Prussia on the Way to China?

Count von Lehndorff, who held the office of chamberlain to the Prussian Queen Elisabeth Christine in the years 1750-1775, reported in his memoirs from 1754 about masquerades with which the Prussian court liked to pass the time and in which even the princes used to play an active role. At one of these merrymaking events on 14 September 1754, the court marshal von Reisewitz even mimed the envoy “of the Emperor Chingchangchingcampipicipipi of China”. The “envoy” gave a gallant speech and reminded the illustrious court society that Prussia did after all receive “silk, porcelain and monkeys” from China. The Prince of Prussia, in his role as “Chancellor”, conveyed to the “Envoy” the King’s order that he should be granted “all the pleasures and comforts to be found at his court”.[1]

A year later, Frederick II “the Great” ordered work to begin on the construction of the Chinese Tea House in Sanssouci Park, which still gives us a vivid idea of the image of China in his time. Chinoiserie, which shaped art and thought at the time, described China as an exotic, peaceful and cultivated empire in which philosophy and literature played a special role. The latter may have appealed to Frederick II, who maintained a lively exchange with Voltaire and other philosophers and scholars. In a letter to Voltaire dated 10 January 1776, he even took the Chinese to task against the prejudices of “better-informed” critics, writing:

“Allow me to maintain neutrality and to leave the Chinese and their casus to the advocates who plead for and against the same. Certainly the Emperor of China has not the slightest idea that his nation is being tried at the highest level in Europe and that people who have never set foot in Peking will judge the good or bad reputation of his Empire.”[2]

Nevertheless, Frederick II not only had knowledge of China per se at this time, but also commercial ambitions in China, which had already prompted him to have the “Königlich-Preußische Asiatische Compagnie in Emden nach Canton und China” (Royal Prussian Asiatic Compagnie in Berlin to Canton and China) founded in 1751. The reason was understandable. Frederick himself wanted to have goods such as tea, silk, porcelain, spices and medicinal plants brought from China so as not to waste Prussian money or silver on foreign monopolists such as the English East India Company. The British were known to have been bringing these coveted goods to Europe from four Chinese cities since 1684. Frederick II did not even need his own ships to implement his trade plans. He had Dutch ships sail under the Prussian flag, for example, and provided them with the corresponding privileges. The first four ships brought the desired goods from Canton to Emden in 1753 and 1754, where they were auctioned off very advantageously. However, the trade restrictions imposed on Europeans by Emperor Qianlong in 1754 and the consequences of the Seven Years’ War brought the success story of “the Prussian China trade” to an abrupt end. The “Generaldirektion der Seehandlungs-Sozietät” (Directorate General of the Company for Sea Trade), founded in 1772 at the instigation of Frederick II, no longer continued the China activities of the Royal Prussian Asiatic Compagnie. One of the main reasons for the initiative’s failure may have been that Prussia, as a continental power, had the fourth largest army in Europe, but no navy. Frederick II saw no point in building such a navy for Prussia. The most important activities of the few Prussian merchant ships were therefore more or less limited to Baltic Sea trade. Or as Frederick II wrote to Voltaire in 1776: 

“The Chinese, Indians and Tartars I leave to you... The European nations occupy me to such an extent that in my meditations I can hardly get away from this most interesting part of our globe.”[3]

If Frederick II took this position for reasons of realpolitik, however, this did not mean that China could count on similar concessions from representatives of intellectual life in Prussia. In 1787, for example, Herder described the Chinese Empire as “an embalmed mummy, painted with hieroglyphics and entwined with silk, its inner cycle like the life of sleeping winter animals.”[4]

Prussia on the way to power in the centre of Europe

After the years of Frederick II’s rule, Prussia had no means of expanding its relations worldwide or even in the direction of the Middle Kingdom. It shared Polish territories with Russia and Austria and was constantly adjusting its relationship with Austria-Hungary. It was defeated by Napoleon’s armies at the Battle of Jena and Auerstedt in 1806. In the Peace of Tilsit on 9 July 1807, Prussia had to accept large territorial losses and pay high war reparations. As a forced ally of Napoleon, it sent 180,000 German soldiers against Russia in 1812 as part of the French Emperor’s Grand Army. It was only after the victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig (also known as the Battle of the Nations) and the Congress of Vienna in 1815 that Prussia began to consolidate again. 

As a result of the decisions of the Congress of Vienna, Prussia regained the territories it had lost and was even able to expand its borders considerably. While Prussia still appeared on maps in the time of Frederick II like a patchwork quilt with one larger and many smaller parts, Prussia’s closed territory had grown considerably after the Congress of Vienna by around 1861. With Prussia, therefore, a state began to grow up in the centre of Europe that had become much more visible territorially and had a high military potential anyway. Nevertheless, to use Prince von Metternich’s words, Prussia was far from being considered a “saturated” state, since although it was described as a “great power”, it was still relatively weak politically and economically. Bismarck later pointed out that “in the period from 1806 to the forties” “an independent Prussian policy” had “not existed at all” and that it was not made in Berlin or Potsdam but “alternately in Vienna and in Petersburg”. Only the military machine, “ponderous as it was, functioned with complete accuracy”, according to Bismarck.[5]But the kingdom gradually and with great single-mindedness manoeuvred itself into the role of political hegemon among the German states. Under its leadership, the foundation of the “Zollverein” or the German Customs Union (1833/34), the formation of the La Sainte-Alliance (1815/16) and the creation of a German State Union (1849), etc. took place. 

Invasion of China by European powers

Meanwhile, the policies of the European powers functioned according to the “Concert of Europe” (Pentarchy) agreed upon by the Congress of Vienna in 1814/1815, which included Great Britain, France, Austria, Russia and Prussia. The basic consensus was to maintain the “balance of power” or status quo between them, in that “any increase in the power of one great power was to be balanced by a corresponding increase in the power of all the other great powers”.[6]In this system, the urge to expand in overseas territories was immanent (if one thinks of the tumultuous development of capitalism). Expansion into these territories, however, also meant the expansion of European state law, contract law as well as international law. This corresponded to the rationale of “a peace order that came closer to universal rule than anything Europe had experienced since Charlemagne’s empire had collapsed”.[7]But the “power” of the great powers of the pentarchy, which mutually confirmed their legitimacy and assured each other of their “solidarity”, was by no means equal. A great power had first and foremost to be able to defend itself militarily against other states, but it also needed economic strength and intelligent policies. Due to its colonial empire, Great Britain was the only world power at that time that, as a maritime power, was used to acting worldwide like a “juggler with five glass balls” (actually Wilhelm II said this about Bismarck). The British Crown certainly had its own understanding of the “balance of power”. It conducted a global political game aimed at blocking the four continental powers in their relationship to each other in such a way that they no longer posed any real threat to London. This policy, which could hardly be surpassed in terms of sophistication and which even seemed to give the appearance of a balancing force to the outside world, represented one of the actual causes of World War I and remains a thoroughly obligatory option for London to this day.

But the industrial revolution also began to bring about a change in thinking in England, at least with regard to China. The acquisition of tea, porcelain and silk etc. was not the only thing that was important. While the colonies were originally only sources of raw materials and labour for Great Britain, English capitalists also began to take an interest in the huge Chinese market as a sales market due to the increasingly rapid industrialisation and the overproduction resulting from it. The flow of goods and commodities was now supposed to work both ways in the case of China, but there was a problem with the trade deficit of European countries vis-à-vis China. While European countries were importing more and more tea, silk and porcelain from China, China saw no need for imports from Europe.In order to be able to finance the flow of goods at the beginning of the 19th century despite the latent shortage of silver, Great Britain used opium as a means of payment in China in enormous quantities. England and France finally used superior military force during the 1st and 2nd Opium Wars to force China to open up, which Britain sealed with the treaties of Nanjing (29 August 1842) and Tianjin (26 June 1858), which were described as “unequal”. 

