What went down, in 1894, was the Kowshing, a British-flagged transport ship chartered by China. It was sunk by the Imperial Japanese Navy's Togo Heihachiro's cruiser, the Naniwa. Over 1,000 Chinese died. Togo, incidentally, later made admiral, and led the IJN fleet that crossed the Russkie "T" at Tsushima, 110 years ago, in 1905, in the first modern sea battle.
First published in the Bangkok Post on Sept. 25, 2010, and posted by Philip J Cunningham, a free-lance writer and political commentator, on an interesting site, Informed Comment: Global Affairs, the article, "LOST IN TRANSLATION, LOST AT SEA", shows Togo to play hard-ball par excellence.
When Togo sank the Kowshing, there was no declaration of war between Japan and China, nor was the British-piloted transport ship in any position to attack. Togo, under instructions to intercept, destroyed the defenceless transport ship, not because it posed a palpable threat, but because it didn't follow orders.
Tasked with preventing the Chinese troops from reaching Korea, Togo followed orders with alacrity, offering a choice of sink or surrender, then bailing out of the water only the British captain and a handful of non-Chinese crew.
Japanese troops intent on taking control of Seoul subsequently overcame their woefully undermanned Chinese rivals, paving the way to the eventual takeover of the entire Korean peninsula and Manchuria.
The naval war that ensued ended with China ceding Taiwan and other territory to Japan. Over the next five decades, China and Japan descended gradually but inexorably into a protracted war that cost tens of millions of lives.