Don’t Lose the History Again

The Forming, Developing and Crisis of the Identity of Tsingtao City


Dr.  Chen Li, Phd

School of Architecture, Tianjin University, Tianjin, China


Prof. Yang Changming

School of Architecture, Tianjin University, Tianjin, China





Tsingtao had formed its identity during the period of Germany occupation from 1897 to 1914, which combined the Germany culture and Chinese culture. The city’s identity has further developed in the following long history, especially in the first occupation period by Japanese (1914—1922) and the period of Republic of China (1922--1937). However, it has been suffering serious destructions since 1990s due to the serge of city modernization, so the paper’s aim is to appeal measures to prevent those destructions.



Tsingtao is a famous city worldwide with its particular development history background. In 1891, emperor  Guangxu of Qing government ordered Zhang Gaoyuan, the military commander of Dengzhou (the present Jiaodong District), to garrison Tsingtao, which marked the official establishment of Tsingtao as a city. From 1897 to 1914, Germany occupied Tsingtao and started large scale of constructions with Kiaochow Treaty, which provided the architect with chances to form the city’s identity. Afterward, Tsingtao had been occupied by Japanese from 1914 to 1922, controlled by the government of Republic of China from 1922 to 1937. Japanese replaced Chinese government and reoccupied Tsingtao from 1937 to 1945 and  till the establishment of People’s Republic of China in 1949, the identity of Tsingtao has experienced stages of forming and developing. However, it has being in unprecedented crisis and the identity has being destructed and faded away.

1.      Forming of Tsingtao city identity

1.1 The unique plan ideas

There are two city plannings had been made by Germany, prospectively in the year 1900 and 1910, during their 17 years occupation in Tsingtao. The city construction had been started then in a large scale step by step. Tsingtao was updated from some small fishing villages to a modern city whose character was transferred from a military port to city of trade and tourism. Obviously, the identity of that city was combined by the merging of Germany culture and Chinese culture. In this particular period, Germany culture was the principal part of the identity and Chinese culture affected it from time to time.

Fig 1. The City Planning of Tsingtao  in 1900


1.2 Bright Germany style

Germany has regarded Tsingtao as an important base to transfer German culture into the far east, therefore, architecture here kept traditional Germany style as much as possible. The most important public buildings in city center, such as the church, police office, independent villa etc, remained Germany feature. (Fig.2  Christ Church, constructed in 1908-1910)

1.3 Rare trace of Art Nouveau

It was in a transfer period to modern architecture. As the pioneer architecture of Art Nouveau, which was called Jugendstil in German, they apparently showed modern styles of that time in Tsingtao.

For example, the Chemist’s Shop has the façade of Jugendstil forms. The arches and curves which draw together the two upper storeys of the southern façade and the two fireplaces are characteristic of the Jugendstil. (Fig. 3 Chemist’s Shop)



Fig. 2 Christ Church                                       Fig. 3   Chemist’s Shop


1.4 Merging of Germany and Chinese architecture cultures

Chinese architecture culture kept effects on identity of Tsingtao.

First, not much pure large Chinese style buildings were made at that time, but large quantities of Chinese architecture elements merged into Germany buildings. It is clear from the analysis  that large number of Chinese architectural patterns emerged into German architectural details in Tsingtao. Let’s see the examples of the architecture details in the identity of Tsingtao city. It is convinced that the Ionic capital is the symbol of West architecture, however, the capital of Germany building in Tsingtao embodies the emergence of China and the West cultures, because the Chinese pattern , taijitu (diagram of the Supreme Ultimate) appeared in the capital. (Fig. 4)

Secondly, it is general held that the architecture styles of Chinese and West could not become integrated directedly, nevertheless there are also some perfect performance in the buildings of Tsingtao city.  One case can be seen in Ohlmer Residence, which was constructed during 1899-1900. As the director of Maritime Customs and Excise office, Ohlmer was also an architect with many works. At the drive to his own house he had a particular built which was different from other buildings in Tsingtao then: a gatekeeper’s house with a typical Chinese roof. (Fig. 5) Another case is Adjutant’s Residence (constructed during 1899-1900), which showed further mergence of the two kinds of cultures. The case with its Chinese tiled roof and the continuous veranda, made it looked like neither German nor Chinese style. (Fig. 6)



Fig. 4 the Capital of German Architecture in Tsingtao  (left)   

Fig. 5 Ohlmer Residence (right)

Fig. 6   Adjutant’s Residence


2. Developing of Tsingtao city identity

2.1 the First occupation period by Japanese

As the only far east battlefield in the first world war, Tsingtao’s identity has been further developed when Japanese replaced Germany. With the merging of Japanese architecture style, there are more contents in the city identity than ever.