Treaties without reciprocity

The conclusion of these treaties initially presupposed that the sides regarded each other as equally sovereign. This was by no means a matter of course. The Manchu Imperial House or the Qing administration had no conception of European international law and its understanding of sovereignty. They actually (the case of Russia requires separate investigation) did not regard any other sovereign or state as their equal, but as vassals who were in principle subject to tribute and with whom no treaty could be concluded “on an equal footing”. Great Britain, on the other hand, proceeded from the principles of classical international law and European state and contract law. European law envisaged recognising everyone’s sovereignty in order to be able to conclude interstate treaties with them, even after the successful use of military force. 

The fact that the Manchu Imperial House agreed to the treaty negotiations despite the considerable differences thus had exclusively to do with the fact that it found itself in a coercive situation brought about by military force, from which it hoped to emerge only through negotiations. Thus the Treaty of Nanjing (1842) was concluded between “Victoria, by the Grace of God, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Defender of the Faith... and Our Good Brother The Emperor of China” “being desirous of putting an end to the misunderstandings and consequent hostilities which have arisen between the two Countries” so that “peace and friendship may henceforth reign between their respective subjects”.[8]In character, this actually predatory treaty nevertheless constituted a peace treaty. The plenipotentiaries appointed by the two sovereigns were very unequal in rank. While Queen Victoria only appointed “a Major General in the Service of the East India Company”, the Qing Emperor was represented by several plenipotentiaries, including a member of the imperial household or a dignitary of imperial kinship. 

In contrast, the Treaty of Tianjin (1858), concluded sixteen years later, was concluded by “Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland” and “His Majesty the Emperor of China”. This time, the Queen had commissioned a much higher-ranking representative in the form of the “Earl of Elgin and Kinkardine, a Peer of the United Kingdom and Knight of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle”, while the Qing Emperor again sent several plenipotentiaries, but this time they were only in higher official and dignitary positions.

Both treaties were thus concluded between the sovereigns, i.e. the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the Emperor of China. France subscribed to this principle in its treaty concluded on 26 October 1860 between “His Majesty the Emperor of the French and his Majesty the Emperor of China”. 

However, in the treaties between the USA and China (18 June 1858) and Russia and China, there were notable differences regarding the subject of international law. The treaty between “The United States of America and the Ta Tsing Empire” was concluded by the President of the USA and the “August Sovereign of the Ta Tsing Empire”. Russia, on the other hand, used to refer to the sovereign of China as “His Majesty the Bogdokhan of the Da Qing Empire” in the Treaty of Tianjin (1 June 1858) concluded between the sovereigns. 

So the question would be, to what extent was there also a difference at that time between the “Emperor of China” and the “Bogdokhan of the Da Qing Dynasty” as the contracting subject? Was there an “Emperor of China” at all or only the “Emperor of the Manchu Qing Dynasty”? Would there have been a difference between a “British-Chinese” and a “British-Manchurian” treaty (=the upper class of the Qing dynasty usually consisted of ethnic Manchus)? From the European point of view at the time, there should hardly have been an actual problem, if one thinks of the concept of translatio imperii, which was widespread until the early modern period, and the usual dynastic changes in the history of European empires. A legally well-founded sinological answer would nevertheless be helpful today in order to be able to judge whether this was the same from the Chinese point of view, which sometimes also regarded the Qing dynasty as “non-Chinese” foreign rule, especially since this question also affects other bilateral treaties with effects up to the present.

The British-Chinese treaties of Nanjing and Tianjin were basically the first to regulate the question of China’s establishment of diplomatic relations with a Western country (with the exception of Russia). The Treaty of Tianjin agreed “in accordance with the universal practice of great and friendly nations” to send “ambassadors, ministers, or other diplomatic agents” to the “Court of Peking” (astonishing vagueness of the term) or to the “Court of St. James”. However, and after all, provided that the British Queen or the “Chinese” Emperor “think it right”. 

However, in concluding the Treaty of Nanjing, the British had overlooked the fact that the previous legal practice of the Qing dynasty did not provide for equal relations with others and even Western states, and that for this reason the Qing administration did not have an institution similar to a foreign ministry. Due to this fact, the following Treaty of Tianjin agreed:

“His Majesty the Emperor of China agrees to nominate one of the Secretaries of State, or a President of one of the Boards, as the higher officer with whom the ambassador, minister, or other diplomatic agent of Her Majesty the Queen shall transact business, either personally or in writing, on a footing of perfect equality.”[9]

As a result of this agreement, the Zongli Yamen was established in 1861.

Russia took advantage of the legal and treaty environment that emerged as a result of the Opium Wars with the Western powers, in which the British-Chinese treaties of Nanjing and Tianjin were exemplary. It agreed with the “Bogdokhan of the Da Qing Empire” in Article 2 of its Treaty of Tianjin of 1 June 1858:

“Intercourse between the supreme Russian government and the supreme Chinese government shall be conducted not, as hitherto, by the Senate and the Li-fan-yuan, but by the Russian foreign minister and the ranking member of the Supreme Council of State (Jun-chiu) or the chief minister on the basis of complete equality between them.”[10] 

But this also meant that Russia was able to regulate its relations with the Qing administration at a much higher level than the Western powers for a longer period of time. Russia was simply the only European power whose relations with China had to be based on mutual interests because of the neighbourhood. This was evidenced, among other things, by the exchange of letters between Peter I and Emperor Kangxi, who apparently preferred to solve border problems by negotiation. By concluding the Burinsk Treaty of 20 August 1727 and the Treaty of Kyakhta of 21 October 1727, both sides created a set of rules that coordinated “all economic, diplomatic and cultural relations between Russia and China until the middle of the XIX century”.[11] The relations of the two empires were thereafter regulated at the level of the Russian Senate and the Li-fan-yuan of the Qing administration.The Russo-Chinese Treaty of Tianjin of 13 June 1858 raised the regulation of relations to the level of the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Supreme Council of State (Jun-chiu). This metamorphosis of relations had also become possible because Russia in the meantime had considerable sinological competence through the members of the Russian Spiritual Mission in Peking and also made use of it. Nevertheless, Russia did not refrain from exploiting China’s weakness when the opportunity arose. It took from China, with the Treaties of Aigun (1858) and of Peking (1860), large areas north of the Amur and east of the Ussuri, much of which Russia had definitively granted to China in the Treaty of Nerchinsk (27 August 1689).[12] The Russian Tsar awarded the Order of St. Vladimir to his diplomat Nikolai Ignatiev, who had negotiated the Treaty of Peking and with it won a huge territory for Russia, and appointed him General. A little later Ignatiev was appointed head of the Asian Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry.

The content of the Nanjing and Tianjin treaties will not be discussed further in the present work. It should be emphasised, however, that in these treaties the principle of contractual reciprocity was completely dispensed with. Britain enforced free trade, the transfer of Hong Kong to British rule, the payment of war tributes, freedom of settlement for British subjects in certain Chinese cities, and restrictions on customs sovereignty for Chinese territory, and so on.[13]The aforementioned lack of reciprocity in these treaties alone allows them to be classified as unequal treaties, although knowing the content of the treaties the word “unequal” may even seem glossed over. 

Prussia catches up in China

In Prussia, the processes in China, in which after all the European powers Great Britain, France and Russia were heavily involved, were observed with attention. Berlin studied the British-Chinese treaties with some care. It was understood that the other powers were not only greatly expanding their non-European political influence, but were also gaining considerable economic ground with the help of the globalisation of European contract law. 

