Musterkolonie Kiatschou

The Expansion of the German Empire into China

Seminar Paper, 2010

33 Pages, Grade: 1-



Introduction: Kiautshou as a German Model Colony

I. German Imperialism - The Historical and Theoretical Background
1. Bismarck and German Colonial Policy, 1884/85
2. Kaiser Wilhelm’s Neuer Kurs and the Quest for Weltpolitik, 1890-1896

II. German Imperialism in China - The Historical Context
1. The Prussian East Asia Expedition to China, 1860-1862
2. German Missionaries and Merchants in China, 1860-1890
3. Shimonoseki and the Seizure of Kiautshou, 1897

III. “Das Reich der Marine” - Modernization of Kiautshou into a Model Colony
1. Establishing a Colonial Administration – State of Law, City Planning, and Land Policy
2. The Development of Qingdao into a Free Port and Economic Center
3. German Kulturmission in Qingdao – Education, Science, and Cultural Exchange

IV. Colonizers and Colonized – German and Chinese Everyday Life in Qingdao
Conclusion: Kiautshou’s Place in German Imperialism

Introduction: Kiautshou as a German Model Colony

On November 14, 1897, German marines seized the bay of Kiautshou, a small territory on the North-Eastern province of China, Shandong. It was a sudden coup, conducted without any prior negotiations or warnings by the German side; however, in the same way it was knocked off and taken away by Japanese troops in 1914. During the seventeen years of German occupation, the German colonial administration under the guidance of the German Imperial Naval Office (Reichsmarineamt), spent huge sums of money and committed great personal efforts to transformed Kiautshou from a rural and underdeveloped area into a modern and prosperous German Model Colony (Musterkolonie). Kiautshou was not thought of to be a settler’s colony but instead it was to become a naval base for Imperial Germany and an economic center for German industry and trade in East Asia. One of the main characteristics of Kiautshou was the idea of a model colony as a mean of representation and propaganda for Germany at home and abroad. The creation of a model colony was intended to demonstrate a specific German colonialism, where careful planning, professional execution, and public supervision were an example for a modern and enlightened imperial policy in contrast to the private and commercial interest led Anglo-Saxon model of imperialism. Therefore, the most advanced means and technologies of the time were applied to make Kiautshou a showcase to the world (“Schaufenster zur Welt”). Schools, hospitals, city planning, railways and mines were established all according to German high standards at home. With time, Qingdao, the actual capital city of Kiautshou, became the “safest and cleanest city in whole East Asia”, with the sixth largest port in China. In this regard Imperial Germany created and implemented a small Germany into China.

Alfred von Tirpitz, Secretary of State of the German Imperial Naval Office, was the leading advocate behind the realization of Kiautshou as a model colony. His name stands also for German naval armament (Flottenrüstung) and the beginning of the second phase of German colonial policy in the 1890s. With the backing of the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, and the accession of Bernhard von Bülow into office, as Secretary of State of Foreign Affairs, and later German Chancellor (Reichskanzler), he was able to create a massive naval force, which was supposed to be the instrument of what was to become German Weltpolitik. Kiautshou was his prestige project and its success was vital for his main goal to build a mighty German sea power with naval bases and coal stations throughout the world. With his persistence, Kiautshou was given under the supervision of the Imperial Naval Office and not the Colonial Department of the German Foreign Office, who was actually responsible for colonial affairs. Kiautshou became (next to Togo) the most successful colony of the German Empire. Although huge investments were made and only little dividends came in return, Kiautshou still fulfilled its purpose as a model colony for German imperial and colonial policy.

