CHINA – DALIAN / SIEGE OF PORT ARTHUR – RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR / JAPANESE ‘STREET PRINTING’
吉田直次郎 [Naojirō YOSHIDA (fl. 1877 – 1921)].
旅順包囲陥落実圖 [Fall of the Siege of Port Arthur].
Osaka: Naojirō Yoshida, Meiji 37 .
Bichrome off-set print in blue and red, with certain details heightened in contemporary manuscript (black pen), printed on thin paper (Very Good, clean and bright, remarkably fine condition for such a fragile ephemeral work, just some light wear along old folds and few tiny spots), 39.5 x 54.5 cm (15.5 x 21.5 inches).
An exceedingly rare, amazing survivor, being an ephemeral ‘street print’ broadside graphically depicting the ongoing Siege of Port Arthur (1904-5), today part of Dalian, China, whereby a massive Japanese force surrounded and ceaselessly bombarded Russia’s heavily fortified base in Manchuria, being one of the great military events and global media spectacles of the fin-de-siècle era; drafted and published while the siege was ongoing in Osaka by the popular printmaker Naojirō Yoshida to satisfy the overwhelming interest in the event amongst the Japanese public.
Port Arthur is today the Lüshunkou District of the large port city of Dalian, which now takes up almost all the Liaodong Peninsula of Liaoning State. Famously, it was the scene of the Siege of Port Arthur, the bloodiest and longest-running event of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5), an epic showdown between the two empires for dominance over the Far East. Port Arthur was of immense strategic value as an all-season deep-water port, considered one of the best natural harbours in East Asia. Japan had easily conquered Port Arthur from China in 1894, even though the city had been heavily fortified by the German Krupp munitions company. Under Western pressure, the city was given to Russia as a treaty port in 1898. Since then, Russia had made Port Arthur onto one of the most heavily fortified places on earth, with the city itself attaining population of 87,000 by 1904. Port Arthur was one of the anchors the Russian presence in East Asia, along with Vladivostok and Harbin. Naturally, the Japanese viewed taking the city as a vital objective of the war, and so spent vast resources to win what became a five-month long operation.
The interest amongst the Japanese public in theRusso-Japanese War (1904-5), and the Siege of Port Arthur was incredibly intense. While Meiji Japan had long since risen to become a major economic and military power, conquering Taiwan and Korea from China in 1895, this new showdown with Russia placed Japan on a whole new level. The Japanese people, from the imperial court down to the lowliest streetsweeper, were fiercely proud of their country’s dramatic transformation from being an isolationist agrarian society, into one of the world’s military-industrial superpowers. The Siege of Port Arthur placed Japan’s prestige was on the line: If they took the city from the Russians, Japan would secure its destiny; if it failed, it would represent an unimaginable humiliation. By this time, Japan had developed a highly sophisticated mass media, with modern telegraph networks allowing the conflict in Manchuria to be covered in real-time by newspapers.
A large percentage of the Japanese public received their war news in the form of ephemeral ‘street prints’, cheaply and hastily made graphic works that vividly portrayed aspects of the conflict. Subjects included battle scenes, maps, and portraits of key figures, and despite the thrifty manner of their production, the quality of their design and artistry was often quite high. While a picture was worth a thousand words to even the most literate consumers, these broadsides could also deliver the news to the masses who were only partially illiterate.
The present work is an amazing, rare survivor, being a hastily made pictorial broadside map of the Siege of Port Arthur, issued in a bichrome off-set print medium, on thin, cheap paper. Yet, despite these qualities, or maybe because of them, it provides a stellar rendering that brings the state of play part way through the siege to life. By this time, the Japanese had made major headway in tightening the noose around the Russian base but had not yet been able to score the coup de grace. The city of Port Arthur proper, still under Russian control, is shown to hug its inner harbour, with Russian troops and their horses marshalling amidst their industrial and military facilities. Their remaining ships are anchored in the inner port, while the city is protected by numerous heavy artillery emplacements. Everywhere, key sites are labeled by spot signals coloured in red. Meanwhile, the Japanese military juggernaut is shown to surround the city, both by land and sea, with huge contingents of the emperor’s army, under the banner of the Rising Sun, shown manning battle stations, while the Japanese navy blockades the harbour, beyond the hulks of sunken Russian vessels. The line of control is shown to be hotly contested, as detachments of infantry and cavalry charge the line from both sides. To emphasize the line of control and key artillery positions, many of these features are heightened in manuscript, in black pen.