But even in Prussia, which until recently had been an agricultural state, industrial development had in the meantime intensified considerably. In the period from 1846 to 1861, the number of steam engines in use increased from 1,139 to 6,669, and the railway network grew from 3,869 to 7,169 kilometres in length in the years from 1850 to 1860. Between 1846 and 1861, the number of power looms in use increased from 4,603 to 15,258, while the number of hand looms fell dramatically. The 102 joint-stock companies founded between 1826 and 1850 held a total capital of 638 million marks, which seemed almost astronomical at the time.[14]This development also increased Prussia’s interest in foreign markets, including the Chinese market. Prussia therefore had to follow suit in the East Asian region as a European power, if it did not want to suffer economic and disadvantages in the “international balance of power”. 

The Prussian government realised “that without damaging our material interests and our European position, we could lose no time in appropriating by treaty the concessions gained by the maritime powers in the three[15] countries.”[16] In 1859, under the leadership of Friedrich Graf zu Eulenburg, a squadron of the Prussian Navy set out on the so-called Prussian East Asia Expedition. Prussia, like other European powers, had followed closely how the USA had forced Japan to open up with the help of its warships. Now it was also important for the European power Prussia not to be late in East Asia. Eulenburg had the then twenty-six-year-old attaché Max von Brandt conduct preliminary negotiations with the Chinese side in Tianjin. The negotiations led to success, not least due to French mediation.On 2 September 1861, the “Treaty of Friendship, Trade and Navigation between the States of the German Customs and Trade Association, the Grand Duchies of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Strelitz and the Hanseatic Cities of Lübeck, Bremen and Hamburg on the one hand and China on the other”[17] was concluded.The treaty placed Germany more or less on an equal footing with England, France, Russia and the USA in China. A key point of the treaty was Prussia’s sole right[18] to maintain a permanent legation in Peking and “through the same to represent the other German states.”[19]The treaty also provided for the establishment of a consulate-general and consulates “for every open port or similar city where commercial interests require it”.[20] 

The role that sea and port traffic towards and around China had already begun to play for Prussia was reflected in the number of German merchant ships in the Chinese coastal area, which had grown not least “because the German captains handle their cargoes more carefully and treat the Chinese supercargos and passengers more humanely.”[21]Prussian warships were also now present on the world’s oceans.

In the meantime, Prussian domestic policy had undergone a noticeable change. In 1862, Otto von Bismarck, who had just become Prussian prime minister, delivered his famous “Blood and Iron Speech” in parliament, which was oriented towards the formation of a German nation state. It went without saying that such a nation state would also develop other interests internationally. These processes thus influenced and accelerated political action in China. Prussia opened its Peking legation in 1865. Guido von Rehfues, who had already worked as consul in Shanghai since 1862, now became envoy in Peking. However, he had to leave Peking at the beginning of 1873 due to illness. Theodor von Holleben now worked as managing envoy until 1875. As he did not even have a credentials certificate as such, he was only able to act to a limited extent and was not allowed, for example, to take part in important diplomatic events such as the audience with the Qing Emperor. The first bilateral contacts began to take place. When a delegation of Qing state officials under Bin Chun visited Berlin in 1866, they received a friendly welcome not only from Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck, but also a little later from Krupp in Essen.

German Empire at the Centre of the Game of Powers

With the help of the Frankfurt National Assembly and the North German Confederation, Bismarck pushed for the unification of the German states under Prussian leadership. The victory of the troops of the North German Confederation over France in the Battle of Sedan (2 September 1870) finally brought about the founding of the German Empire as a federal state. Otto von Bismarck proclaimed the Prussian King Wilhelm I as German Emperor in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles in 1871. With the founding of the German Empire, the crippling statehood of the small states had come to an end. In the centre of Europe, the German Empire was a territorially large state with access to the North and Baltic Seas, and on its southern and south-eastern flanks was Austria-Hungary, also German-speaking, with access to the Adriatic and the Mediterranean. The fact that Great Britain was the largest world and maritime power and the German Empire the largest continental military power made an alliance with Russia and Austria-Hungary necessary to consolidate Germany. This alliance was sealed in 1873 by the conclusion of the Three Emperors’ Agreement (La Sainte-Alliance). The agreement was concluded in 1881 after a stagnation in German-Russian relations and again in 1887 as a reinsurance agreement. But both in Paris and in St. Petersburg, with some unease, it was not overlooked that Germany had begun to play an increasingly hegemonic role in Europe since the Congress of Berlin in 1878. Since Berlin was now more at the centre of the political game of powers, it also had to increase its global engagement. But Reich Chancellor von Bismarck had no intention of following the example of the colonial policies of Britain, France and Russia. He maintained a rather disdainful distance from colonial ambitions. His statement has survived: “All this colonial history would be for us just like the silk sable coat in Polish noble families who have no shirts.”[22]His vision of Prussia’s appearance in overseas territories seemed to have been reflected in January 1870 when he met the first official delegation of the Qing administration in Berlin. At that time, he assured his Chinese guests “that the North German Confederation and Prussia will communicate with China in the best way that the Qing dynasty believes best suits its interests.”[23]The King and the Prussian court also seemed to share this position, for the delegation was given a decidedly friendly reception. Bismarck seemed to want to continue exactly this line towards China.

German Empire develops relations with China

The Auswärtiges Amt (German Foreign Office), which had emerged from the North German Confederation in 1870, had in the meantime taken over the cultivation of the German Reich’s foreign relations. The new envoy, Max von Brandt, took office as the envoy of the German Reich. Brandt, the son of a Prussian general and a mother from a merchant background, was no longer an unknown quantity in the East Asian community. After his participation in the Prussian East Asia expedition, he had worked for thirteen years in Japan as consul and consul general and made a name for himself. Germany now had a new, magnificent legation building erected in Peking, which was completed in 1879 and was obviously intended to symbolise an “act of upgrading an independent German representation by detaching it from the British legation complex”.[24]The new envoy took office at a time when the interests of the European powers in China were drifting apart, in some cases considerably. England represented the “greatest foreign interests in China”, France had hardly any trade interests and Russia, due to its “common border with China, used to set other priorities and manage its affairs with China independently”.[25]The USA tried to stay out of everything. They mostly pursued purely pragmatic and economic interests. The European powers were clearly at an advantage over Germany in the “China business” at this time, although Germany may also have consciously intended to distinguish itself from the other powers vis-à-vis China. The view of Russian and US “China policy” at least also opened his eyes to other perspectives. In this political game, Brandt, who knew how to combine a “diplomacy of intimidation” with “skilful diplomatic interactions”, was able to play a special role. After the unification of the German Reich, Germany had a particular interest in adapting the treaty it had concluded with China in 1861 to its new position and revising it accordingly. Brandt saw this as an opportunity to use the disagreement between the powers to quickly achieve an advantageous separate arrangement for Germany. He commented on this in a dispatch of 4 April 1975 to Reich Chancellor Otto von Bismarck:

“...our treaty is the only one which has not come about under the thunder of our own or foreign guns, and in our relations with China we have never attempted to exert a pressure on the Tsungli Yamên which may be justified, but which has always been uncomfortable and embarrassing. Therefore, perhaps more than any other nation, we have the prospect of meeting, if not with sympathy, at least not with outright aversion on the part of the Chinese statesmen; on the contrary, the temptation will be close at hand for them to prove by small concessions that China is also accessible to other arguments than the ultima ratio regum.”[26] 

He recommended that Bismarck accommodate China on the question of a ban on opium imports in a draft treaty to be revised. While he saw that such a passage would be “regarded with very unfavourable eyes” in England, he indicated that “England has often enough been so ruthlessly opposed to our interests in questions of trade” that “it might be worth the trouble to furnish her with proof that we ourselves can also pursue an independent commercial policy in East Asia.”[27]

But Brandt’s proposal was thwarted by a diplomatic dodge by the British government. The British government had instructed its envoy in Peking to support the German envoy in renegotiating the treaty. Since the British envoy in Peking was also the doyen of the diplomatic corps, in the event that the German side did not accept the “support”, it was open to him, for example, to put the envoys of the other powers “in position” against Germany. The Auswärtiges Amt therefore feared not only the shaking of the “good understanding with Great Britain in China” but also “disgruntlements” with the other powers. However, the Auswärtiges Amt and the Reich Chancellery discussed possible options, which included considering a convention concluded by the USA and China on 28 July 1868, in which the USA recognised “China’s sovereignty over foreign settlements on Chinese territory”.[28]This approach of always considering the effects on the European power constellations in the case of China policy was to determine German China policy substantially in the following years as well.

