Reminiscences of Tsingtao (Excerpt)
By Liang Shih-ch’iu
Trans. by Junhou（军厚）
Although I was born and bred in Peiping1, I have never regarded it as the best place to call my home. This once prosperous and elegant city has gone through untold vicissitudes over the years, falling into decline and vulgarity and even into depravity; few traces of its former self are now recognizable. Whilst I do not claim to have travelled far and wide in my life, I have been to a dozen or so provinces across China, from Liaoning in the far North to Baiyue2 in the South. Tsingtao of Shantung Province among those, in my eyes, truly tops the list of the most unforgettable places to visit.
Tsingtao lies at the mouth of the Jiaozhou Bay on the coast of East China Sea. With such a vast sea in the east and a panorama of gorgeous mountains right behind, what a heavenly blessed place the city is! In 1897, or the 23rd year of the reign of Guangxu Emperor, Germany seized Tsingtao through a lease agreement imposed upon the Qing court and thereafter turned the city into its big marketplace. A massive spree of construction soon ensued across the city. Even today, vestiges of Germany’s influence are visible from the city’s architecture. It is notable, for example, that houses uniformly feature red-tile rooftops. The nearby sloping hillsides, on the other hand, are clothed in luxuriant greenery. What a delightful and captivating contrast the two sides form! In 1914, or the 3rd year of the Republic of China, Tsingtao fell under Japanese occupation until its return to China in the 11th year of the Republic of China. In the following years, the political scene of Tsingtao was dominated by several warlords, but the city managed to emerge physically intact from the ravages wrought during this period. The buildings had been built with foundations so strong and sturdy that they could have surely withstood any attempts to undermine or destroy them. Also, Tsingtao has ever since remained tidy and clean in appearance, and I believe it leads all the metropolises across China on the measure of cleanness. In this regard, Peiping pales miserably in comparison. Its streets are said to be “covered in dust of three chi3 on windless days and strewn with mud on rainy days”.
Tsingtao is located in the temperate continental climate zone, but, under the influence of the tidal currents in Jiaozhou Bay, its weather is mild all year round. It is worthy to be called an idyllic place where “in Spring there are hundreds of flowers in blossom; in Autumn the silver moon shines; in Summer there is bracing breeze; in Winter there is white snowfall”4. In winter, snow may fall, but only as a rare occurrence; there is no need to make a fire in the living room to get warm as water never reaches the point of freezing. One never misses cool breeze in summer, nor crisp air and clear skies in autumn. Aren’t these seasons pleasant? Best of all, Tsingtao bursts into a riot of color in the Springtime as all kinds of flowers blossom everywhere.
Shantung people are generally known for being stubborn, forthright, and bold outwardly, and for being honest, sincere, and kind-hearted inwardly. As for those amongst Shantung people who are part of the national officialdom, that is, those in power, most of them are portrayed as being short-sighted and inept, or “good for nothing” in more plain language. In fact, this is true of people all over the country who belong to the officialdom; therefore, I dismiss this breed as being unworthy of my attention or discussion here. If one wants to get acquainted with the local customs and manners of a place, one should start by approaching the common folks there. Simplicity and honesty best describe the prevailing local way of life in Tsingtao, and one can see these virtues being exemplified and quietly practiced by these common folks every day. Upon my arrival when I first visited Tsingtao, I learned that the rickshaw pullers stuck to the rule of charging a uniform fare of ten jiao5 for all rides, with the exception of extended ones to which a fare of 20 jiao applied. Bargaining or arguing with passengers over payments was unheard of. That I had not seen happening for once thus far throughout the rest of China. Some say that what is recounted above testifies, intangibly, for Tsingtao’s German heritage. It is remarkable that such a heritage has persevered for so long a time, for better or for worse. Haggling over prices – often cast in a bad light – occurs rarely in Tsingtao. A trivial matter as this may seem to be, it significantly speaks for matters much bigger. Since Shantung is commonly called “the land of Qi and Lu6” – the birthplace of Confucius and Mencius, some contend justifiably, isn’t it a matter of course that the offspring of these ancient philosophers and sages are carrying their legacy forward?
 Peiping: the name of Beijing from 1368 to 1403 and then from 1928 to 1949.
 Baiyue, or literally “Hundred Yue”, refers to the region inhabited by the Yue ethnic group in ancient China, which included places such as today’s Fujian Province and Guangdong Province.
 Chinese length unit, one chi is approximately equal to 33.3 centimeters.
 This is from The Gateless Gate, a classic collection of Zen anecdotes and koans complied and commentated by Wumen Huikai, a Zen master in the Song Dynasty.
 One jiao is equal to one tenth of a yuan in Chinese currency.
 Qi and Lu were two vassal states during the Zhou Dynasty-era in ancient China. They were located in presentday Shandong Province, hence its nickname.