The topic of this article is German imperialism in the Wilhelmine era (1890-1914). The emphasis is on German colonial policy towards China with the focus on Qingdao, Kiautshou, in the Chinese province of Shandong, which also became a German sphere of influence during the years 1897-1914. In the first chapters, the author gives a theoretical and historical overview of German imperialism and colonial policy from Bismarck’s short colonial endeavour (1884/85) until the seizure of Kiautshou in 1897 under Wilhelm II. In the main chapters, the author will analyse German understanding of the idea and the implementation of a model colony in Kiautshou. Furthermore, he will explain everyday life between Germans (Masters) and Chinese (subordinates), in order to show how promise and reality actually worked on the ground. The approach is systematic and not chronological. Due to constrain of time and lack of space, this paper does not make any claims for completeness. The issue of German-Chinese relations is too broad to be handled on a short paper like this. Thereby, the author will not analyse issue such as international politics of East Asia, incorporating the other imperial powers, or Chinese internal policies during that time. Also broader aspects of German imperialism, such as domestic attitudes towards Kiautshou and China or German Weltpolitik in general will not be discussed, though they need to be dealt with separately.

I. German Imperialism - The Historical and Theoretical Background

After the establishment of the German Reich under the statesmanship of Otto von Bismarck in 1871, many people from the economic, political, as well as military circles called for the expansion of the German Empire overseas, in order to secure new markets for German industry but also to gain colonies worth of a mighty empire.[1] Thereafter, colonial societies and nationalist parties sprang up on the political landscape of Germany, promoting an assertive imperial and colonial policy with the support of the German press.[2] For Bismarck, colonies promised no profits but loss, and above all, colonies would only involve clashes with other colonial powers, such as France and Great Britain.[3] In this regard Bismarck told a parliamentarian in 1881:

“Solange ich Reichskanzler bin, treiben wir keine Kolonialpolitik. Wir haben eine Flotte, die nicht fahren kann, und wir dürfen keine verwundbaren Punkte in anderen Weltteilen haben, die den Franzosen als Beute zufallen, sobald es losgeht.”[4]

In the following years, under the regime of Wilhelm II, societal factors as the driving forces of German imperialism became even stronger. Especially the association of middle class nationalism and public opinion was a crucial determinate.[5] Although advocates of Sozialimperialismus (Wehler) have stressed the importance of German economics and trade[6], there is common agreement in scholarship that in the German case, during the Wilhelmine era, Macht - and Prestigepolitik were the actual driving forces behind German Weltpolitik.[7]

1. Bismarck and German Colonial Policy, 1884/85

For a long time, scholars have puzzled about Bismarck real intentions to gain colonies. His earlier remarks against colonial processions contradict sharply with his reputation to be the founder of the German colonial empire. Bismarck was against direct state involvement in overseas territories. Originally a believer in free trade and laissez faire, he saw no need for German colonies.[8] However, there was a gradual shift in his attitude, caused by domestic socioeconomic factors and structural elements in international politics of the 1870/80s, such as the economic depression in Germany, the competition among the colonial powers for the last remaining territories, discrimination of German trading companies, and demands for naval bases and coal stations. Furthermore, as indicated above, societal forces, such as business, the press and public opinion favoured and pressed for colonial acquisitions.[9] But the crucial reason for him to become active in colonial policy was a functional one. During the mid 1880s, Bismarck wanted to expand the latitude of German foreign policy and to make Great Britain more accommodating to Germany. Good relations with France since 1875 helped his cause. In order to divert France from its grievances over the loss of Alsace-Lorraine and to alienate French-British relations, he cooperated with the French Prime Minister, Ferry, on colonial issues.[10] During this short time (1884/85), Germany acquired most of its colonies in Africa and the Pacific.[11] However, it was a short honeymoon. As soon as Ferry was topped from power, Bismarck had to make a return to his old policies of continental alliances. Thereafter, he withdrew from colonial policies completely.[12] In this regard, Bismarck told the African explorer Eugen Wolf in 1881:

“Your map of Africa looks good but my map of Africa is here in Europe. Here is Russia, and here is France, and we are in the middle. This is my map of Africa”.[13]