Conclusion of the German-Chinese “Supplementary Convention” to the Treaty of 2 September 1861

As envoy of the German Reich, Brandt worked primarily with the Zongli Yamen, which had only been established in 1861 by Prince Gong. To a certain extent, the Zongli Yamen represented the foreign office of the Qing administration, although compared to the British Foreign Office or the German Auswärtiges Amt, it was still far from actually being one. Rather, it was a kind of “door” through which the Qing administration maintained unavoidable contacts with the powers of the “barbarians”, to whom Chinese officialdom traditionally considered itself vastly superior, despite almost daily experience to the contrary. This view was sometimes rather confirmed by the observations of their own envoys in Europe. In 1878, for example, the Imperial Envoy to Germany, Liu Xihong, reported to Zongli Yamen after a year-long trip to Europe: 

“The European countries are struggling among themselves for hegemony, spending vast amounts of money. Under the circumstances, it is inevitable that they will go to all points of the compass and seize profit. In Western and Southern Oceania they have already taken possession of everything and there is nothing left to exploit. Now they are taking advantage of the opportunity to trade with China and have travelled all over China. They see the abundance of our gold, silver as well as mineral resources. All of them are now very jealous of it and are making plans to get a fat share for themselves.”[29]

The fact that the Qing administration’s "foreign policy" approach was fed by a lack of understanding of the political game of the powers, by the resulting rather fatal misjudgements of both the European and its own situation, resulted in various disadvantages, defeats and “diplomatic” blunders on the Chinese side in the following years. Even in 1896, many years later, the German envoy Edmung von Heyking was unable to certify any institutional improvements to Zongli Yamen on the occasion of an official visit. 

It also testified to a total lack of understanding of the complicated nature of political relations in Europe that the Qing administration allowed its imperial envoy to be accredited in both Berlin and Paris. Reich Chancellor Otto von Bismarck personally asked his envoy Max von Brandt in 1886 to draw the Chinese side’s attention to this fact. The Reich Chancellor put forward weighty reasons for this: diplomatic traffic was difficult and it was “also impossible to establish personal confidential relations with the envoy.”[30]A good example of the failure of Chinese diplomacy was undoubtedly Hung Jun, who resided in Berlin from 1887 to 1891 as envoy for Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary and the Netherlands. After all, it was during his time that the wet-behind-the-ears Wilhelm II assumed the throne, which ushered in a new era in Berlin and made it necessary to reestablish many contacts.But Hung Jun, who had passed the highest palace examinations in Peking with flying colours, was someone who disliked European customs and liked to spend his time immersing himself in the study of Chinese history or taking walks in the Tiergarten.[31]The fact that he had brought his concubine from China instead of his wife seemed to irritate his Prussian environment considerably.

The negotiations on a new version of the German-Chinese treaty continued. Brandt made various demands for the opening of a port in Dagushan, permission for ships to pass through the Poyang Sea and for German ships to be allowed to load and unload in Wusong.[32]Since the Chinese side did not agree to any of his demands, Brandt used all the diplomatic finesse at his disposal, even threatening to deploy warships and even to leave, which he then did “en miniature”. The negotiations dragged on for years.[33]The treaty was finally concluded on 31 March 1880 by “His Majesty the German Emperor, King of Prussia etc., on behalf of the German Empire, and His Majesty the Emperor of China” and signed by their representatives. One year later, the exchange of ratification documents took place. Brandt made special mention of the fact that “the concluded Convention had retained its purely German character”, but also emphasised:

“As far as the form of the agreement is concerned, the juxtaposition of the German and Chinese concessions, which we consider somewhat strange, was chosen this time, as in the English-Chinese treaty revision negotiations of 1869, at the express suggestion and wish of the Chinese plenipotentiaries, who in this way sought to demonstrate China’s free resolution and the equality of China with the other contracting power.”[34]

The “somewhat outlandish juxtaposition of the German and Chinese concessions” emphasised by Brandt, however, referred to the adherence to the principle of reciprocity, which may have clearly and beneficially distinguished the German-Chinese treaty from the treaties of the other powers for the Chinese side. It is possible that the Auswärtiges Amt had also received impulses from the Berlungame Treaty between the USA and China when drafting the treaty. With the signing of this treaty, China and Germany gained a kind of binding compass for the development of their subsequent relations. How did the Chinese side assess Germany at that time? It is difficult to say, because we only have more or less official documents with the usual diplomatic niceties from which to draw our impressions. What can be said with certainty, however, is that the Manchu Imperial House regarded Britain and France as its real enemies and did not really trust Russia, at least. This would justify why a “personage close to Prince Ch’un” assured embassy interpreter Arendt at a later date: “Our relations with Germany have always been the friendliest. We bear no grudge against Germany and are also convinced of Germany's benevolent disposition towards us.”[35]

In 1882, Brandt became doyen of the Diplomatic Corps in Peking. He was thus basically considered the most influential person in the foreign community in Peking, which, however, did not number 50 at the time. But the Qing administration now sometimes turned to him for mediation or indirect support, for example in negotiations with France. In such cases, Brandt sometimes had to point out to the Chinese side that such sustained “assistance” was quite sufficient to bring about implications in Berlin’s European relations. He conceded, however, that the case could conceivably be made “that it might be in the interests of both powers to pursue common goals.”[36]He hinted at the need for “China to proceed vigorously to a reorganisation of its military power”[37], indirectly alluding to the environment of engagement of German military advisers recruited by the Qing government’s envoy in Berlin, Li Fengbao, to serve in the Qing army from 1884. Brandt referred the Qing administration to the unfavourable position China found itself in after it had had to cede its Amur territories to Russia and Japan had begun to reach out to East Asia. England exerted influence on the Middle Kingdom from Hong Kong, Burma, Sikkim, Nepal and Butan. France, on the other hand, had taken possession of Tongking, Cambodia and Annam. China itself, however, had lost its very own territory with the Amur region and territories that had once been its vassals with the countries just mentioned. Korea, on the other hand, had become a bone of contention between Russia and Japan.[38]The Middle Kingdom had no allies and the time was long gone when its tributary vassals readily gave it “army support”. This trend was evident even in the Chinese “outlying or tributary countries”, as Mongolia, Tibet and East Turkestan were then referred to in Western documents. China had long since ceased to be the universal empire resting in superiority due to its economic power and charisma. The Middle Kingdom had been pushed out of its “centre” as a result of the political game played by the European powers.

