Is China the new face of imperialism

A short guest performance in China:
On the ambivalence of German colonial history in the
Shantung Province
by Jing Dexiang

For a long time, research on the role of imperialism in the modernization of China in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in general, and on German colonial history in Shandong in particular, both in the West and in China, remained on rigid ideological fronts. While the Western side emphasized the modernization effects of the Western presence in China, the Chinese side emphasized the aspect of imperialist aggression. In contrast to the years of the Cultural Revolution, a trend towards greater differentiation can now be seen in Chinese research. They not only denounce the imperialist misdeeds, but also register the modernization efforts of the Germans in their lease area Jiaozhou and their sphere of influence Shandong. Recognizing this side of the history of the German colony is not easy for Chinese researchers. In his contribution to the emergence of the city of Qingdao, one of the researchers came to the conclusion that the (Chinese) historian had to escape the dilemma of being against "capitalist aggression" on the one hand and learning from the "capitalist civilization" that followed an "eternal historical law" formulated by Marx could defeat the backward traditional Chinese civilization. One must get rid of the contradiction between moral and historical judgment and soberly consider and analyze this side of Chinese history
In this way, these Chinese historians are responding to a doctrine that has long prevailed in Western, especially American, research on China and continues to be influential, which found a consistently positive effect in the western incursion into China of the late Qing dynasty (1840-1911). They attribute the failure of the modernization of China in the late 19th and early 20th centuries mainly to the inability of China, especially in comparison to Japan.2 A dubious tenor, which some Western China researchers rightly point out
But if you don't want to go back to the old ideological battles at the front, you have to face the contradicting character of German colonial history in Shandong: On the one hand, you see the violent occupation taking advantage of an incident involving the murder of German missionaries, which is also based on military force and a Unequal lease-based establishment of a colony and, last but not least, reaching for Chinese raw materials and markets in the hinterland. On the other hand, aspects such as the construction of railway lines and the resulting stimulation of the economy in the region and the development of Qingdao into a modern city, the establishment of a modern administration and a modern education system cannot be denied. In short: the idea of ​​the German Empire in Shandong was ambivalent - on the one hand imperialist aggression and on the other hand the establishment of a "model colony".
It is clear that this ambivalent notion raises a number of difficult questions. Could the "model colony" model have been a model for modernizing the whole of China? Do we even have to regret the end of the colonial age? Should China have accepted military occupation, the loss of its sovereignty and the shame of foreign rule as the price of modernization? How do you achieve differentiation and balance in the consideration without relativistic conclusions? A new approach to interpretation is then presented, which is intended to clarify these questions.

