Shandong Travel Guide

Last updated by chinatravel at 2013-11-4

Shandong Overview

Shandong is a coastal province in what has traditionally been considered northern China. Shandong Province is located northwest of Shanghai, and east of the Taihang Mountain Range that stretches across parts of Henan, Shanxi and Hebei Provinces, all of which lie west of Shandong Province (the name shandong means "east of the mountain", while the name shanxi means "west of the mountain"). China's "Mother of All Rivers", the Yellow River, empties into the Gulf of Zhili north of Shandong Province's Dongying City near the mouth of Laizhou Bay, both of which bodies of water form parts of the Sea of Bohai, whose southern border is contiguous with Shandong Province.

The southwest-to-northeast direction of China's southern coast changes to a southeast-to-northwest direction just north of Shanghai, then continues in this new direction along Jiangsu Province until it meets Shandong Province, where the alignment of the coast again switches to a southwest-to-northeast direction. Seen in a different perspective, Shandong Province's Shandong Peninsula forms the southern "pincer" that surrounds the Sea of Bohai, while the northern such "pincer" is the Liaodong Peninsula of Liaoning Province, which province historically formed part of Manchuria (Liaoning Province's southern border represents China's westernmost contact point with the DPRK, aka North Korea, with the China-DPRK border continuing northeastward along the southern border of China's Jilin Province).

Shandong Province, whose ancient name was Qilu - a reference to the Kingdoms of Qi and Lu - has one of the richest histories among China's 22 provinces (not counting the 23rd province, Taiwan, which also has a rich history, albeit, not quite as complex as that of Shandong), as the next section aptly attests.

Shandong Travel Guide

Shandong History

As far back as the Shang (BCE 1700-1027) Dynasty, there was contact between China and the area of present-day Shandong Province. Much of western Shandong Province had already come under Han Chinese influence by the time of the Western Zhou (BCE 1027-771) Dynasty, with the eastern part of the province being inhabited by the Lai Yi people, who resisted sinicization and who were therefore labelled by the Han Chinese as "barbarians". Eventually, also the Lai Yi were absorbed into mainstream Han Chinese society, with all of present-day Shandong Province having not only become part of China by the time of the Spring and Autumn (BCE 770-476) Period of the Eastern Zhou (BCE 770-221) Dynasty, but having become completely sinicized in the process.

As indicated above, the area of present-day Shandong Province was shared by two rival kingdoms, or states, during the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, the Qi State and the Lu State, the latter being home to the famous thinker and educator, Confucius. During the latter half of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, i.e., during the Warring States (BCE 475-221) Period, the Lu State was conquered by the more powerful Chu State, while the Qi State continued to exist as a powerful rival to the Chu State.

As it turned out, the Eastern Zhou Dynasty was at best a weak confederacy, with the many smaller and larger states that were formed during the prosperous and trusting Spring and Autumn Period of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty - each state under the direct rule of family members of the rulers of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty - eventually vying for power, or fighting desperately to simply survive.

The Qi State was a relatively powerful state but was crushed and annexed by a yet more powerful state, the Wu State, which in turn was crushed and annexed by the Yue State. The Yue State was weakened in the process and was eventually overtaken by the Chu State which had become more powerful in the meantime. Alas, the Chu State was in turn swept off the table, along with all of the other remaining states of the Warring States Period, by the supremely powerful Qin State which then re-formed itself as the Qin (BCE 221-207) Dynasty, with the King of Qin declaring himself the emperor (Emperor Qin Shi Huang) of the newly formed dynasty, becoming China's first emperor in what would be a dynastic period that would stretch into the future for another two thousand years.

In the meantime, the fate of the Lu State was more tragic. The Lu State managed to stave off an attack from the Qi State in BCE 684, but thereafter the Lu State was parcelled among three competing warlords, all descendants of the then powerful Duke Huan of Lu, which "divided house" would prove to be fatal for the Lu State. The Qi State eventually overran and annexed the parts of the Lu State that were under the control of two of the competing warlords (namely, Mengsun and Shusun), while the remainder of the Lu State under the control of the third warlord, Jisun, was annexed in BCE 256 by the powerful Chu State, not long before the latter was itself definitively crushed and annexed by the last-man-standing state, the Qin State cum Qin Dynasty.