2. Kaiser Wilhelm’s Neuer Kurs and the Quest for Weltpolitik, 1890-1896

Bismarck’s fall from power in 1890 marked a great break and a turning point in German foreign policy, as well as in international politics.[14] With Wilhelm II’s accession to power in the same year, and his Neuer Kurs,[15] Germany pursued an aggressive, expansionist, and erratic foreign policy based on Machtpolitik and prestige and not Interessenpolitik as Bismarck had intended. Bismarck already warned of such a policy in one of his speeches at the Reichstag in 1888:

“Jede Großmacht, die außerhalb ihrer Interessenssphäre auf die Politik der anderen Länder zu drücken und einzuwirken und die Dinge zu leiten sucht, die periklitiert außerhalb des Gebietes, welche Gott ihr angewiesen hat, die treibt Machtpolitik und nicht Interessenpolitik, die wirtschaftet auf Prestige hin.“[16]

Wilhelm was a product of his age, young, vital, ambitious, and impatient. For Germany, as a latecomer among the European national states and imperial powers, he desired to match the greatest power of the time, the British Empire, and secure for Germany “ein Platz an der Sonne”.[17] Not abstinence or self-restraint were the characteristics of his regime, but assertiveness, irresponsibility, and unpredictability in search for great power status and prestige.[18] In the Wilhelmine era, Germany had no clearly defined foreign policy interests, no distinct goal rather an immature attitude of ignorance and inexperience, coupled with arrogance and anxiety.[19] In January 1996, Wilhelm II inaugurated the term Weltpolitik and just one year later, in the crucial year of 1897, the ardent exponents of this new policy entered their predetermined positions in the political and military institutions of the state. Bernhard von Bülow (1897-1900/09) and Alfred von Tirpitz (1897-1916) became the prosecutors of Wilhelm’s favourite plaything, the Flottenpolitik.[20] Only a great navy promised Germany the means with which it could pursue and implement its claim on Weltpolitik in order to become a Weltmacht.[21]

II. German Imperialism in China - The Historical Context

The seizure and occupation of the Kiautshou bay in 1897, was only the short-term outcome of a long going process of expanding trade, diplomatic and cultural relations between Prussia, and later the German Empire with China. Since the Prussian East Asia Expedition in 1860, Germans had discussed the question of and demanded a naval base at China’s shore. As will be shown, German penetration of China during the nineteenth century was not only a matter of the state but also of other societal groups, such as business, science, and the church. All of them participated in the project of exploring, studying, and opening up China in the nineteenth century.

German expansion into China can be divided into three phases. First, from the Prussian East Asia Expedition in 1860 until the establishment of the protectorate over the German Catholic mission in Shandong in 1890, the idea of a German base in China was solely propagated by non-governmental organizations, namely by trade and shipping companies[22], scientists[23], travellers and missions.[24] The acquisition of the protectorate in 1890/91 marked a crucial turning point, and China policy inaugurated the reversal of Bismarck’s Eurocentric balance of power policy towards Wilhelmine Weltpolitik. The second phase, from 1890 to the Chinese-Japanese War of 1894/95, is characterized by a stronger involvement of the military and the arms industry in German China policy. Both demanded and promoted the idea of acquiring a base for the German navy and for the protection of German trade. In the third phase, the negative outcome of the war of 1894/95 for German trade and the intensification of colonial acquisitions by other imperial powers, fuelled German public opinion and caused the German government to initiate concrete plans and the decision for the establishment of a naval base in China.

