Shandong Province, one that is relatively unheard of to many foreigners, is one of China’s most unfortunately overlooked provinces. In fact, besides the illustrious granite mountains that shape the edges of this mysterious flood plain along the Yellow River, Shandong holds some of China’s most stunning natural environments and most revered history.
Though the mountains themselves are powerfully famous, particularly a little (very big, actually) peak by the name of Taishan (1,545 m; 5,069 ft) where the mighty Qin Shihuang first declared a unified China, Shandong is also home to some of northern China’s best beaches, including those of internationally famous beer town Qingdao (aka Tsingtao). Further inland, an old apricot tree still stands inside the country’s largest Confucian temple as the place where the massivly influential philosopher named Confucious gave his lectures. This is the town of Qufu, birthplace of the ledendary sage and one of Shandong’s most famous heavy hitters.
Shandong clearly has plenty to offer, from awesome holy mountains to German-influenced beer to swathes of golden beaches. You might as well add this one to your list right now because as the pages turn you’ll be wondering more and more why you’ve never thought of a trip to Shandong before.
The citizens of Shandong are proud of their glorious past, so much so that some still refer to the Province as Qilu, due to the powerful Qi and Lu states that existed in this region during the Spring and Autumn Period (771 – 476 BCE). The state of Lu later became even more important to the cultural heritage of China as the home of Confucius, but the history of civilization on the Shandong Peninsula goes back much further.
Evidence of the ancient Beixin (5300 – 4100 BCE), Dawenkou (4100 – 2600 BCE) and Longshan (3000 – 2000 BCE) cultures have been found in Shandong Province, uncovered artifacts that show that comparatively advanced handcraft technology, agriculture and animal domestication was developed in Shandong 4,000 to 7,000 years ago. What’s more, the oldest known Chinese pottery inscriptions (and the oldest instances of Chinese characters) were found in Shandong, alongside ceramics ranked among the world’s earliest.
Shandong, alongside its neighbor Jiangsu, was an important producer of silk from around the time of the Han Dynasty, and it was later during the Kingdom of Lu that a lumpy-headed boy named Confucius (551 – 479 BCE) was born in the town of Qufu to later become one of the greatest and most influential thinkers and educators in Chinese history.
For a great succession of dynasties, Shandong saw tragedy rise and fall with the flood waters of the Yellow River (often called “China’s sorrow” by locals), which not only caused mass death and starvation whenever its waters broke their frame, but also encouraged a great amount of lawlessness and banditry. The worst flood on record came in 1899 when the entire Shandong plain was flooded, a terrible and ironic conclusion to the previous two years of droughts. Economic depression went hand in hand with the flood, and Shandong took many years to recover.
Around the end of the 19th century, Shandong came under European influence with the leasing of Qingdao to the Germans in 1897, making this the first European colony on the Mainland. Britain followed suit with a colony in Weihai the following year, and with the influence of the foreigners keenly felt across the province, resentment soon turned to violence as the Boxer Rebellion broke out in Shandong at the end of the 19th century.
Even when Germany lost its colonies as a result of the Treaty of Versailles at the end of WWI, control of Qingdao and the other German concessions did not revert to China, but instead were given to Japan.
Japan’s invasion of Shandong came in 1937, but by the time of the Japanese surrender in 1945, the Communist forces had already established strongholds across Shandong. The province was hotly contested during the next four years of the Chinese Civil War until the Kuomintang was driven to Taiwan and the Peoples Republic of China founded in 1949.
Shandong is imbued with the spirit of past glory and new beginnings. It is also a land of poets, scholars and great drinkers. While much of China imbibes a very strong grain alcohol, Shandong is the capital of the wine industry. The Germans brought with them their beer brewing methods, so there is no other place in China that appreciates the grape or the barley grain as much as the people of Shandong.
Aside from the classic sages Confucius, Mencius and Sun Wu, there have been many other scholars born and raised in this land. Among these famed minds are Wang Xizhi, revered as the “Sage of Calligraphy,” inventor Lu Ban, Three Kingdoms strategist Zhuge Liang, poets Li Qingzhao and Xin Qiji, and novelist Pu Songling who wrote Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio.
Though Beijing Opera is world-renowned and Suzhou’s Kunqu is credited as the oldest form, Shandong’s operatic forms are unrivaled in their scope and brilliance. The Liuzi Opera, Shandong Bangzi Opera and the Lu Opera are famed for combining complex musical themes with unique regional instrumentation and spectacularly dramatic showmanship. Martial arts and acrobatics troupes are also famous and perform across the province.