The unequal couple
Even before the First World War, when the German Empire was still in possession of the Jiaozhou Bay, a German contemporary wrote the following lines on the nature and economic background of imperialism, which almost seem to be tailored to the Jiaozhou case: “The imperialist Capitalism, especially colonial booty capitalism based on direct violence and forced labor, has generally at all times offered by far the greatest chances of profit, far greater than normal in the export trade, which is aimed at peaceful exchange with members of other political communities. Hence it has existed at all times and wherever there has been any substantial measure of public service needs being met by the political community as such or its subdivisions (municipalities). The stronger this, the greater the importance of imperialist capitalism. "And further:" There is now the surest guarantee for the monopoly of these chances of profit attached to the common economy of the foreign territory in favor of one's own political community members, the political occupation or at least the submission of foreign political powers is in the form of the 'protectorate' or similar (forms), this 'imperialist' direction of expansion is increasingly taking the place of the pacifist, only 'freedom of trade' striving for. «4
The person who wrote this was not a dogmatic Marxist or even an anti-imperialist, but the German sociologist Max Weber, known as a "bourgeois Marx" and at the same time notorious as a passionate supporter of imperialist politics. We owe Max Weber not only this unmasking of imperialism, which differentiates him from some later Western China researchers who veiled and glossed over the true face of imperialism. Weber also emphasizes the close connection between the expansive foreign policy and the capitalist interests of the imperialist states. According to Weber, modern imperialism served to assert the capitalist interests of the so-called creditor peoples worldwide. In contrast to the old forms of imperialism, according to Weber, there are now modern capitalist interests behind the foreign policy aggression. Following Max Weber, one can define imperialism as the common occurrence of the national ambitions for power with the capital interests of the industrial capitalist advanced states in the industrially backward countries. The archaic interest of the military dominated and in this sense also traditional government leadership in the conquest of foreign territories and in the subjugation of foreign peoples by military means on the one hand and the modern interest of capital and entrepreneurs in raw materials, markets and key sectors as well as approve to free labor from foreign countries on the other hand went hand in hand, with military victory being the basic requirement.
Seen in this way, the ambivalent notion of the German Empire in Shandong was given by an "unequal couple": the German military and the German bourgeoisie. A team that shared the two main roles in the program of modern imperialism. After the military conquest, the phase of "cultivation" of the colonial booty began, in which the German bourgeoisie and the German bureaucracy could use their skills in architecture, business, education and health care, etc., to pursue their interests. Qingdao was quickly developed into a modern city whose economic and technical modernity also attracted the Chinese from outside. Here a piece of Germany in miniature format was built on a colonialist foundation within a relatively short period of time. The military goose steps were followed by virtuoso work steps of an industrial society supported by the bourgeoisie. The German bureaucracy also developed its activities within the local administration.
Imperialism was the modernization and development strategy of the German empire, which, according to one of the more recent modernization concepts, could be described as a civil society with an explicit thrust towards a war society.5 With the conquest of Jiaozhou Bay, the empire shone a small »place in the sun «To have secured. This modernization strategy, especially the priority of the military, was also personally recommended by Bismarck to the great Chinese reformer Li Hongzhang - also called "Bismarck of the East" - during his state visit to Germany in the summer of 1896. In the eyes of the Chinese reformers of the time, the German Empire was an admired example that they eagerly imitated. The militarization of politics and also of education, which stood in opposition to Confucian pacifism, even became the main objective of Chinese modernization
Although some Western researchers are opposed to the theory of imperialism, they see, arrested by the standards of the 19th century, but the German Empire and Japan as models of modernization for China. The German and Japanese way was not questioned. Their success seemed to confirm this path by then.

The common fall
Normally, a critical assessment of the "model colony" refers primarily to its colonial character, to the privilege of German interests in Sino-German trade and, above all, to the intensifying process of dividing the whole of China into easily controllable zones of influence by the foreign powers . However, these references are not sufficient to decisively invalidate the idea of ​​an imperialist modernization.
No argument seems to be stronger than the failure of the "Model Colony" project itself, when the apparently prosperous colony suddenly fell into Japanese hands at the outbreak of World War I and all German efforts and expectations were destroyed. In all efforts to pay tribute to the success of the German reconstruction work in Qingdao and Shandong, one must not forget that this model of forced modernization failed as a result, and did so relatively quickly. One of the essential features of German colonial history in China is its short life. As the German Empire conquered the Jiaozhou Bay through its military superiority over China, it lost the colony to its rival Japan in the same way. Above all, the geostrategic inferiority revealed the hopelessness of the German expansion plans. With the loss of the colony, the profit calculation of German capital collapsed like a house of cards. The carpet was pulled from under the feet of the apparently amicable »tango couple«. Overall, the investments in Qingdao and Shandong have not paid off for Germany.7 Failure is part of history and influences the final judgment on any future viability of the "Model Colony" project.
The loss of the "model colony" is an example of the failure of the imperialist model of modernization, both for the backward and for the imperialist states. This model failed because of its internal logic. It presupposed the method of conquest by force, and, paradoxically enough, it failed precisely because of it. The logic of war means that there is only one victor and that in the face of murderous competition and unpredictable shifts in the balance of power, no country can always remain the victor. A backward country like China had little chance of defeating its superior opponent. As "sincere" as the German government was with the advice on military reinforcement, in an emergency it was out of the question to give China enough time to catch up or to "give" it a victory. In November 1897, a good year after Li Hongzhang sought advice from Bismarck, the German Empire sent its troops to Jiaozhou and quickly overwhelmed China. As for efforts to build a modern Chinese army, there has been no success in national defense. Instead, the military modernization created an army leadership disloyal to the state leadership, which after the revolution of 1911 soon dissolved into fighting warlords, with the result that the Japanese invaders almost succeeded in subjugating China after 1937. The process of modernization imposed by imperialism has not only brought the Chinese new development perspectives, but also errors, confusions and catastrophes. If the West had come to China only in the form of a purely bourgeois society or civil society, the Chinese would have been spared much suffering and aberration.
With the loss of the "model colony" and the defeat in the First World War, Germany, which had been used to victory since the Wars of Unification, suffered the fate of a loser. But the lesson about the fundamental hopelessness of a megalomaniac war of expansion was not drawn in time. Instead, the so-called stab-in-the-back legend emerged, with the help of which the advocates of imperialist development strategies were able to survive politically and once again dragged Germany and the world into the abyss.

