Some Recollections of Qingdao (Excerpt)
By Liang Shiqiu
Trans. by Huang Shaozheng（黄少政）
A native of Peiping, I have never deemed my hometown worth putting in a good word or two. If anything, its dismal trajectory of degeneration and decline, in a matter of a few decades, from what it used to be – such a fabulous abode of wealth and culture of the nation – into sheer pandemonium shocks and dismays admirers. Not much traveled, I’ve nevertheless set foot in a dozen provinces, along the coast and in the interior – Liaoning to the north and Guangdong to the south – and I think I’d put Qingdao at the top of my itinerary, to visit or to dwell in.
Qingdao sits in a blessed locale where Jiaozhou Bay opens onto the East China Sea. Mountains rear right behind, and the waters in the bay are as deep as the mountains are high, making Qingdao an ideal port. In the 23rd year of Guangxu Emperor’s reign (1897), no sooner had Kaiser Wilhelm II forced the feeble Qing court into an agreement to lease Jiaozhou Bay than his countrymen moved in to start a construction spree to the extent that even today Qingdao retains a Teutonic architectural look, most evident in the city’s ubiquitous red-tiled roofing, in striking contrast with the surrounding lush greenery. It remains one of China’s most charming cities as all the architecture inhabiting the forested terrain of undulating hills are sheltered under a canopy of trees. In the 3rd year of the Republic of China (1914), the booming harbor was taken by the Japanese, and it was not handed over until 1922, when it fell into the clutches of warlords. Surprisingly, decades of political anarchy and war’s desolation did not wreak much havoc, at least on the surface, thanks to the solid foundation laid down from the outset by meticulous German architects. After all, what is built to last in the first place cannot be undone in a day. The result is we’re all justifiably proud of living in Qingdao, possibly the cleanest and neatest and loveliest in all China. Peiping certainly compares poorly with Qingdao as the former has been dismissed proverbially as somewhere “one gets dust all over even when there is no sign of wind and spattered with mud whenever comes down a rain.”
With its continental climate, modified by surges of bay currents, Qingdao is mild all year round, thus its four seasons are less distinct from one another. It is a livable port city where “one can expect to see flowers in spring, savour the full moon in mid-autumn, feel cool breezes in summer and enjoy a snowy landscape in winter.” Snow falls occasionally in winter, but rarely to the point of freezing that dictates a stove be lit to warm the house. Summer is, as a rule, cool and pleasant; in autumn one inhales crisp air; best of all, spring envelops the town in a riot of blossoms.
Local residents appear, by and large, bold, even blunt, but goodhearted and benevolent inside. I am speaking of commoners, not those in the officialdom. That mandarins are worthless wretches is a truism, as the pervasiveness of the observation suggests. To form a correct opinion of the character of the inhabitants of a town, one must go forth and associate with ordinary folk in all their conditions, habits, and humors. And I congratulate myself once amidst a bunch of uniquely honest and good-hearted souls on earth. When I first arrived in town, I was struck that one got charged one of two fares for a rickshaw ride: ten cents for nearby places and twenty cents for anywhere distant. Never have I met a rickshaw puller in Qingdao who haggled over the price with the client – a practice all too common in the rest of China. Whether this instance of honesty and simplicity of former times is, as some might protest, attributable to the lingering salutary influences of the port’s colonial past, I can’t tell. The point is that such customs do persist to our day speaks volumes about the character of the local populace. A trifling matter this might sound, it could mean much more than meets the eye. Shandong province (where Qingdao lies) was once two vassal states of the Zhou Dynasty – Qi and Lu – and it was the birthplace of two of China’s wisest men – Confucius and Mencius. So it makes sense if their compatriots, soaking up the sanctified and rarefied air through millennia, come off as morally exemplary and as worthy of being marveled at and emulated.