, from Anju, Korea during November and December 1894, at An-tun-hsien in February 1895, very scarce mail from Kan-wang-chai, and mail from Hai-ch'eng during March 1895. Then mail from the later occupied regions of Chin-chou, Ying-ch'eng-tzu, Li-chai-t'un, and Wei-hai-wei. Mail is exhibited from the occupation of Formosa, with rare early express mail of May 1895 from (previously unrecorded) town of Sobunkei, other early mail of June from Chiayi, July from Taipei, November from Tainan, and Taichung in March 1896.