1. The Prussian East Asia Expeditions, 1860-1862, 1868-1872

The Opium War (1839-1842), and the following Treaty of Nanjing (1842), opened up China’s sea-coast for trade to the outside world. This event spurred German interest for China, especially among German merchants and the press. The Prussian government, however, remained sceptical and reserved.[25] German trade with China flourished during that time but by the end of the Second Opium War (1856-1860), the new Treaty of Tientsin (1858), which opened all China for trade, declined to grant German merchants the same rights that the other powers enjoyed in China. The effects of the World economic crisis in 1857, and the insistence of German merchants, finally persuaded the Prussian government to send an official expedition to China (1860-1862), in order to sign a trade treaty (September 2, 1861) but also to explore China for scientific and commercial reasons. The head of the expedition, Fritz Graf zu Eulenburg, was also given the order to find a spot, where Prussia could establish a settlement.[26] Prince Albrecht of Prussia, who was Commander of the navy, became the exponent of this idea, and from that time on, it was the navy who called for a base and a coal station in China.[27] Six years later, Ferdinand von Richthofen, a geographer and geologist - and a member of the expedition - travelled China from 1868-1872 and published many books about his observations and experiences. His views on China became formative in Germany. He described the economic potential of the Shandong province and emphasized the practicability of the Kiautshou bay. He finally called for the opening of the region to exploit its resources.[28] The most significant outcome of the expedition was that many of its members were going to occupy important governmental jobs up to 1897.[29]


[1] See Woodruff D. Smith, The German Colonial Empire (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1978), 7-19 and Mary Evelyn Townsend, The Rise and Fall of Germany’s Colonial Empire (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1930), 54-59.

[2] The Kolonialverein was the strongest exponents of colonial acquisitions. See Woodruff D. Smith, The German Colonial Empire, 20-27, 40-42. Mary Evelyn Townsend, The Rise and Fall of Germany’s Colonial Empire, 77-84.

[3] “Einerseits beruhen die Vorteile, welche man sich von den Kolonien für den Handel und die Industrie des Mutterlandes verspricht, zum großen Teil auf Illusionen. Denn die Kosten, welche die Gründung, Unterstützung und namentlich die Behauptung der Kolonien veranlasst, übersteigen sehr oft den Nutzen, den das Mutterland darauf zieht, ganz abgesehen davon, dass schwer zu rechtfertigen ist, die ganze Nation zum Vorteil einzelner Handels- und Gewerbezweige zu erheblichen Steuerlasten heranzuziehen. Andererseits ist unsere Marine noch nicht weit genug entwickelt, um die Aufgabe nachdrücklichen Schutzes in fernen Staaten übernehmen zu können.” Bismarck’s letter to Graf Albrecht Roon on colonial affairs (1868), in Hans Georg Steltzer, Die Deutschen und ihr Kolonialreich (Darmstadt: Societäts Verlag, 1984), 15.

[4] See Hans Georg Steltzer, Die Deutschen und ihr Kolonialreich, 21.

[5] „Wir müssen begreifen, daß Deutschlands Einigung ein Jugendstreich war, den die Nation auf ihre alten Tage beging und seiner Kostspieligkeit halber besser unterlassen hätte, wenn sie der Abschluß und nicht der Ausgangspunkt einer deutschen Weltmachtpolitik sein sollte. Max Weber’s speech in a lecture in 1895“. See Klaus Hildebrand, Deutsche Aussenpolitik 1871-1918 (München: Oldenbourg, 1989), 27-28.

[6] See Gregor Schöllgen, Das Zeitalter des Imperialismus (München: Oldenbourg, 1994), 143, 147-148.

[7] Ibid, 148 and Klaus Hildebrand, Deutsche Aussenpolitik, 33.

[8] Ibid, 15.

[9] Ibid, 15-27 and Winfried Baumgart, Deutschland im Zeitalter des Imperialismus 1890-1914. Grundkräfte, Thesen und Strukturen (Berlin, Köln: Verlag Kohlhammer, 1982), 168-184.

[10] See Gregor Schöllgen, Das Zeitalter des Imperialismus, 52-53, 69 and Klaus Hildebrand, Deutsche Aussenpolitik, 12-16.

[11] German East Africa, German West Africa, German Southwest Africa, Togoland, Cameroon, Wituland, Ruanda-Urundi, Marshall Islands, German Solomon Islands, and Bismarck Archipelago, see Woodruff D. Smith, The German Colonial Empire, 35-39.

[12] See Klaus Hildebrand, Deutsche Aussenpolitik, 16.

