Tsingtao - A chapter of German colonial history in China. 1897 - 1914

An exhibition of the German Historical Museum

March, 27 - June, 23 1998


Prolonged until 19th July 1998

The German Historical Museum is dedicated to presenting German history in its international context. This commitment extends primarily to the representation of Germany's neighbors in Europe, where reciprocal influence has been most prevalent; German history has also had effects beyond its European perimeters. In the decades before World War One Germany competed with other industrialized nations to acquire colonies and create "spheres of influence" in non-European areas. Contact with peoples and customs in these areas had an impact both on other cultures and on Germany.

Events in Germany's historical relationship with China indicate the direction of German interests during the imperialist period. Military occupation of the Bay of Kiaochow one hundred years ago, the "unequal" treaty and lease of the protectorate, and the establishment of a German sphere of influence in 1898 give testimony to Germany's aggressive international presence.

Germans encountered China at a precarious time for the "Middle Kingdom." Although it considered itself culturally superior and traditionally separate from other countries, China was forced to accept foreign intervention and rule as a result of internal political, military, and social crises. While the Chinese government tried to counteract popular pressure for change with the introduction of reforms, its people felt the reforms did not go far enough. Discontentment with the government's insufficient efforts and with the activities of foreigners in China led some of the population to seek for answers in armed resistance, culminating in the Boxer Rebellion at the turn of the century.

The German administration was able to prevent land speculation on the Bay of Kiaochow with modern land-use laws, which allowed for the organized planning and construction of Tsingtao, the German colonial city. Through this successful policy, German politics was able to achieve in China what the land-reform movement was calling for in Germany. Tsingtao, a trading and naval post, was divided into various functional zones: residential, business, educational, health care. In addition, the town's recreational facilities and infrastructure were built with the highest standards in mind. The Chinese population from surrounding areas showed its approval of the ambitious planning and realization of the city by moving to Tsingtao in large numbers, thus creating a lively working and business environment. After completion of the Shantung railroad, which connected Tsingtao to the interior of the province, the city's port flourished and quickly became one of the most important on the Chinese coast. Turn-of-the-century German architecture still defines the face of the former European quarter of Tsingtao.

Even if the Chinese and Germans living together in Tsingtao and in the protectorate of Kiaochow distrusted one another, a feeling that occasionally led to conflicts of quasi-military proportion, the two groups showed understanding, rapprochement, and a willingness to learn from one another as well.

The protectorate had not yet fulfilled all of Germany's economic expectations when Japanese troops occupied Tsingtao and the Bay of Kiaochow at the beginning of the First World War. German colonial rule in China ended de facto in the transport of German soldiers to Japan as prisoners of war, and de jure in the Treaty of Versailles. Tsingtao lived under Japan's colonial rule until 1922.

The Chinese-German era on the Bay of Kiaochow continues to have effects in today's society as well. Both scientific and cultural ties between the city and Germany, as well as the conscious preservation of German architecture in Tsingtao exemplify this exchange.

In Germany and in China views about this "unequal" history differed greatly. While German scholarship concentrated on the feats of colonial construction and disregarded the colonial act, the humiliation of foreign control led Chinese scholars to emphasize Germany's aggressive imperialism, preventing other differentiated interpretations. The exhibit at the German Historical Museum is an attempt to build bridges, first and foremost by informing the public. With a balanced view on this period of shared history, it also hopes to promote historical understanding in judging the present.

The exhibition in the German Historical Museum tries to throw a bridge mainly by providing information. By presenting a well-balanced view on the mutual history, it wishes to improve the historical understanding even with regard to the present day situation.

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