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Captain Higuchi

Naval Officers Discussing the Battle Strategy for the Invasion of China

Japanese Color Woodblock Print

Captain Higuchi

by Mizuno Toshikata, 1895

IHL Cat. #1343

About This Print

The brave Captain Higuchi was celebrated in prints, in song and in writing.  [Also see IHL Cat. #1811 Captain Higuchi, in the Midst of the Attack, Personally Holds a Lost Chinese Child by Ogata Gekkō (1859-1920) and IHL Cat. #2163 The Attack on Weihaiwei: The Taking of the Hundred Foot Cliff [Captain Higuchi saves a child] by Watanabe Nobukazu (c.1872-1944).] Rescued Chinese babe in arm, sword in hand, he leads the charge across the snow to attack the Chinese enemy during a battle near Weihaiwei.

How much myth is mixed with reality in the portrayals and retelling of this incident is unclear, but the following 1895 "absolutely authentic" account titled "That Baby" by a British writer is typical:1

...some of the soldiers found a well-nourished Chinese baby boy lying on the ground, and it was supposed  that the child belonged to the woman who had just been sent beyond the lines. Pitying the little fellow, who was crying bitterly, Captain Higuchi Seizaburo, of the Sixth Division, picked him up  and did his best to console the baby. But as the young Chinaman refused to be comforted. Captain Higuchi called up one of  the prisoners and told him that he, the Captain, would give him  his liberty if he took that baby to its parents. To this the Chinese captive, a stalwart fellow who looked as if he might have children himself, joyfully consented; but the baby refused to be  separated from its Japanese friend, and cried harder than ever when the Chinese tried to take it in his arms. So, holding the  baby in his left arm while he grasped his sabre with the right, Captain Higuchi marched to the capture of the next fort, receiving at one time a bullet through his cap. The fort was taken  in gallant style, the baby meanwhile looking on in wondering  surprise at the din and uproar of the battle, perfectly content to rest on the kind-hearted Captain's shoulder. When all was over this gallant officer gave his tiny charge to some of his troopers, who bore the child in safety to a Chinese house in a village hard by.2

In commenting on this incident historian John W. Dower notes:

Captain Higuchi became a symbol of the bravery and benevolence of the Japanese forces and, as seen here, was celebrated in a number of woodblock prints (often with enemy bullets streaking around him). At a deeper symbolic level, he exemplified the whole notion of a righteous war against China. The implication was that the child had been left in peril by its own irresponsible parents and caretakers. Thus, even as they were depicted overthrowing the Chinese, the propaganda message of such prints to Japanese viewers was that their fighting men not only were strong and resolute, but also were protecting and preserving China’s future.

The “benevolent conqueror” is a familiar conceit in war propaganda in general.3   

click on image to enlarge

The inscription reads:

Captain Higuchi
After having destroyed and conquered the enemy at Motianling [Fort], and while pushing forward towards the "Hundred -Foot-Cliff," the battalion commander of the Sixth Brigade, Captain Higuchi, found an abandoned Chinese infant crying on the ground.  Taking pity on the child and worried that it might freeze to death, he picked up the child and continued to advance.  Unexpectedly, Higuchi ran into the enemy and realized that he had to fight. He then embraced the child with his left arm and raised his sword with his right arm, leading his men.  Afterwards he gave the child to a Chinese prisoner who returned it to the parents.  In general, [these actions] exemplify the spirit of our brave and virtuous soldiers.

1 The preface of Heroic Japan: A History of the War Between China & Japan states that the information in the book is "absolutely authentic; for not  only have the Imperial Household, Foreign, War, and Navy Departments  given the authors free access to all documents, but every word in the  book has been thoroughly and repeatedly revised by the Authorities concerned, several chapters having thus been written and re-written six and  even more times."
2 Heroic Japan: A History of the War Between China & Japan, F. Warrington Eastlake and Yamada Yoshi-aki, Sampson Low, Marston & Company, 1897, p. 333-334.
3 website MIT Visualizing Culture: Throwing Off Asia II Woodblock Prints of the Sino-JapaneseWar (1894-1895) by John W. Dower  http://ocw.mit.edu/ans7870/21f/21f.027/throwing_off_asia_01/compassionate_hero.html

Print Details

 IHL Catalog
 Title or Description Captain Higuchi
 樋口大尉 Higuchi taii
 Artist Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908)
応需年方絵 Ōju Toshikata e 
 Seal 年方 Toshikata (see above)
 Publication Date
明治廿八年四月十九日印刷 printing: April 19, 1895 
仝        廿発行 published: April 23, 1895
関口政治郎 Sekiguchi Masajirō [Marks: pub. ref. 462; seal not shown]
 Impression excellent
 Colors excellent
 Condition good - three separate sheets; trimmed to image; soiling; remnants of previous backing
 Genre ukiyo-esenso-e (Sino-Japanese War)
 Format vertical oban triptych
 H x W Paper 
 13 3/4 x 9 in. (35 x 22.9 cm) approx. each sheet
Japan at the Dawn of the Modern Age – Woodblock Prints from the Meiji Era, Louise E. Virgin, Donald Keene, et. al., MFA Publications, 2001, p.102, pl. 54; In Battle's Light: Woodblock Prints of Japan's Early Modern Wars, Elizabeth de Sabato Swinton, Worcester Art Museum, 1991. p. 80, pl. 45; Conflicts of Interest: Art and War in Modern Japan, Philip K. Hu, et. al., Saint Louis Museum of Art, 2016, p. 146-147, pl. 52
 Collections This Print
 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 2000.439a-c; Saint Louis Museum of Art 144.2010a-c
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