[13] See Winfried Baumgart, Deutschland im Zeitalter des Imperialismus, 46.

[14] See Klaus Hildebrand, Deutsche Aussenpolitik, 27.

[15] See Mary Evelyn Townsend, The Rise and Fall of Germany’s Colonial Empire, 176-182.

[16] See Winfried Baumgart, Deutschland im Zeitalter des Imperialismus, 64.

[17] Ibid, 46-51 and Klaus Hildebrand, Deutsche Aussenpolitik, 32-36.

[18] Ibid, 51-53, 63 and Woodruff D. Smith, The German Colonial Empire, 174-179.

[19] Arrogance and anxiety reinforced one another and created a syndrome. Arrogance created aspirations and aggressive policies, which caused reactions from the other powers. These rebuffs fostered German anxieties, which made Germans want security implying removal of rivals and tantamount to European hegemony. See Gregor Schöllgen, Das Zeitalter des Imperialismus, 162.

[20] Ibid, 79-80 and Klaus Hildebrand, Deutsche Aussenpolitik, 33.

[21] See Woodruff D. Smith, The German Colonial Empire, 169-174.

[22] See Bernd Eberstein, Kaufleute, Konsuln, Kapitäne: Frühe deutsche Wirtschaftsinteressen in China, Hans-Martin Hinz, Christoph Lind (ed.), Tsingtau. Ein Kapitel deutscher Kolonialgeschichte in China 1897-1914 (München: Minerva, 1998), 49-60.

[23] Lothar Zögler, Ferdinand von Richthofen – Neue Sicht auf ein altes Land, in Hans-Martin Hinz, Christoph Lind (ed.), Tsingtau. Ein Kapitel deutscher Kolonialgeschichte in China 1897-1914 (München: Minerva, 1998), 72-75.

[24] See Lixin Sun, Das Chinabild der deutschen protestantischen Missionare des 19. Jahrhunderts. Eine Fallstudie zum Problem interkultureller Begegnung und Wahrnehmung (Marburg: Tectum Verlag, 2002), 94-124 and Erling von Mende, Für Gott und Vaterland? Die christlichen Missionen, Hans-Martin Hinz, Christoph Lind (ed.), Tsingtau. Ein Kapitel deutscher Kolonialgeschichte in China 1897-1914 (München: Minerva, 1998), 66-71.

[25] See Heiko Herold, Deutsche Kolonial- und Wirtschaftspolitik in China 1840-1914. Unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Marinekolonie Kiautschou (Köln: Ozenverlag Herold, 2006), 15-20.

[26] Ibid, 21-22 and Helmut Stoecker, Germany and China. 1861-1894 in John A. Moses, Paul M. Kennedy, Germany in the Pacific and Far East. 1870-1914 (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1977), 26-33.

[27] See Michael Salewski, Die preußische und die Kaiserliche Marine in den ostasiatischen Gewässern: Das militärische Interesse an Ostasien, Hans-Martin Hinz, Christoph Lind (ed.), Tsingtau. Ein Kapitel deutscher Kolonialgeschichte in China 1897-1914 (München: Minerva, 1998): 77-78.

[28] See Lothar Zögler, Ferdinand von Richthofen, 73-74 and George Steinmetz, The Devil’s Handwriting. Precoloniality and the German Colonial State in Qingdao, Samoa, and Southwest Africa (Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press, 2007), 405-414. See also his own works in, Ferdinand von Richthofen, China. Ergebnisse eigener Reisen und darauf gegründeter Studien, 5 Bde (Berlin: 1877-1912)

[29] See Michael Salewski, Die preußische und die Kaiserliche Marine in den ostasiatischen Gewässern, 78.

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Musterkolonie Kiatschou
The Expansion of the German Empire into China
The American Central University  (Department of History)
Empire in Comparative History
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Musterkolonie, Kiatschou, Expansion, German, Empire, China
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Pouyan Shekarloo (Author), 2010, Musterkolonie Kiatschou, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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