The eastern Shandong port city of QINGDAO (青岛, qīngdăo) sprang to prominence in 1897, when Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm, wanting to extend his country’s sphere of influence in the East, annexed the city after two German missionaries were murdered here during the Boxer Rebellion. Following the Kaiser’s hysterical speech (which coined the phrase “Yellow Peril”), the feeble Manchu court ceded the territory for 99 years, along with the right to build the Shandong rail lines. Qingdao made an ideal deep-water base for the German navy, and while they were here they established a brewery producing the now world-famous Tsingtao Beer (Tsingtao is the old transliteration of Qingdao). However, the city was forcibly taken from Germany in 1914 by the Japanese and later gifted to Japan at the Treaty of Versailles, an event that led to nationwide demonstrations – the beginning of the May Fourth Movement. Qingdao was returned to China in 1922.
Modern Qingdao is still a very important port, China’s fourth-largest, but the old town, which once was a museum piece of red-roofed Bavarian architecture, is today being run down and neglected as a huge, modern industrial city cut by multilane highways sprouts 5km to the east; pretty much the only reason to head this way is for the year-round ferry connections to South Korea and Japan. While you’re here, though, you can check out some decent white-sand beaches dotted along the shoreline – indeed, the city was chosen to host the sailing events of the 2008 Olympics – and a worthwhile day-trip east to Lao Shan, one of China’s most famous peaks.
Many a Western traveller arrives in Qingdao with a nagging sense of familiarity regarding the city’s name. It usually doesn’t take too long to be put straight – this is the home of Tsingtao, China’s undisputed number-one beer. The confusion stems from its non-pinyin romanization, which can be directly attributed to the brewery’s age; it was started way back in 1903 (when Chinese used the Wade-Giles transliteratory system) as a German-British joint venture, before coming under Japanese control during their occupation of Qingdao. The Japanese ramped up production and essentially transformed Tsingtao from a pumped-up microbrewery to a national success story. During the first decades of Communist control, Tsingtao beer was pretty much the only product exported from China.
As in the rest of China, bottles of Tsingtao can be bought all over the city. However, it would be a shame to leave Qingdao without buying the unpasteurized draught version, sold in plastic bags on the streetsides – getting the nectar into the bag without spillage is something of an art form. Tsingtao also takes pride of place during the International Beer Festival, which occurs each August at International Beer City, way out to the east of town.