Germany “discovers” China as a market

From the second half of the 19th century, German industry began to recognise an increasingly important sales market in China, in whose environment a German, albeit weak, naval presence was established with the founding of the “East Asian Shipping Station” from 1869. The expected construction of railways, the need to build factories and acquire modern machinery for them from abroad, even the supply of weapons, ammunition and military equipment seemed to hold the possibility of becoming lucrative business fields for German industry in China. Among the pioneers in the Chinese market were Deutsche Bank and the Essen-based company Krupp. The Deutsche Bank opened branches in Shanghai and Yokohama in 1872. The reason was that the German Empire had changed its currency from silver to gold and now wanted to sell its silver quickly. But the branches were closed as early as 1875. As the other powers also switched to the gold standard, the massive silver sales ruined the silver price. In this situation, the Chinese side signalled its growing interest in expanding economic relations with Germany. Prince Ching informed the German envoy von Brandt on 23 January 1886 at a meeting in the Zongli Yamen that Germany would be taken into account “to an excellent extent, and more than other countries” in “orders and purchases of warships, small arms and guns” as well as “in loans and railway construction”.[39]In 1889, the Deutsche Bank and a consortium of 13 joint-stock banks and private bankers founded the “German-Asian Bank” with headquarters in Shanghai on the recommendation of the Auswärtiges Amt. The bank was responsible for financing the export and import business in China, underwriting government bonds of the Qing administration and financing railway projects. As already mentioned, Krupp’s first contacts with China date back to 1866. The Krupp company began exporting armaments to China from around 1870. Some of the largest arms exports to China were certainly the battleships Dingyuan and Zhenyuan, which were built in Germany and were highly modern for the time. Both ships were built by the German shipyard Vulcan Stettin between 1881 and 1884 for a total of 12.5 million gold marks. Other ships built in Germany were the small armoured cruisers Jiyuan and Laiyuan. (All ships were lost in the naval battle on the Yalu with the Japanese in 1884). From 1885, the German government had an imperial steamer line established, which was state-subsidised and provided for the transport of goods and merchandise to and from East Asia, among other places. The results of economic relations became much more visible. The number of German trading companies increased from 40 in 1872 to 104 in 1897. In 1889 and 1900, German imports grew from 9.5 to 23.3 million marks and exports from 25 to 52.7 million marks, with armaments playing an important role in exports.This trend was even to intensify in the following years.[40]

Germany loses confidence in China

With Kaiser Wilhelm II, who had succeeded him on the throne in 1888, Germany entered world politics with a much more offensive foreign policy, which was bound to have an impact on German-Chinese relations. In the background, however, it had also become clear that Germany was seeking to wrestle with Great Britain over the redivision of the world. To do this, however, Germany first had to become a real maritime power. The German Reichstag therefore passed a law in 1898 on the expansion of the navy. Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz had declared in the Reichstag that the “naval interests of Germany” and their preservation were “a vital question for Germany”.[41]In 1900, the Reich government pushed through a fleet programme in the German Reichstag that was geared towards a considerable enlargement of the war fleet. The programme was oriented towards gaining superiority over the British fleet. Since the rearmament of a naval power was less about coastal protection and more about being able to operate worldwide, it was obvious that Germany needed naval bases everywhere. In 1897, Kaiser Wilhelm II made it unmistakably clear in a communication to the Auswärtiges Amt that East Asia played a special role in this. This stated: 

“I am firmly resolved now to abandon our hyper-cautious policy, which is already regarded as weak throughout East Asia, and with full severity and, if necessary, with the most brutal ruthlessness, to finally show the Chinese that the German Emperor is not to be trifled with and that it is evil to have the same as an enemy.”[42]

The Reichsmarineamt (German Imperial Naval Office) had long since decided to make Jiao’ao Bay in eastern Shandong, which Ferdinand von Richthofen had recommended years before, a German naval base. Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, the former commander of the East Asia Cruiser Squadron and now State Secretary in the Reichsmarineamt, conveyed the corresponding proposal to Wilhelm II. However, since the Russian navy had the right of anchorage for this bay, Wilhelm II met with Tsar Nikolai II on the matter. The Tsar agreed, but asked that the German navy seek permission from the Russian naval command. However, after two German missionaries had been killed in Qingdao, Wilhelm II used this as a pretext to have Qingdao definitively occupied by his East Asian Cruiser Division “for the protection of the missionaries”. Germany then concluded a treaty with the Qing administration on 6 March 1898, granting Germany the right to lease this territory for 99 years. At the same time, the Qing administration granted Germany the concession to build two railway lines and mining concessions in Shandong. The Qing Empire, in its political impotence, had also had to grudgingly accept this treaty. Germany itself may have been surprised by how easily it had managed the coup with Qingdao. It now had “its own Hong Kong” and had thus drawn level with Great Britain. However, Berlin also observed very closely how quickly the other powers “dried their skins” after the Qingdao coup, such as Russia taking possession of Port Arthur for its navy. But Germany also had the interesting experience of the devastating role played by the greed of the powers among themselves, “that the two wing powers of the traditional European power system, because of their manifold differences all over the Asian periphery, could find no connection.”[43]

Germany’s ugly role in the suppression of the “Boxer Rebellion” also put the Sino-German relationship in extreme doubt. Kaiser Wilhelm II’s “Hun speech” remained ingloriously known. The actual reasons for the German involvement were adequately described by two of the leading German military officers of the time?! Major General Helmuth von Moltke wrote to his wife on 11 July 1900: “Of course, it is not necessary to go into the actual driving motive of the whole expedition, because if we want to be completely honest, it is greed for money that moved us to cut the big Chinese cake. We wanted to make money, build railways, put mines into operation, bring European culture, that is, in a word, make money.”[44]And Field Marshal Alfred Graf von Waldersee, the commander-in-chief of the Allied forces in Peking, wrote in his diary on 12 November 1900: “If people at home are so harmless as to believe that propaganda is being made here for Christian culture and custom, then that once gives one bad disappointment. Since the Thirty Years’ War and the raids of the French in the time of Louis XIV, similar devastation has not yet occurred.”[45]Incidentally, Waldersee is said to have been accompanied during his days in Peking by the Chinese courtesan who had followed the Chinese envoy Hung Jun to Berlin years before. 

On 7 September 1901, the envoys of the European powers, the USA and Japan signed the “Boxer Protocol” with representatives of the Qing administration. Germany received the second highest share of the war contributions, 280 million marks. The “expiatory mission” that Prince Chun had to perform before Emperor Wilhelm II in Potsdam’s New Palace on 4 September 1901 on account of the German envoy Clemens von Ketteler, who had died in Peking during the Boxer Rebellion, was intended and carried out as a humiliation of the Qing Emperor and China. But the prince’s personality caused the mood in the German press to change even during his visit to Germany. Many a press report now raved about China as the “last great reserve of world trade”, which seemed to confirm Helmuth von Moltke’s statement.[46]

Germany’s reputation in China had undoubtedly and considerably suffered in the years between 1897 and 1900. But its appetite for the “Chinese cake” had also clearly grown stronger. To satisfy this, it was necessary to use the “open door principle” that US Secretary of State John Hay had proposed in 1899 and 1900 to the powers claiming “spheres of interest and influence” in China. The US had become concerned about the perception of its economic interests in China given the growing rivalry among the powers after the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). “The Japanese war had revealed China’s impotence, and there was then a belief in dividing the giant empire into spheres of interest among the powers.”[47]The USA therefore wanted to prevent a colonial division of China by proposing and enforcing the “open Door Principle”. This principle included: 1. the preservation of China’s territorial and administrative integrity, 2. the protection of all rights guaranteed to friendly powers by treaties and international law, and 3. the assurance of the principle of equal and impartial trade with all parts of the Chinese empire.[48]Germany, however, recognised the real potential of the American proposal. Its own experience with colonies had been rather sobering; its colonies, with the exception of Togo in Africa, represented purely grant deals.[49]In the case of the “open door principle”, however, it was able to secure the rights it sought with the help of European treaty and international law.

German-American-Chinese Entente?

