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How Germany humiliated China with a monument

Updated: Mar 16

At the end of the Boxer War in 1900, Beijing lay in ruins. To humiliate the Chinese, Kaiser Wilhelm II forced them to build a monument - in honor of the murdered German envoy Clemens von Ketteler.

Clemens von Ketteler was most concerned. The German envoy in the Chinese capital Beijing had just received an official ultimatum. Within 24 hours, Ketteler, together with his ambassadorial colleagues from Great Britain, France, the United States and other European countries, had to leave the city.

The occasion was serious. A few days earlier, troops from these countries had attacked and conquered Chinese fortresses without a declaration of war. On the morning of June 20, 1900, the German envoy therefore set out to negotiate at the Chinese Foreign Ministry. But Ketteler was never to reach his destination. On his way there, he was shot by a Chinese soldier.

"The Chinese Cake"

The German ambassador to China was a man hated by large sections of the population. In general, the Chinese viewed Europeans, Japanese and Americans with the greatest suspicion at the end of the 19th century. For decades, China, once a great power, had been a pawn of these powers, which repeatedly played on their military superiority.

In 1894, for example, Japan had annexed the Chinese island of Formosa, and the Germans took the colony of Kiautschou. on the mainland three years later. Their goal was to exploit the country. Helmuth von Moltke, later Germany's chief of staff, said, "If we want to be honest, it is greed for money that has moved us to cut the big Chinese cake."

At the end of the 19th century, the secret society "Yihetuan", in German: "Militia united in righteousness", was formed against the exploitation of China. Europeans simply called them "boxers" after the martial arts they practiced. Their message was: "Only when the foreign devils are all killed will there be unity again within the great Qing dynasty and peace in the empire".

The hated German ambassador

Converted Chinese and Western missionaries were among the first victims of the "Boxer" uprising. By 1899, up to 30,000 Christian Chinese alone were said to have been killed by them. Soon the "Boxers" found followers in large parts of China, many also in Peking. There, Clemens von Ketteler made it a sadistic "sport" to shoot "boxers" from the city wall.

When one day a "boxer" provocatively crossed the embassy district, the German envoy chased him away - and attacked his companion, still a child, as it were. He beat the boy with his walking stick and took him into custody. When the Chinese authorities demanded his surrender, they said "shot on the run." Whether Ketteler's death on June 20, 1900, was therefore a targeted attack on him, or merely a misunderstanding in the heated atmosphere, has not been clarified to this day.

The wrath of the emperor

After Ketteler's death became known, foreigners and Chinese Christians flocked in great haste to the Beijing embassy district to take shelter. In the afternoon, the siege of the quarter by "boxers" and soldiers began, followed a day later by China's official declaration of war - against the European powers Germany, Great Britain, France, among others, but also against the USA and Japan. An imperial decree emphasized, "It is the foreigners themselves who have started this war."

In Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm II seethed with rage when he learned of Ketteler's assassination and the siege of the embassy. The emperor deployed over 20,000 troops to take revenge on China. When the emperor saw the troops off in Bremerhaven on July 27, 1900, he gave them the words, "Pardon will not be given! Prisoners will not be taken!" And, worse, the soldiers were to ensure that "never again will a Chinese dare to look askance at a German!"

The "Ketteler Arch"

Wilhelm II insisted on two peace conditions that were particularly humiliating for the Chinese. First, a Chinese prince had to travel to Germany and make amends before the emperor. Second, the Chinese had to build a monument to the shot Clemens von Ketteler at their own expense - at the site of his murder.

Construction work began on June 25, 1901, and the German emperor himself had inspected the plans. The "Ketteler Arch" reached an imposing height of about 15 meters, decorated with noble marble. Whenever the Chinese passed through it, they were to think of their defeat by the Germans.

After Germany's defeat in World War I, however, the monument was demolished and rebuilt elsewhere. It now bore the new name: "Justice prevails".

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