The history of Kiautschou (Kiaochow), Germany's colony in China, is probably the best-researched field in Sino-German relations as well as German colonial history in general. Surprisingly, we don't know very much about Kiautschou's economy. This is quite remarkable, as the colony and its main city, Qingdao were initially propagated as a "German Hongkong" and meant to develop into a center for German commerce in Eastern Asia.
Fion Wai Ling So's book addresses not only the economic history of Kiautschou. It also deals with the competition between the port cities of Qingdao and nearby Yantai as quite different outlets for exports from the province of Shandong, the hinterland of both ports, as well as the changes in commerce and production within Shandong during this era. So combines an analysis of macro-economic developments in China and Germany in the second half of the nineteenth century with an account of the developments in the trade between Chinese-held Shandong, German Qingdao and British Yantai, enriched with concrete examples of the developments of German companies and Chinese trading goods. As laid out in the introductory chapter, her focus is on the Sino-German interaction that oscillated between conflict and cooperation, with an emphasis on the developments beyond colonialism.
In the second chapter, So lays out the economic development of Shandong and Qingdao during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While the traditionally dominant tribute grain system declined, Shandong profited from the Treaty System, as newly opened ports such as Yantai offered new opportunities for export from the province. Especially straw braids suddenly gained access to the world market, thereby also stimulating local production. From China, the author turns her attention to Germany and provides an introduction to Germany's economic integration after 1871, focusing on the gold standard and the integration of Germany‘s customs. China enters the stage when she analyzes how investment in shipping and the China trade helped companies from Northern Germany during and after the economic depression of 1870s.
Looking at the various companies of the Jessen/Jebsen family, she takes her study to a comparison between Hong Kong and Qingdao in chapter 4. Apart from short intervals describing the contrast between the trade policies of Britain in Hong Kong and Germany in her newly acquired colony Kiautschou – free trade vs. protectionist economy –, So concentrates on the activities of the Jebsen company, its associated actors and its rivals. While it is not a new insight that German companies were very important for the inner-East Asian trade, it is remarkable that German shipping also played a major role in the handling of trade between Hong Kong and Great Britain (p. 52). When the chapter finally reaches the destination suggested in the book title, it takes quick turns between the macro and the micro level, unfortunately without making the relation between the two entirely clear. Starting off with a short account of the background of Germany's occupation of Jiaozhou Bay and its strategic incentives, the author quickly turns her attention back to the shipping ventures of Jebsen, Diederichsen & Co. The focus remains there also when she returns to the economic policy of the first governors in Qingdao and their treatment of and conflicts with German companies.
The following two chapters are probably the most rewarding of the whole book. They deal with the economic development of Qingdao and Shandong – as promised in the book‘s title – and what we find is an profound overview of the complex on the one hand entanglements between Chinese producers, traders and their provincial administration and their British and German counterparts based in Yantai and Qingdao on the other. These entanglements were multi-national as well as multi-dimensional, as not only Chinese cooperated or competed with British or Germans, but also the private and public sectors co-existed. Against the background of the Xinzheng reforms, the provincial authorities entered the money market after 1901 and not only were able to drive out the Mexican dollar as the standard currency (p. 82), but also to create revenue for the provincial treasury. Turning her attention from money back to straw braids, So relates how the provincial authorities increasingly promoted the latter’s production and export, thereby decreasing the foreign influence on straw-braid exports. This was further enhanced through cooperation between the Shandong and Kiautschou governments. As seen in chapter 6, the German side offered discounts for the export of Chinese rural products and on the long run offered better transportation, thereby moving the trade routes through Qingdao – while the role of Yantai was eclipsed with regard to these goods (p. 99). Chinese played an important role in the commerce of the German colony and their position was strengthened considerably by Govenor Zhou Fu's policy of investment in Qingdao‘s industries reaching from the railway and mining corporations to the German newspaper Kiautschou-Post (pp. 106–108).
In her conclusion, So raises two important points: as the example of Shandong shows, the creation of the treaty ports offered new chances for native Chinese commerce and Chinese officials quickly adapted to the opportunities of the world market that had become accessible through the colonial powers. Secondly, Chinese actors were not only able to resist foreign competition, but successfully made the foreign presence useful to serve the needs of local industries and the provincial revenue.
This books offers several very interesting chapters and is based on the author's solid research and profound knowledge of the field. However, the reader is left with the feeling that this study was originally meant to be considerably longer. To cover such an ambitious field on less than 140 pages leaves no other option than to leave many questions unanswered. In addition, a good editor might have benefited this book. The chapters are missing a golden thread and the study addresses too many questions in a limited space.
Nevertheless, this book is a welcome contribution to the economic history of Shandong and Kiautschou in the early twentieth century and the complex networks and interactions between Chinese and foreign actors, private and official, will be interesting for specialists in these fields.