In German political and industrial circles, the “value” of China had risen sharply during the last few years. The aforementioned press statement about China as the “last great reserve of world trade” clearly spoke to the real reasons for this. Thus the German envoy in Peking, Count von Rex, also wrote to Reich Chancellor von Bülow on 4 July 1907: 

“To bring China then on our side might well succeed. In my opinion, China is fully worthy of such a step. One must not disregard the enormous size of China, and the great economic wealth of a country with over 300 million people. We should secure undisturbed trade relations with this empire as soon as possible through alliances. If we remain dependent on ourselves alone in East Asia, our economic interests will undoubtedly suffer great damage in time.”[50]

A little later, Kaiser Wilhelm II even spoke of the fact that in China “our most important export interests of the future are at stake”.[51]This was a dimension that played a significant role for all powers involved in China. But there was also the geopolitical dimension, which was of enormous importance in the political game between the powers. This dimension was dealt with both under "day-to-day aspects" and with a view to possible future developments. Thus, in 1904, the British geographer Halford J. Mackinder, in his famous essay “The Geographical Pivot of History”, hinted at possible dangers emanating from China in the future:

“If, for example, the Chinese, organised by the Japanese, should overrun the Tsarist Empire and conquer its territory, it is quite possible that they would become a yellow peril to the freedom of the world, simply because they would add to the resources of the great continent an oceanic water front, an advantage hitherto denied to the Russian inhabitant of the pivot region.”[52]

Around 1907, people in German political circles were also thinking hard about all these aspects. In the meantime, however, it was also clearly felt that sooner or later a profound political change would take place in China. The contradictions between the ruling Manchu dynasty and Chinese society had intensified considerably. Chinese society’s support for the Qing dynasty was no longer there. The dynasty was only supported by the ethnic Manchus themselves, or was still alive, because the Chinese themselves were, according to the German envoy’s assessment, “timid and lacking in energy” and because the “great mass of the Chinese did not yet possess a pronounced patriotism”.[53]But even the Chinese government in 1907, according to German observation, was already “reckoning with the possibility of the outbreak of a great revolution against the Manchu dynasty.”[54]In the estimation of the German legation, Yuan Shikai in particular and those surrounding him seemed to be politicians with a future. Yuan Shikai was described as someone with a “stubborn character”, “for everyone who has had official dealings with Yuan Shikai on major issues has always been able to praise him for keeping what he once promised.”[55]

China was thus extremely fragile and it was precisely this fragility that attracted Japan, Russia and France in particular, while Britain tried to direct these powers from the background like a puppeteer in favour of its interests. Since in the event of a serious state crisis (e.g. due to the collapse of the Qing dynasty) China was also threatened with the loss of territorial integrity to certain powers, Yuan Shikai tried to take countermeasures. He instructed to explore possibilities of an alliance with Germany and the USA, which seemed to pursue similar economic interests in China, but apparently no political ones.

The envoy to China, Count von Rex, sent reports to the Auswärtiges Amt during this period in which he pointed out the dangers that “threaten the economic aspirations of the other countries in China as a result of the entente between England, France and Japan.” He considered “an understanding on East Asia between Germany, Russia and the United States of America advisable.”[56]For Germany, haste seemed to be the order of the day. In the case of the death of Empress Dowager Cixi, the German envoy Count von Rex even saw the danger “that Japan, France and England, under the pretext of the necessity of protecting their subjects and their trade, and on the basis of a programme already agreed upon, might lay hands on vast stretches of Chinese territory... As for Russia, I scarcely believe that she is privy to the most secret intentions of Japan, France and England with regard to China.”[57]There remained, then, the interests of Germany and the United States, on which the German envoy, Count von Rex, expressed the following to Reich Chancellor von Bülow:

“Both would be disregarded in the distribution of the spoils. America, because it has never sought to acquire land in China, and because, like Germany, it ‘does not belong to the ring’. Germany, because England wants to thoroughly drive out its desire for world politics... The common interest of China, Germany and America in preventing such a development of things is obvious. It would mean the end for China, for Germany and America the loss of an immense, future-rich sales area, and for us, moreover, the complete collapse of our political prestige at home and abroad.”[58]

Reich Chancellor Prince von Bülow instructed the German ambassador in Washington to make cautious representations to US President Theodore Roosevelt, to present to him, as it were as a private opinion, that Germany “would probably be prepared, as in the past, namely at the time of the Russo-Japanese War, so also in the future” to “go hand in hand with the United States of America in China.”[59]Germany would certainly be interested in “strengthening China vis-à-vis Japan, also we wish to maintain the integrity and independence of China in order to preserve the Open Door in China for our trade.”[60]But the US president held back. He first wanted China to make proposals “on maintaining the status quo and strengthening China” and on how China would envisage an alliance with the US and Germany. In a later meeting with the German ambassador, the US president even ruled out a formal alliance. In the ambassador’s reports, a US naval deployment of some kind also played a role. However, the US Navy would need a war port in China for this, the US President pointed out. The German ambassador referred to the port of Qingdao. But this component also played a not insignificant role in the strategic planning games in Berlin, because everything that happened in China was also supposed to have repercussions for European policy. Kaiser Wilhelm II therefore exulted in a letter to Reich Chancellor von Bülow:

“An Entente Cordiale with China to maintain the status quo is absolutely necessary for us! Otherwise, our whole world policy will fall apart. I was therefore delighted to see the departure of the American fleet. Its arrival after the Pacific throws all the calculations of the British and Japanese out of kilter. The British must, nolens volens, send another strong squadron to the East, which they thought was already firmly in Japanese hands; this must weaken them against us in Europe.”[61]

By January 1908 it was clear that the US would not prefer an alliance treaty between the US, Germany and China. They gave preference to the exchange of a declaration, reasoning that an alliance treaty would have to be limited only to the 18 provinces of the empire, which would leave the “outlying or tributary countries” (i.e. Outer and Inner Mongolia, East Turkestan and Tibet) open to the grasp of third parties.[62]However, this contradicted Germany’s original intention, which was to support China in maintaining its integrity and independence. Wilhelm II commented on the Americans’ new proposal, writing: 

“A ‘statement of policy’ must be made from here and Washington after discussion with China, America and ourselves, which will be communicated to all other nations for their attention. That is quite sufficient. In it, the main thing is: open door, status quo and integrity of Chinese Empire.”[63]

But Yuan Shikai delayed sending his special envoy to the US president. In the inner circle, he apparently discussed the question of how far the consensus between the USA, Germany and China could keep the balance with England, France and Japan?! The German envoy, Count von Rex, expressed to Yuan Shikai:

“In general I believed that neither England nor Japan would dare to touch China if in doing so they ran the risk of making an enemy of America, as that country was too great a factor economically.”[64] 

The negotiations went on without result. Suddenly, in December 1908, the diplomatic corps in Peking (and probably the Qing government) was surprised by the news that the US and Japan had adopted a declaration on 1 December 1908. In this declaration, also known as the “Root-Takahira Agreement”, both sides agreed “to encourage the free and peaceful development of their commerce on the Pacific Ocean”, to maintain “the existing status quo in the region”, “to defend of the principle of equal opportunity for commerce and industry in China”, “to respect the territorial possessions belonging to each other in said region” and “to preserve the common interest of all powers in China by supporting by all pacific means at their disposal the independence and integrity of China and the principle of equal opportunity for commerce and industry of all nations in that Empire.”[65] Berlin had not expected such a turn of events. A little later, President Roosevelt explained to the German ambassador, Count Bernstorff, that a German-American-Chinese alliance might have led China into a policy hostile to Japan. If a Sino-Japanese conflict had occurred, neither the USA nor Germany would have been prepared to protect China against Japan. Moreover, public opinion in the US would not have accepted the US navy going to war for China, etc.[66]

When the US and Japanese envoys handed the text of their declaration to Waiwupu shortly before it was published, Na-tung is said to have said to the American envoy that there were already several treaties on China, one more would not matter.[67]

Nothing came of the German-American-Chinese entente, which also had repercussions for European policy. The United States had decided as always, completely pragmatically according to its own interests and, of course, with repercussions for European policy.

Conclusion or outlook

Germany and China met during the period under study at a time when Germany was developing into a power in the centre of Europe and China was mutating in the game of powers, also due to its own misguided developments, into an empire that could at best still be perceived geographically as the Middle Kingdom. 

