Alcohol flows in colonial Qingdao, 1897-1914

“Alcohol flows across cultures: Drinking cultures in transnational and comparative perspective”

International Research Symposium, St Anne’s College, Oxford, 29–30 June 2016

[Symposium Podcasts]


"Alcohol flows in colonial Qingdao (1897-1914)"


Dr Sabina Groeneveld

International Studies Programme, University of Technology Sydney, Australia


Qingdao (青岛) in China’s eastern Shandong province experienced 17 years of German occupation in between 1897-1914. This port city developed to be one of imperial Germany’s most prestigious colonial projects - here the planners hoped to establish a ‘model colony’ [Musterkolonie] that could showcase new approaches and standards to colonialism within the national and international context.


This paper explores the role of alcohol within Qingdao’s colonial society and examines how it fitted in with the ambitious plans and hopes around the development of Qingdao and its society. In Germany, the Alkoholfrage gained momentum after a lecture by Gustav von Bunge in 1886, and eventually this debate extended into the colonial context. The acclimatization of German colonizers to a new environment was seen as challenging and especially medical experts advised against alcohol consumption altogether, since it was believed to not only considerably impair the acclimatization process but furthermore, to overstimulate the nerves and result in aggressive behaviour patterns. Nevertheless, the majority of German colonizers consumed alcohol on a regular basis. In Qingdao, alcohol was widely available due to the official and private importation of German liquor next to the establishment of a local alcohol production (Germania Brauerei: Tsingtau Bier). Social gatherings were frequent here and characterized as especially ‘merry’ (feucht-fröhlich) by participants.


This contribution analyses the narratives surrounding the emerging drinking cultures among several social groups in Qingdao (i.e. German soldiers, missionaries, officers, woman, and Chinese elite) and aims to answer the question if the role of alcohol in Qingdao’s everyday life supported or challenged the construct of a ‘model colony’ and German-Chinese relations.

Primary sources for this investigations are samples of colonial literature addressing the Alkoholfrage, newspapers published in Qingdao and private documents by German colonial actors (letters, diaries memories).



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