Qing­dao is rich in his­tory and eco­nomic po­ten­tial alike

Qing­dao’s rich colo­nial past and rapid eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment make for a worth­while visit

Business Traveller (Asia-Pacific) - - CONTENTS - WORDS JAS­MINE JI AND MICHAEL ALLEN

In a visit dur­ing the 1980s, when China was first open­ing its doors to the out­side world un­der its re­form pol­icy, travel writer Paul Th­er­oux found the city of Qing­dao had an “ir­ra­tional, dream­like qual­ity”. He felt un­com­fort­able in a non-Euro­pean city filled with Euro­pean ar­chi­tec­ture, a stately Lutheran church abut­ting a noo­dle stall. To­day, many ar­eas in the city still pre­serve ar­chi­tec­tural styles from the Ger­man colo­nial pe­riod: Baroque, Byzan­tine, Eclec­tic, Gothic, Ju­gend­stil (Art Nou­veau) and Ro­manesque build­ings abound.

Although Western colo­nial­ism in China more com­monly brings to mind Bri­tish Hong Kong, Por­tuguese Ma­cau or Shang­hai’s French Con­ces­sion, Qing­dao was ac­tu­ally the first Euro­pean colony fully lo­cated on the Chi­nese main­land.

Th­er­oux was sharply crit­i­cal of the colo­nial pow­ers – “im­pe­ri­al­ists”, he called them – that had come to Qing­dao, crit­i­cis­ing the “fat and mon­u­men­tal” build­ings con­structed “whether they fit the place or not”.

At one point in his­tory, at least, the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment seemed to share Th­er­oux’s view. Red Guards, those mem­bers of the stu­dent para­mil­i­tary so­cial move­ment mo­bilised by Mao Ze­dong dur­ing the Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion, par­tially de­stroyed the city’s St Michael’s Cathe­dral, in­clud­ing its 2,400-pipe or­gan that was one of the two big­gest in Asia, ac­cord­ing to state-owned news­pa­per China Daily. In April 2008, the Qing­dao Dio­cese or­dered a new one from Ger­many with sim­i­lar ca­pac­ity.


Qing­dao is now an in­ter­na­tional port city and a mar­itime hub in north­east Asia, ben­e­fit­ing from its strate­gic geo­graphic lo­ca­tion. The city trades with over 450 ports in more than 130 coun­tries or re­gions around the world, ac­cord­ing to World Port Source.

“Ship­ping and in­ter­na­tional trade is huge there,” says David Yu, an ad­junct pro­fes­sor of fi­nance at New York Univer­sity Shang­hai, point­ing to a World Ship­ping Coun­cil re­port stat­ing that Qing­dao is the world’s eighth largest con­tainer port by vol­ume. “On the man­u­fac­tur­ing side, there are ma­jor ship­yards, both com­mer­cial and mil­i­tary, in­clud­ing one that built China’s first air­craft car­rier. In terms of port ac­tiv­i­ties, Qing­dao is ranked one of the top in China and top ten glob­ally in con­tainer vol­ume.”

Be­sides ship­ping, ma­jor Chi­nese com­pa­nies such as Haier, Hisense, Ts­ing­tao Brew­ery and Qingjian Group are based there. “It’s a big sec­ond-tier city. There are some ma­jor en­ter­prises,” Yu says.

A view of Qing­dao’s old town, with St Michael’s Cathe­dral

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