The Twenty-one Demands

  • Peter Lowe


The term ‘twenty-one demands’ refers to five groups of items which collectively totalled twenty-one and which were presented by Japan to China in January 1915. In twentieth century Far Eastern history, the demands have occupied a significant position, most historians regarding them as one of the first Japanese attempts to dominate China rnd thus constituting a sombre warning of the developments that came two decades later, culminating in full-scale war between the two countries from 1937 onwards. Like most generalisations this contains both accurate and misleading elements. From a panoramic viewpoint, the demands were important as a further advance on the road to Japanese hegemony over the Far East, in the same sense as the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–5, the signing of the Anglo-Japanese alliance in 1902, the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–5, and the annexation of Korea in 1910 were milestones — all illustrate the gradual growth of Japanese power. The ‘twenty-one demands’ fundamentally comprised an attempt by Japan to dictate to China, with the ultimate threat that if China did not promise to accept certain minimum demands, war would ensue. This was naked power politics by any criterion.


Japanese Government Foreign Minister General Staff Japanese Capitalist British Interest 
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    See Gerard M. Friters, Outer Mongolia andits International Position (1951) pp. 55–61 and 218–21;Google Scholar
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    also Peter S. H. Tang, Russian and Soviet Policy in Manchuria and Outer Mongolia, 1911–1931 (Durham, N. C, 1959) pp. 289–327 for observations on Russian policy in Mongolia. Sazonov, the Russian foreign minister, opposed a militant policy in the Far East but there was always the possibility, given the weakness of Tsar Nicholas II, of a sudden change in policy. In the 1930s clashes did occur between Japanese and Russian forces on the Manchurian-Mongolian border, culminating in full-scale undeclared war at Nomonhan (May–September, 1939).Google Scholar
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    This refers to when Kato was foreign minister in 1900. I am grateful to Dr I. H. Nish for drawing this to my notice: see I. H. Nish, The Anglo-Japanese Alliance: The Diplomacy of Two Island Empires (1966) pp. 109–10.Google Scholar
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© Peter Lowe 1969

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  • Peter Lowe

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