The Lessons of History (I)

BEIJING/BERLIN (Own report) - Since Berlin's ceremonial reception of a secessionist from Hong Kong, the People's Republic of China has been reducing its working relations with Germany. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi canceled a series of bilateral meetings with his German counterpart Heiko Maas. China's easing customs restrictions for German automobile companies are in jeopardy. Maas recently met with Joshua Wong, General Secretary of the Demosisto party, which is campaigning for a referendum on Hong Kong's secession from China. Germany, which is thus blatantly interfering in the People's Republic of China's domestic affairs and is strengthening those forces, hostile to the Chinese nation’s continued existence, had already been one of those European powers, which, at the turn of the 19th century, had sought to weaken China, to colonially subjugate regions of the country - including Hong Kong - and to plunder the Middle Kingdom. From the outset, German colonial troops had committed massacres of countless civilians, to crush the fierce resistance within the population.

Beijing is taking the Necessary Consequences

The People's Republic of China is reducing its working relations with Germany, according to an article in the Austrian daily "Der Standard."[1] China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi has not only canceled his traditional working breakfast with his German counterpart last week, on the margins of the UN General Assembly, but, in addition, he will be visiting Europe in the second half of October, but will not carry out his planned German-Chinese Strategic Foreign and Security Policy Dialog. Beijing has also suspended the German-Chinese "Human Rights Dialog" for an indeterminate period. Furthermore, customs privileges for German auto manufacturers are also in jeopardy. During her recent visit to Beijing, Chancellor Angela Merkel had asked that German companies be exempted from customs increases for the import to China of automobiles produced in the USA. The customs increases, announced as countermeasures to the United States' economic war waged against China, would primarily affect Daimler and BMW cars produced in US factories. The Chinese government had declared its willingness to give "favorable consideration" to the chancellor's request. This has now become uncertain.

Weaken China

China's reaction was provoked by the ceremonial reception Berlin gave the 22 year old Joshua Wong from Hong Kong. Wong is the General Secretary of the Demosisto party, which is campaigning for a referendum to be held on Hong Kong's secession from China. Foreign Minister Maas welcomed him personally in the German capital and assured him of his support. The brazen interference in the domestic affairs of the People's Republic of China and Germany's support for forces attacking the continued existence of the Chinese nation, ( reported [2]), have encountered harsh criticism in Beijing. Beijing's criticism is not only the usual protest of the fact that Germany is thereby putting the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the Chinese nation into question. China is also sparing no effort to halt this development from becoming a new round of the 19th century interference by foreign powers, which ruined the country politically and economically. Germany had been one of those countries subjugating China economically and politically - at times, being even the main one.

Subjugated by Europe

As in Africa, the German Reich had begun its colonial conquest of China relatively late - later than the other European powers. In 1839, Great Britain was the first to launch a major war against the Middle Kingdom. The catalyst was Beijing's crackdown on the opium smuggling, with which London was financing its purchase of Chinese tea, porcelain, and silk. The British fleet intervened, when Britain's smuggling profits were threatened with collapse. The August 29, 1842 Treaty of Nanjing stipulated that China must drastically sink its import tariffs for British products and open five coastal cities for foreign trade. In addition, the United Kingdom subjugated Hong Kong to its colonial rule. In 1856, a second Opium War succeeded the first, this time with France also involved. In the Treaty of Tianjin (June 26 –27 1858) and the Peking Convention (October 18, 1860) Beijing was forced to agree to further open its country to foreign interests, as a result of the European powers' barbarous combat operations. First Russia, then Japan annexed portions of China. Then finally, the great powers of the period began to carve out zones of influence on Chinese territory and form colonies in "leased areas" to satisfy their companies' expansionary interests. Mining, finances, shipping, and other branches of the Chinese economy was increasingly made to serve foreign - particularly European - profits.[3]

The inventor of the Silk Road

By the time the "leased areas" occupation in the 1890s reached its peak in China, the German Reich, in spite its lack of military presence in the Middle Kingdom, was well prepared. The German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen had been making extensive geological and geographical studies in the country, from 1868 to 1872, financed by business giants from Europe and the USA, and initially from Prussia and subsequently from the German Reich. For his financiers', he was trying to identify economically attractive sites for expansion, such as natural resources deposits. He considered the area around the city Jiaozhou, in China's coastal province Shandong, to be particularly advantageous - as the East Asian scholar Tamara Chin formulated it: "due to its strategic location and coal deposits."[4] Back home in the German Reich, Richthofen - who in 1875 became a geography professor in Bonn, and then in 1886 in Berlin - wrote "the advantages for a foreign subsidiary in Kiaotschou" - today: "Jiaozhou" - are enormous. For the transport of goods between China and the Reich, the German geographer already had his sights on "building a railroad."[5] In search of a route, he fell upon the trade route in the period of the Han Dynasty, through Central Asia, which he named the "Silk Road."[6]

