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Qingdao: Enchanting city with an intriguing history

By Ryan Carroll Usher | (China Daily) | 2022-10-20

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Tsingtao Brewery.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Like many people living in China, my ability to travel over the past few years has been extremely limited due to the pandemic. So, when I was afforded a spontaneous opportunity to travel to Qingdao, Shandong province, for a weekend, I couldn't refuse!

Upon arriving in the city, my first priority was to try some of Qingdao's famous seafood. This led me to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant where a succulent meal of freshly caught fish, crab, octopus and oysters awaited me. More important than the food, however, this was my first experience with the locals of Qingdao, who, as a whole, are some of the kindest people I have ever met. The residents of Qingdao have a welcoming and magnanimous energy that complements the relaxing aesthetic of the seaside city. Although there were some language barriers between us, there was no shortage of smiles, laughs and cheers of ganbei! Hugs were exchanged as I left the restaurant, heading for my first "tourist destination": Tsingtao Brewery.

Walking into the brewery, I was excited to see how one of my favorite beers was made firsthand. What I wasn't expecting, however, was for the tour to include such an in-depth history of the brewery that delved into how it's not only inexorably linked to the history of Qingdao, but the history of China in the 20th century.

I learned of how Qingdao had been occupied by both the Germans and the Japanese throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, how the Germans built Tsingtao Brewery and how they then lost the city to the English and the Japanese during World War I. The latter promptly occupied the city for themselves. I learned of the refusal of Western nations to relinquish ownership of the city, as well as its surrounding area, back to China after World War I ended, which led to the May Fourth Movement - a movement that filled many young Chinese students with a fervor and passion for their nation that would inspire them to later become leaders of the burgeoning Communist Party of China. It was astounding for me to think that the little green can of beer that I had previously viewed only as a refreshment represented an important catalyst in China's political history.

The following day, I visited Badaguan, or the "eight great passes", which is the historical European mansion district of Qingdao where many Westerners lived during the German occupation. While the majority of the buildings are built according to traditional German architecture, there are also mansions built with influence from Danish and Russian architectural styles, creating a delightfully surreal and anachronistic feeling as one walks its sidewalks. As their original inhabitants are long gone, many of these mansions have been turned into hotels, museums or stores. The most intriguing one I was able to find was a three-story mansion that had been converted into a cat cafe, succulent garden and fungi museum!

My final day in Qingdao found me enjoying time on the beach, visiting the May Fourth Square and, of course, enjoying more delectable seafood. When night fell, I decided to take a ride on the 68-meter-tall Ferris wheel known as the "eye of Qingdao". As my cart on the Ferris wheel approached its zenith and I looked over the beautiful lights of the city, I thought about two things. First, I thought about how I never knew I had a fear of heights and that Ferris wheels are death traps. More importantly, though, I thought about what I had learned of Qingdao's history and how it reflects the tenacious spirit of the Chinese people; how after having their land stolen away without apology, acknowledgment or amends, the people of China fought hard to recover what was rightfully theirs; how they turned misfortune into opportunity; how they took a city that once represented foreign occupation and made it their own, not hiding from its painful history, but instead using it as a motivator to build something great - all the while, making some incredible seafood.