Date
11 December 2018
In 1898, the Qing Empire leased Qingdao in Shandong to the German Empire. Today, the city still retains quite a few buildings of German architecture. Photo: Internet
In 1898, the Qing Empire leased Qingdao in Shandong to the German Empire. Today, the city still retains quite a few buildings of German architecture. Photo: Internet

What if we had been a German colony?

The topic of this article might sound unreal and hypothetical, but the truth is, Hong Kong did see a lot of activities of the Germans back in the 19th and the early 20th centuries.

Some readers may notice that today there are two streets in Tsim Sha Tsui that share almost an identical name: Minden Row and Minden Avenue.

In fact Minden is a small town located in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany. And back in the 19th century, the area around today’s Minden Avenue was actually a German neighborhood, with the majority of them coming from Minden.

Long before the unification of Germany in 1871, many Prussian merchants had set foot in places across the Far East, including Hong Kong, to eagerly look for business opportunities.

After Prussia concluded a trade treaty with the Qing Empire in 1861, more and more Prussian merchants jumped on the bandwagon of opening trading businesses in Hong Kong. And German business expansion in the city continued apace.

Chief among them were Siemssen & Co. and Arnold Karberg & Co., two notable German trading companies in Hong Kong at that time.

Before the outbreak of the First World War, German merchants and businessmen, although outnumbered by their British rivals, were almost just as influential in the business world in Hong Kong.

For example, there were quite a number of German board directors in leading British business corporations including the HSBC, not to mention that over half of the trading and re-exportation activities between Europe and Hong Kong also involved German merchants as agents.

Despite the fact that the Germans were formidable business competitors in those days, they were given a free hand by the British colonial administration in the territory.

However, the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 suddenly changed everything.

As the British and the German Empires were going to war against each other, the colonial government in Hong Kong immediately mounted an all-out crackdown on German businesses, during which German assets in the city were frozen and confiscated, and German merchants were repatriated in great numbers.

Since then the influence of the German community in Hong Kong had gone into continuous decline and the Germans were never able to regain their influence again.

If Germany had won the First World War, chances are, it would not only have been able to keep its colony in Jiaozhou Bay, which is in today’s Qingdao or Tsingtao city in China’s Shandong province, but might also have nearly annexed Hong Kong from Britain as well.

If that really had happened, Hong Kong’s entire history would have been rewritten.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 8

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]

JC/RC

Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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