Since then, Germany had twice experienced a partly self-inflicted decline, but had always worked its way back to the top in the world. Nevertheless, until German unification, Germany remained, in the words of Henry Kissinger, “too big for Europe and too small for the world”. Yet in 2021, the same Henry Kissinger advocated that European Germany “assume its global role.”[68]

China, on the other hand, had risen from the ashes to become a serious world power. In her speech to the Mercator Institute for China Studies, EU President Ursula von der Leyen assessed: “In less than 50 years, China has risen from widespread poverty and economic isolation to become the world’s second-largest economy and now leads the way in many cutting-edge technologies... China’s influence extends across all continents and global institutions - and China's ambitions are not over yet. Under the ‘New Silk Road’ initiative, China is the largest donor to developing countries. And China's economic, industrial and military power almost makes you forget that China itself is still a developing country."[69]

Relations between Germany and China reached a particularly high level during Angela Merkel’s chancellorship and were oriented towards the model of a “comprehensive strategic partnership”. Both countries were politically, economically and culturally very complex and in some cases closely intertwined. Xi Jinping referred to the great potential of these relations when he wrote in the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” in 2014: “Since China and Germany are the most important economies in Asia and Europe respectively, their increased convergence will mean the connection of two strong forces, the connection of the growth poles of Asia and Europe. This will greatly promote the formation of a large Asian-European market, it will drag growth across the Eurasian continent, and it will have far-reaching effects on the constellations of economies and trade of the whole world.”[70]So the visions were many in 2014. 

A few years later, the trench warfare between the eroding unilateral and the newly emerging multilateral world also resulted in changes in German-Chinese relations. In 2021, the new Chancellor Scholz emphasised in his government declaration: “We must align our China policy with the China we find in real terms.”[71]And a little later, before a trip to Beijing, he declared: “If China changes, our dealings with China must also change.”[72] Certainly, China can undoubtedly say the same about Germany. In this respect, there is now a need for a bilateral readjustment of relations between the two countries. However, this readjustment should be approached with a cool head and a steady hand. It presupposes being guided by one's national and sovereign interests. Whether a fundamentalist, super-teacherly German foreign policy is helpful in this regard is at least open to doubt. Even the dream of a “partnership in leadership” with some of Germany’s old partners remains only a dream in today’s geopolitical context if one cannot meet one’s senior partner at eye level. 

Be that as it may, a look at the history of German-Chinese relations today can certainly do no harm.

[1] Die Tagebücher des Grafen Lehndorff. Die geheimen Aufzeichnungen des Kammerherrn der Königin Elisabeth Christine, Berlin 2012, p. 198.

[2] Voltaire, Friedrich der Große Briefwechsel, Herausgegeben und übersetzt von Hans Pleschinsky, München 2012, p. 599. 

[3] Ibidem, p. 603.

[4] Quoted in Hans-Wilm Schütte, Die akademische Etablierung der Chinawissenschaft, Helmut Martin und Christiane Hammer (Hrsg.), Chinawissenschaften – Deutschsprachige Entwicklungen, Geschichte-Personen- Perspektiven, =Mitteilungen des Instituts für Asienkunde 303, Hamburg 1999, p. 20.

[5] Gedanken und Erinnerungen. Von Otto Fürst von Bismarck, I, p. 276. Siehe www.deutsches

[6] Stephan Hobe, Otto Kimmich, Einführung in das Völkerrecht, Tübingen und Basel 2004, p. 40. 

[7] Henry Kissinger, Weltordnung, München 2014, p. 75.

[8] Treaty of Peace, Friendship, and Commerce Between Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland and the Emperor of China (1842), in

[9] Treaty of Tien-Tsin between the Queen of Great Britain and the Emperor of China,

[10] Author’s Translation from Russian. Text in № 10. 1858 г., июня 1. Тяньцзинский трактат между Россией и Китаем об условиях политических взаимоотношения, Русско-Китайские Отношения 1689-1916, Москва 1958,p. 31.

[11] Giovanni Stary, Chinas erste Gesandte in Russland, Wiesbaden 1976, p. 138.

[12] China’s view on this issue was clear and understandable over a long period of time. When M.S. Gorbachev met with Deng Xiaoping in Beijing on 16 May 1989, Deng pointed out that Tsarist “Russia had appropriated more than one and a half million square kilometres of Chinese territory by means of unjust treaties”. He then stressed: “I have made my point, and from now on we should not return to it. Let us leave it at that I have spoken out. We should put an end to the past and usher in a new future...” (Mikhail Gorbachev, Memoirs. Legacy of a Reformer, Berlin 1995, p. 960) On 31 August 2023, Russian Foreign Ministry representative M.V. Zakharova stated: “The Russian and Chinese sides agree that the border issue between our countries has been finally settled... Russia and China have repeatedly confirmed that there are no mutual territorial claims, and the Treaty of Good Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation of 16 July 2001, which forms the basis for bilateral relations, contains a provision to that effect.”

[13] Harald Kleinschmidt, Das europäische Völkerrecht und die ungleichen Verträge um die Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts, in OAG-Taschenbuch Nr. 87/2007, p. 30.

[14] G. Vogler, K. Vetter, Preußen. Von den Anfängen bis zur Reichsgründung, Berlin 1979, p. 239-241.

[15] Japan, China and Siam.

[16] Rudolf Delbrück: Lebenserinnerungen 1817-1867, Bd. 2, Leipzig 1905, p. 177.

[17] Contract text see 10. März 1862, 41 Kommission für Handel und Gewerbe, Der zwischen der Staatsregierung und dem Kaiserreich China abgeschlossene Freundschafts-, Handels- und Schifffahrtsvertrag vom 2. September 1861, in Preußen-Deutschland und China 1842-1911. Eine kommentierte Quellenedition, Bearbeitet von Cord Eberspächer, Zusammenstellung des Quellematerials unter Mitarbeit von Hu Zhongliang, Herausgegeben von Cord Eberspächer, Jürgen Kloosterhuis, Zou Ailian, Hu Zhonglian, Andreas Steen, Xu Kai und Xu Jian, Berlin 2021, p. 216-225.

[18] The word “solely” refers to the North German Confederation, of which Prussia was basically the “engine”.

[19] 10. März 1862, 41 Kommission für Handel und Gewerbe, Der zwischen der Staatsregierung und dem Kaiserreich China abgeschlossene Freundschafts-, Handels- und Schifffahrtsvertrag vom 2. September 1861, in Preußen-Deutschland und China 1842-1911. Eine kommentierte Quellenedition, Bearbeitet von Cord Eberspächer, Zusammenstellung des Quellematerials unter Mitarbeit von Hu Zhongliang, Herausgegeben von Cord Eberspächer, Jürgen Kloosterhuis, Zou Ailian, Hu Zhonglian, Andreas Steen, Xu Kai und Xu Jian, Berlin 2021, p. 218.

[20] Ibidem.

[21] 1862-März-10, Kommission für Handel und Gewerbe: der zwischen der Staatsregierung und dem Kaiserreich China abgeschlossenen Freundschafts-, Handels- und Schifffahrtsvertrag vom 2. September 1861, p. 107.

[22] Theo Schwarzmüller, Otto von Bismarck, München 1998, p. 107.

[23] Li Hongzhang und Krupp. Die militärische Zusammenarbeit und die Modernisierung Chinas. Inaugural-Dissertation zur Erlangung der Doktorwürde der Philosophischen Fakultät der Rheinischen Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität zu Bonn, vorgelegt von Jie Li, Bonn 2021, p. 89.

[24] Mechthild Leutner, Kolonialpolitik und Wissensproduktion. Carl Arendt (1838-1902) und die Entwicklung der Chinawissenschaften, =Berliner China-Studien 55, Berlin 2016, p. 225.