In the upper part, are roundels featuring the portraits of the top commanders of both forces. In the upper left are portraits of the Russian generals in command of Port Arthur, Anatoly Mikhaylovich Stessel (1848 – 1912) and Konstantin Nikolaevich Smirnov (1854 – 1930), while on the left are the Japanese siege commanders (and now national heroes) General Count Nogi Maresuke (1849 – 1912) and Marshal-Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō (1848-1934), known as the ‘Nelson of the East’.
The broadside was designed and published in Osaka by Naojirō Yoshida (fl. 1877 – 1921), a maker of popular prints, who had a remarkably interesting career, documenting key sites and events throughout much of the Meiji and Taisho eras. Unusually, he worked for lengthy periods in three different cities, based in Tokyo (1877-84); Osaka (1890s to c. 1910); and, finally, in Hiroshima. He was a highly talented artist and seemed to have enjoyed decent commercial success, although relatively few of his works survive to the present day due to their ephemeral nature.
The present work is exceedingly rare, and appears to be unrecorded, as we cannot find a reference, let alone the location of, another example. This is not so surprising, as the survival rate of such a fragile broadsides is incredibly low.
The Siege of Port Arthur: Major Military Showdown and Media Spectacle of the Fin-de Siècle Era
The Siege of Port Arthur was one of the great global military events of the generation leading up to World War I and was one of the first to be covered in almost real-time by the world media through photography and breaking news delivered by telegraph. It was one of the key events of the stunning Russo-Japanese War, the climax of a long-brewing contest for donation over the continental Far East.
To make a long story short, by the beginning of the 20th Century, Russia and the newly hyperindustrialized Meiji Japan had expanded their zones of control or influence in the continental Far East for decades, with their gains coming largely at the expense of China. Inevitably, Russia and Japan came to loggerheads in the Manchuria. Japan coveted the entire region, while Russia was building the Trans-Siberian Railway throughout the area, having founded the great inland hub of Harbin (in 1898) and acquiring the fine harbour of Port Arthur in 1898. Simply put, there was not room for both great powers in Manchuria, and something would have to give.
Japan initiated the Russo-Japanese War (8 February 8, 1904 – September 5, 1905), deploying its large, well-trained military, backed by the most modern equipment, against Russia’s Chinese outposts. Russia was caught off guard, while severely underestimating Japan’s capabilities. Officials in St. Petersburg simply could not believe that an ‘Asian’ country could defeat a leading European power in a modern conflict. The war commenced on February 8, 1904, when the Japanese mounted a ‘sneak attack’, shelling Russian ships off Port Arthur (without besieging the city) before a declaration of war was made. Czar Nicholas II considered this to be a dishonourable act, setting an ugly tone for the conflict that was to follow.
Through the early months of 1904, the Japanese moved massive forces onto Manchuria, while Russian mobilization was slow. Taking Port Arthur was a prime Japanese objective, for as long as the base remained in Russian hands, none of the Japanese gains in Manchuria would be secure.
A Japanese force of 150,000 men under General Count Nogi Maresuke, one of the most revered Meiji commanders, surrounded Port Arthur beginning on August 1, 1904. The city was defended by 50,000 Russian troops armed with 506 heavy guns, commanded by Major-General Baron Anatoly Stoessel, considered a rather lacklustre leader. The Japanese were initially overconfident, believing that since they had easily taken Port Arthur from China in 1894, that the city would once again fall quickly. This assumption was wrong, as in the previous six years, the Russians had made Port Arthur into one of the most heavily fortified sites in the world.
During what was by far the longest and bloodiest aspect of the entire war, Port Arthur was subjected to a constant barrage of heavy ordnance, while the Russians returned fire upon the Japanese lines, often to devastating effect. One of the shocking new inventions used in the siege were 28-inch howitzers that could lodge 217 kg shells over 8 kilometres! The events of the siege were followed daily by millions of newspaper readers across the globe. The Russians, running out of supplies and ammunition, finally surrendered to Count Nogi on January 2, 1905. The toll of siege was astounding, the Russians suffered 31,000 casualties, while the Japanese endured 57,000 casualties.
The loss of Port Arthur was a death blow to Russia’s land campaign. To reset things, Czar Nicholas II sent a fleet of his best 38-ships all way the from St. Petersburg to the Far East. However, the Russian flotilla was intercepted in the waters between Korea and Japan by a Japanese fleet of 89 ships which proceeded to utterly decimate the Russian fleet at the Battle of Tsushima (May 27-28, 1905). This defeat knocked Russia out of the war, and facing a rebellion at home, the czar sued for peace, resulting in the Treaty of Portsmouth (September 5, 1905). This agreement confirmed Japan as the foremost power in the Far East until World War II.
References: N/A – Broadside seemingly unrecorded.