Shandong Peninsula (156,008 square kilometers, or 60,235 square miles) borders the Yellow River, the Bohai Sea, and the Yellow Sea, making it northern China's most prosperous coastal trade center, with excellent natural ports at Weihaiwei and Qingdao. Historically, Shandong was home to the Shang dynasty (1766–1122 b.c.e.), the earliest Chinese state, and was the birthplace of Confucius (ca. 551–479 b.c.e.), China's most famous philosopher and teacher, as well as the fifth century b.c.e. Sun Wu (better known as Sunzi or "Master Sun"), the author of the classic military treatise The Art of War.
Although Japan invaded Shandong during the Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895), Shandong was not part of the Shimonseki Peace Treaty ending that war. However, in the 1895 "Triple Intervention," Germany, Russia, and France blocked Japan's claim for a concession in Manchuria's Liaodong Peninsula, to the north of Shandong. Soon afterward, in 1897, two German missionaries were killed in Shandong. Using this as a pretext, Germany forced China to cede Qingdao as an exclusive concession, establishing a port at Qingdao, constructing the Qingdao-Jinan railway, and opening coal mines to develop Shandong's industry.
With the beginning of World War I, Japan sought revenge against Germany for the Triple Intervention. It seized the Shandong concession in 1914, promising to return it to China after the war. In the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, the Allied Powers decided that Germany should first cede Shandong to Japan, which actually occupied Shandong, before Japan handed it over to China. While this decision assuaged the Japanese desire for vengeance against Germany, it outraged the Chinese, who considered it a "loss of face" that China—which also fought with the Allies in World War I—did not obtain the return of Shandong directly from Germany. The May Fourth movement was a student-led protest in Beijing demanding that China reject the Versailles Treaty.
Although the Chinese have long accused U.S. President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924) of betraying China at the Paris Peace Conference, Wilson successfully negotiated a compromise with Japan guaranteeing Chinese sovereignty over the Shandong concession until Japan returned it in 1922. Rejecting this compromise, Chinese negotiators in Paris refused to sign the Treaty of Versailles, thus delaying the return of this concession to China. In 1921, while this question was still being negotiated, the Chinese Communist Party was founded, based in part on the Chinese desire to reclaim their lost colonial possessions.
Unfortunately, the resulting Nationalist-Communist United Front and then civil war during the late 1920s and early 1930s created the underlying conditions for the Soviet Union's increased influence in China, which spurred the Japanese reoccupation of Shandong during its 1937 invasion of China. Although the Nationalists temporarily reclaimed Shandong in 1945, the province changed hands for the final time in 1948, when it fell to the Communists, who proclaimed the creation of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949.
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Elleman, Bruce A. Wilson and China: A Revised History of the Shandong Question. Armonk, NY: Sharpe, 2002.
Myers, Ramon H. The Chinese Peasant Economy: Agricultural Development in Hopei and Shantung, 1890–1949. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970.
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