[25] 4. April 1875, Deutscher Gesandter in Peking Max von Brandt an den Reichskanzler Otto von Bismarck, in Preußen-Deutschland und China 1842-1911. Eine kommentierte Quellenedition. Bearbeitet von Cord Eberspächer. Zusammenstellung des Quellematerials unter Mitarbeit von Hu Zhongliang, Herausgegeben von Cord Eberspächer, Jürgen Kloosterhuis, Zou Ailian, Hu Zhonglian, Mechthild Leutner, Andreas Steen, Xu Kai und Xu Jian, Berlin 2021, p. 264.

[26] 4. April 1875, 55, Deutscher Gesandter in Peking Max von Brandt an den Reichskanzler Otto von Bismarck, Ibidem, p. 265. 

[27] Ibidem, p. 267.

[28] 14. Juni 1875, 58, Ministerialdirektor Karl Alexander Maximilian Wilhelm von Philipsborn an das Reichskanzleramt, Ibidem, p. 274.

[29] 11. Mai 1878, 61, Chinesischer Gesandter in Berlin Liu Xihong an den Guangxu-Kaiser, Ibidem, p. 279.

[30] 7. Januar 1886, 95, Reichskanzler Otto von Bismarck an den deutschen Gesandten in Peking Max von Brandt, Ibidem, S. 385.

[31] Jung Chang, Kaiserinwitwe Cixi. Die Konkubine, die Chinas Weg in die Moderne ebnete, München 2014, p. 171-172. 

[32] Mechthild Leutner, Kolonialpolitik und Wissensproduktion. Carl Arendt (1838-1902) und die Entwicklung der Chinawissenschaften, =Berliner China-Studien 55, Berlin 2016, p. 311.

[33] Leutner describes the process of negotiations in great detail. See Mechthild Leutner, Kolonialpolitik und Wissensproduktion. Carl Arendt (1838-1902) und die Entwicklung der Chinawissenschaften, =Berliner China-Studien 55, Berlin 2016.

[34] 2. April 1880, Deutscher Gesandter in Peking Max von Brandt an das Auswärtige Amt, in Preußen-Deutschland und China 1842-1911. Eine kommentierte Quellenedition, Bearbeitet von Cord Eberspächer, Zusammenstellung des Quellematerials unter Mitarbeit von Hu Zhongliang, Herausgegeben von Cord Eberspächer, Jürgen Kloosterhuis, Zou Ailian, Hu Zhonglian, Andreas Steen, Xu Kai und Xu Jian, Berlin 2021, p. 295.

[35] 12. August 1884, Dolmetscher der Deutschen Gesandtschaft in Peking Carl Arendt an den deutschen Geschäftsträger in Peking, Christian von Tattenbach, Ibidem, p. 305.

[36] 10. Oktober 1885, 69, Deutscher Gesandter in Peking Max von Brandt an den Reichskanzler Otto von Bismarck, Ibidem, p. 314.

[37] Ibidem.

[38] Ende 1890, 71, Deutscher Gesandter in Peking Max von Brandt an Prinz Chun, Ibidem, p. 318-319.

[39] 10. Februar 1886, 109, Deutscher Gesandter in Peking Max von Brandt an den Reichskanzler Otto von Bismarck, Ibidem, p. 444.

[40] Wahrnehmung des Fremden: China in deutschen und Deutschland in chinesischen Reiseberichten. Vom Opiumkrieg bis zum Ersten Weltkrieg, Inaugural-Dissertation zur Erlangung der Doktorwürde der Philosophischen Fakultät der Albert-Ludwigs-Universität zu Freiburg/Breisgau, vorgelegt von Liu Jing,, p. 33.

[41] Stenographische Berichte über die Verhandlungen des Reichstags, IX. Legislaturperiode, V. Session, Berlin 1898, p. 46.

[42] Roland Felber, Horst Rostek, Der „Hunnenkrieg“ Kaiser Wilhelms II. Imperialistische Intervention in China 1900/01, Berlin 1987, p. 7.

[43] Deutsche Geschichte. Von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart. Herausgegeben von Martin Vogt, Frankfurt am Main 2002, p. 578.

[44] Zitiert in Roland Felber, Horst Rostek, Der „Hunnenkrieg“ Kaiser Wilhelms II. Imperialistische Intervention in China 1900/01, Berlin 1987, p. 28.

[45] Quoted in Ibidem, p. 32.

[46] Quoted in „Ich sage nur China, China, China“, Spiegel Special 5/2004, p. 66-69.

[47] Erich Hauer, Chinas Werden im Spiegel der Geschichte, Leipzig 1928, p. 148.


[49] Deutsche Geschichte. Von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart. Herausgegeben von Martin Vogt, Frankfurt am Main 2002, p. 584.

[50] 04.07.1907, Nr. 8547, Der Gesandte in Peking Graf von Rex an den Reichskanzler Fürsten von Bülow, in Die Große Politik der Europäischen Kabinette 1871-1914, Sammlung der diplomatischen Akten des Auswärtigen Amtes, Band 25, Die Englisch-Russische Entente und der Osten, Anhang. Eine Deutsch-Amerikanisch-Chinesische Entente, Berlin 1927, p. 68. 

[51] 30.12.1907, Nr. 8557, Kaiser Wilhelm den Reichskanzler Fürsten von Bülow, Ibidem, p. 88

[52] Halford J. Mackinder, Der geographische Drehpunkt der Geschichte, in Lettre International 120(Frühjahr 2018), p. 129. 

[53] 31.10.1907, Nr. 8552, Der Gesandte in Peking Graf von Rex an den Reichskanzler Fürsten von Bülow, in Die Große Politik der Europäischen Kabinette 1871-1914, Sammlung der diplomatischen Akten des Auswärtigen Amtes, Band 25, Die Englisch-Russische Entente und der Osten, Anhang. Eine Deutsch-Amerikanisch-Chinesische Entente, Berlin 1927, p. 76.

[54] 07.12.1907, Nr. 8556, Der Gesandte in Peking Graf von Rex an den Reichskanzler Fürsten von Bülow, Ibidem, p. 82.

[55] 01. Juni 1908, Nr. 8563, Der Gesandte in Peking Graf von Rex an den Reichskanzler Fürsten von Bülow, Ibidem, p. 96.

[56] 15. September 1907, Nr. 8549, Der Staatssekretär des Auswärtigen Amtes von Tschirschky an den Botschafter in Washington Freiherrn Speck von Sternburg, Ibidem, p. 71.

[57] 7. Dezember 1907, Nr. 8556, Der Gesandte in Peking Graf von Rex an den Reichskanzler Fürsten von Bülow, Ibidem, p. 82.

[58] Ibidem, p. 83-84.

[59] 17. Oktober 1907, Nr. 8551, Der Reichskanzler Fürst von Bülow, z.Z. in Klein-Flottbek, an den Botschafter in Washington Freiherrn Speck von Sternburg, Ibidem, p. 74-75.

[60] 17. Oktober 1907, Reichskanzler Fürst von Bülow an Botschafter in Washington, Ibidem, p. 75.

[61] 30. Dezember 1907, Nr. 8557, Kaiser Wilhelm II. an den Reichskanzler von Bülow Eigenhändig, Ibidem, p. 87.

[62] 3. Januar 1908, Nr. 8557, Der Reichkanzler Fürst von Bülow an den Gesandten in Peking Grafen von Rex, Ibidem, p. 90.

[63] 21. März 1908, Nr. 8561, Der Staatssekretär des Auswärtigen Amtes an den Botschafter in Washington Freiherrn Speck von Sternburg, Ibidem, p. 93.

[64] 1. Juni 1908, Nr. 8563, Der Gesandte in Peking Graf von Rex an den Reichskanzler Fürsten von Bülow, Ibidem, p. 95.

[65] Root-Takahira-Agreement (1908), in

[66] 15. Dezember 1908, Nr. 8565, Der Gesandte in Peking Graf von Rex an den Reichskanzler Fürsten von Bülow, in Ibidem, p. 97.

[67] Ibidem, p. 98.