The unjust evaluation
If one looks back at the historical sources and scientific research on this joint appearance and overthrow of the German bourgeoisie and the military in China, one must unfortunately state that the two "leading actors" have not yet been properly assessed. As in a dance performance, the couple shares shine and shadow. Even worse: Praise and criticism always went to the wrong addressee. Whenever there was talk of development work, the restrictive reference was made to the military occupation. And vice versa: Whenever the military occupation was criticized, a "differentiating" reference to the development work was indispensable. The military profited from the modern development efforts of the bourgeoisie, whose image suffered from that of its bloodthirsty cronies. However, one cannot blame the Chinese contemporaries for seeing their old, blanket prejudice about the Europeans confirmed again in the face of the German invasion of Jiaozhou. A Chinese newspaper wrote in the spring of 1898: “When the Europeans heard earlier that the Chinese children and old people referred to them as 'barbarians' and 'devils', they ridiculed their ignorance.But if we ponder our humiliation by the Europeans, we know that the terms “barbarians” and “devil” were not a disparagement. ”Other comments asked why the supposedly civilized, enlightened and Christian Europeans because of a country attacked in an ordinary incident, occupied part of it and thereby violated the ten commandments.8 The complicity has historically not been worthwhile for the bourgeoisie. On the other hand, the recognition of his development efforts seems to rehabilitate the old imperialist method of violence.
Today one should be able to differentiate between the belligerent military and the peaceful bourgeoisie, which is temporarily complicit with the, even with reference to Max Weber, who has carefully contrasted the violent conquest and the peaceful capitalist acquisition "Barbarians" entered, but ruined his capital and skills and lost his reputation. The economic and technical development achievements, some of which are still visible today in Qingdao and Shandong, are not arguments for a failed modernization strategy, but exemplary evidence of the efficiency of a bourgeois society and at the same time, exemplary German beer, for the Chinese, refreshing and inspiring ambassadors of a foreign culture. It's just a shame that imperialism brought them to China.

Epilogue: Qingdao - a German Hong Kong?

If the idea of ​​German imperialism in China was a brief guest appearance, the story of British colonial rule in Hong Kong, whose expired lease was closely related to the German Jiaozhou lease, is like a very long party that has just ended. In view of the prosperity of Hong Kong that outshines everything, one historian, while looking back at the German colonial past in China, occasionally raises the question of whether Qingdao could have become an international trading metropolis like Hong Kong if the Germans had not been driven out by the Japanese in 1914.
If the Germans had stayed at Kiautschou Bay beyond 1914, the city of Qingdao might also have developed along the lines marked out. But it can be doubted whether it would ever have reached the level of development of Hong Kong. Because every European country was and is different and put its special stamp on the colonies. Economic historians may well ask why Hong Kong, under the administration of England, the country of origin of industrial capitalism, was able to develop into a center of world capitalism, while the nearby Portuguese Macao only has a few casinos to show for. The German Qingdao could have developed into a large international trading center, but at the same time would probably have remained a particularly intensively administered and subsidized garrison town.