The port city of
in the east of Shandong Province makes a remarkable first impression. Emerging from the train station and walking north with your eyes fixed on the skyline, you could almost believe you had got off at the wrong continent; it's like stepping into a replica of a nineteenth-century Bavarian village, nestling on the Yellow Sea. With its Teutonic shapes and angles - red roofs, cobbled streets, intricate iron balconies - this area, the old
, provokes an eerie sense of dislocation. The marriage of German architecture and contemporary China has created bizarre juxtapositions, with oriental stone lions sitting in discreet European gardens, and grand, pompous facades now fronting little shops and laundries.
Qingdao's distinctive Teutonic stamp dates back to 1897, a legacy of
's industrious attempts to extend a German sphere of influence in the East. The kaiser's annexation of Qingdao, along with the surrounding Jiazhou peninsula, was justified in terms typical of the European actions of the time. It was prompted by concern for "safety", following the murder of two German missionaries by the
. The kaiser raised the incident to an international crisis, making a near-hysterical speech (which coined the phrase "yellow peril") demanding action from the feeble Manchu government. He got his concession, the Chinese ceding the territory for 99 years, along with the right to build the Shandong rail lines. Qingdao had previously been an insignificant fishing village, but the German choice was carefully calculated, the ubiquitous Baron von Richtofen having carried out a survey and found it ideal for a deep-water naval base. The town was split into a European, a Chinese and a business section, with a garrison of two thousand soldiers to protect its independence. A brewery was built in 1903, the rail line to Ji'nan (another concession town) was completed in 1904, and the town prospered. It was to remain German until 1914 when the
, anxious to acquire a foothold in China, and emboldened by the support of their British allies, bombarded Qingdao. The town was taken on November 7, and five thousand prisoners were carted off to Japan. In the Treaty of Versailles, the city was ceded to Japan, which infuriated the Chinese, and led to demonstrations in Beijing - the beginning of the May Fourth Movement (see Contexts). The port was eventually returned to China in 1922.
Modern Qingdao is still a very important
, China's fourth largest, and behind the old town is an area with a very different character, a sprawling industrial
of highrises and factories. One of China's first "open door" cities, with an excellent geographical position and transport facilities, Qingdao has a rapidly growing industrial base. Perhaps most importantly, at least from a visitor's point of view, it continues to produce the world-renowned
(Tsingtao is the old spelling of Qingdao) which owes its crisp, clean flavour to the purity of the spring water from Lao Shan, an attractive mountain area east of the city, with which it is brewed.
Despite the city's size, the parts you'd actually want to visit are all within manageable walking distance, and the atmosphere at the waterfront is more small-town pleasure zone than anonymous metropolis, thanks mainly to the white sand
dotted along the shoreline, among the best in northern China. Though the authorities seem more interested in constructing new skyscrapers and beach hotels than in restoring old buildings, the speedy development has not yet impinged upon the area's charm. It's a relaxed and hedonistic place, with an atmosphere that's mellower than in most Chinese cities - even the pace at which people walk is slower. The
runs from June to September, though many visitors come in late April and early May, when the cherry trees are blooming in Zhongshan Park. Fans of the local brew may be interested in the annual