On one hand, in this period, pure Japanese architecture style appeared in Tsingtao. But with small quantities, small scale and outlandish location, it had few affect in the identity of Tsingtao city. The Japanese Temple (constructed in 1915) is an example like this. (Fig.7)  

On the other hand, most of actions are made to amend or even develop Germany architectural styles. Lots of Germany architecture details were remained but even simplified. We can see from the cases that the architectural materials are used more freely and the scale of indoor space are smaller at that time. Meanwhile, the facade more or less shows Japanese architectural style. For instance, Japanese Middle School, designed by Japanese architect and built in 1920, had such kind of details. (Fig.8)


Fig. 7   the Japanese Temple                             Fig. 8   the Japanese Middle School



2.2 the Period of Republic of China

The government of Republic of China took over Tsingtao in 1922. The range of Tsingtao city was continuous expanded at that period, which means more contents would be added into the city identity. Actually, the society was more open-minded and more advanced architectural ideas were accepted in a wide range, so the city architecture absorbed lots of Chinese traditional elements and West architectural elements altogether. In a word, Tsingtao’s identity actually has turned into a multicultural community by this time, and among those cultures Germany architectural style still played the important role.

Frequently, Chinese character appeared in this period. New items were added into the city identity. It is a obvious phenomena that many Chinese architectural styles can been seen along the beach scenery of Tsingtao, which proved that Tsingtao’s city identity is a combination of Chinese and Western architecture cultures. For example, the Tsingtao aquarium is Chinese style, which was built in1932. (Fig.9)

Large quantities of Germany-based eclecticism buildings were established at that time. In the districts of villas, Germany architecture feature could be found obviously, especially in badaguan villas district. (Fig. 10)

Meanwhile, as one of the most active places in China even East Asia, Tsingtao certainly absorbed ideas of modern architecture, but the quality and scale of modern buildings in this period were strictly under control. Those  buildings formed part of the city identity. For instance, donghaifandian (the Eastsea Hotel) once was one of the most modern buildings in China, which was completed in 1932. We owed its success not only to its early modern forms, but also to its sight design and size control, so the scenery of the sea can be seen from each guest room and its size could not  spoil the natural outline. (Fig.11)


Fig. 9   Tsingtao aquarium                        Fig. 10   the villa in badaguan

        Fig. 11   the Eastsea Hotel (donghaifandian)


2.3 Since 1980s

Since 1980s, the largest city construction has been made, and at the same time Chinese government has made lots of efforts to keep the city identity, so new constructions in the old city area have been trying hard to assort with historical buildings. Therefore, the city identity has been transferred and continued. Most of buildings in this period, especially those close to old residence areas, remained characters of red-tile roof and decorated architrave of the frontispiece. Such kind of phenomenon was even called “Renaissance in Tsingtao”. (Fig. 12)


  Fig. 12  New Community of Tsingtao in 1980s

3. Crisis of Tsingtao city identity

However, the city identity has been experiencing crisis in the recent years. On the one hand, the city whole plan lost more control, therefore large scales of buildings has been established in old city areas one after the other, thus the old city identity is unavoidably destructed. On the other hand, many historical, symbolic buildings and road are destroyed ruthlessly. Comparing with the situation half century ago, the current city identity is facing the crisis of disappearing. There are some cases as follows, which are the really tragedies we reluctant to see again:

The railway station of Tsingtao, built in 1904, the representative of Jugendstil of that time, was demolished more than 10 years ago because  it could not afford  so many passengers. (Fig.13) Another case is about the office building of  custom in Tsingtao, which was also built in the period of German occupation. Many historians appeal to preserve it, however, unfortunately they failed. It was torn down only two months ago.(Fig.14)


Fig. 13  the railway station                          Fig. 14  the office building of custom

Boluoyouzi, a famous street with more than 100 years, has been demolished completely., and almost all the houses beside the street disappeared forever. And now, a viaduct spans the location there. (Fig. 15) The street contains the whole history and culture of the citizens in old community of Tsingtao, so it’s a pity that from then on no one can see it again! It's an irreversible loss for the city identity.

Fig. 15  view of boluoyouzi and the viaduct

Recently the tragedy will perform again, for the large-scale transform has started in  zhongshanlu, the most famous business street in the old district of Tsingtao. The summer hotel, along this road, constructed in 1900s, had been torn down two month before. However, some large scale buildings were set up. (Fig. 16)


Fig. 16  the Summer Hotel and zhongshanlu

It is not simple to give the reasons for the complicated phenomenon of the losing identity. In my opinion, there are several reasons for it. For one thing, it is for the long time that the government officials can not realize the importance of keeping the identity of the city. For another, facing the problems of the city, such as the increasing population, the expanding city function and the lagging municipal facilities, the old communities could not satisfied the requirement of the citizens. In addition, the government officials intend to get achievements as much as possible  in their terms of office but at the cost of  the city identity.

4. Protective strategy for the city identity

How to prevent such tragedy coming again? In my opinion, it’s necessary to establish the protective policies and to arouse the surveillance of the masses to prevent further destruction of city identity. On the other hand, for the government, a well developed old-city alteration plan should be set up to improve the resident living facility and municipal facility with the remaining of the city identity. To sum up, the government, the law and everyone is responsible for the protection of Tsingtao’s identity. (From Fig. 17 you can understand the situation of Tsingdao’s identity, and  also know the crisis of the city identity now. )

Fig. 17   view of the old  communities of Tsingtao city now


[1] Torsten Warner. 1994. Deutsche Architektur in China, Architekturtransfer. Berlin: Ernst&Sohn

[2] 徐飞鹏等,中国近代建筑总览青岛篇  中国建筑工业出版社 1992 2