Penetrate and Plunder

When the government of the Reich sent Rear Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz to China with a naval squadron to evaluate the situation in 1896, he had his eye on the Bay of Jiaozhou ("Kiaotschou") - described by von Richthofen as particularly "advantageous" - as a possible site to establish a "leased area."[7] When Tirpitz returned, Berlin took advantage of the first best opportunity - the murders of two German missionaries in Shandong Province on November 1, 1897 - to dispatch the East Asian cruiser squadron of Germany's Imperial Navy to Quangdao (Tsingtau") in the Bay of Jiaozhou. German soldiers occupied the location on November 14, 1897. In the course of the ensuing negotiations, the government of the German Reich was able to force Beijing to sign over a "lease contract" for an area at the Bay of Jiaozhou. With the March 6, 1898 contract, the German Reich acquired the mining rights in Shandong and for the construction of two railroad lines - not least of all to cart off the coal that had been mined. Hardly a year had passed, when the German entrepreneurs, under the leadership of the Deutsch-Asiatischen Bank - maintained by 13 credit institutions, including the Deutsche Bank - founded the Schantung Railroad Company (June 14, 1899), and then the Schantung Mining Company (October 10, 1899).[8] This was the beginning of the German Reich's economic penetration and plunder of China.

First Massacre

From the very beginning, bestiality and massacres were part and parcel of the operations of the German colonial troops. The Germans encountered their first open resistance during their preparations for the construction of the railroad line from the port city Qingdao, to the capital of the Shandong Province Jinan. The Schantung Railroad Company forced numerous peasants to sell their property cheaply to make way for building the railroad. Their graveyards, in the course of the railroad line, were destroyed, in disrespect for the high significance of ancestral worship in the rural regions of the Middle Kingdom, which further incensed the residents along with the overbearing Prussian attitude.[9] The rebellion that soon emerged was viciously repressed. Already on June 21, 1899, the German colonial authorities had dispatched troops to repress the outraged protesters in the City of Gaomi and the outlying villages. On June 24, the troops stormed Didong, the first village, killing 15 residents and wounding 30 to 40 some seriously. Similar operations were carried out in other villages. The exact number of victims remains unknown.

Chinese Resistance

Protests against the German colonialists' advance soon merged with the independently formed "Boxer" Rebellion, where the resistance of the Chinese population against the plunder of their country reached a first climax. During the repression of the rebellion, the German colonial troops committed horrendous massacres, with crimes widely surpassing those of other European colonial troops. will soon report.


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[1] Johnny Erling: Haussegen zwischen China und Deutschland hängt weiter schief. 25.09.2019.

[2] See also The Chinese Opposition's Foreign Hub.

[3] Jonathan D. Spence: The Search for Modern China. Third Edition. New York/London 2013. S. 152ff.

[4] Tamara Chin: The Invention of the Silk Road, 1877. In: Critical Inquiry Vol. 40,1 (2013). S. 194-219. Hier: S. 210.

[5] Ferdinand von Richthofen: China. Ergebnisse eigener Reisen und darauf gegründeter Studien. Zweiter Band. Das nördliche China. Berlin 1882. S. 692ff, 266.

[6] Valerie Hansen: The Silk Road. A New History. New York 2012. S. 6ff.

[7] Klaus Mühlhahn: Deutschlands Platz an der Sonne? Die Kolonie "Kiaotschou". In: Mechthild Leutner, Klaus Mühlhahn (Hg.): Kolonialkrieg in China. Die Niederschlagung der Boxerbewegung 1900-1901. Berlin 2007. S. 43-48.

[8] Klaus Mühlhahn: Deutsche Vorposten im Hinterland: Die infrastrukturelle Durchdringung der Provinz Schantung.

[9] Yang Laiqing: Die Ereignisse von Gaomi und der Widerstand der Bevölkerung gegen den deutschen Eisenbahnbau. In: Mechthild Leutner, Klaus Mühlhahn (Hg.): Kolonialkrieg in China. Die Niederschlagung der Boxerbewegung 1900-1901. Berlin 2007. S. 49-58.