Shandong Travel Guide

The subsequent Han (BCE 206 - CE 220) Dynasty created two large prefectures, or zhou, in what would later become Shandong Province: Qingzhou and Yanzhou. Qingzhou occupied the northern part of the area in question while Yanzhou occupied the southern part. During the next dynastic period, the turbulent Three Kingdoms (CE 220-280) Period, the area of present-day Shandong Province belonged to the Kingdom of Wei (the other two kingdoms were Shu (CE 221-263) and Wu (CE 229-280), while the Kingdom of Wei, which ruled over all of what was then northern China, lasted from CE 220-265).

A period of relative calm ensued during the Western Jin (CE 265-316) Dynasty, but by the end of this dynasty, the pressure from the Jürchen tribes to the north (in what came to be known as Manchuria) saw an exodus of Han Chinese people southward, and the area of present-day Shandong Province was one of the main recipients of these initial Han Chinese refugees, since the hope was that the problem could be contained and that the refugees might be able to return to their former territories. But the push from the Jürchen tribes was relentless, and the subsequent Eastern Jin (CE 317-420) Dynasty, built on the remnants of what had been the defeated Western Jin Dynasty, was more or less a Han Chinese dynasty in retreat.

The retreat - into what is present-day Jiangsu Province (the capital of the Eastern Jin Dynasty was Jiankang, whose ruins lie near present-day Nanking in southern Jiangsu Province, not far from present-day Shanghai) - brought the rulers of the Eastern Jin Dynasty into territories hitherto ruled by local aboriginal clans (some of whom still exist, though today as Chinese ethnic minorities), and this uneasy relationship only undermined the strength and unity of the Eastern Jin Dynasty further, leading to a split between the north and south that would later be designated the Southern and Northern Dynasties (CE 386-588) Period.

The area of present-day Shandong Province fell first under the rule of the nomadic Jürchen tribes, but switched back and forth between nomadic Jürchen (northern) rule and Han Chinese (southern) rule in the years that followed until it eventually became a fixed element of the Northern Dynasties (CE 386-588) "empire".

In spite of the tug of war between the Han Chinese and the Jürchens on the one hand and, on the other hand, between the Han Chinese and the aboriginal tribes of the south, the period was marked by many positive influences, including the spread of Buddhism throughout China, but even China's native Taoism flourished during this period. It was also a period of advances in art and culture, and even the military struggle between the nomadic Jürchen tribes and the Han Chinese led to "technological advances" that would have far-reaching effects, such as the invention of the stirrup, which transformed a primitive warrior on horseback to a disciplined cavalryman, and the increased use of naval vessels as a precursor to the later man-of-war naval vessels of the 16th - 19th centuries.

Shandong Travel Guide

As is typical of Chinese history, periods of relative unity alternated with periods of great disunity. Accordingly, while the Sui (CE 581-617), the Tang (CE 618-907) and the Song (CE 960-1279) Dynasty periods were relatively stable, the Five Dynasties (CE 907-960) and the Ten Kingdoms (CE 907-979) Periods, as well as the interim period between the Song and the Yuan (CE 1279-1368) Dynasties, were all characterized by instability, during which periods little was heard of the area of present-day Shandong Province. But even the relatively stable Song Dynasty incorporated its own form of instability when Emperor Huizong, whose reign was from CE 1100-1125, chose to repress Buddhism in favor of Taoism.

As well, toward the end of the Song Dynasty, the peace between the Jürchens and the Han Chinese again broke down, and the area of present-day Shandong Province fell under Jürchen rule anew when it became a part of the Jürchen Jin (CE 1115-1234) Dynasty. It was at this time that the name "Shandong" was first used, when the area of present-day Shandong Province was divided into a Shandong East Circuit and a Shandong West Circuit. Shandong first came into being as a full-fledged province during the Han Chinese Ming (CE 1368-1644) Dynasty, though the original Shandong Province was much larger than its modern counterpart, during which time Shandong Province included much of present-day Liaoning Province, which was part of the lands occupied by the Jürchens that were more commonly referred to as Manchuria. When the Jürchens cum Manchus came to power in 1644 with the advent of the Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty, toppling the Ming Dynasty, Shandong Province was pared down to roughly its present-day borders.

The Qing Dynasty's Manchu rulers had a troubled relationship to the outside world, which relationship ended badly, i.e., in trade and territorial concessions being granted to outside powers, amounting to colonialism in China. The trade and territorial concessions came as a result of the Opium Wars (1839-1842 and 1856-1860). These humiliations only led to the Han Chinese inspired Boxer Rebellion and to the first revolution which brought down the Qing Dynasty, replacing it with the Republic of China (1912-1949) and thus ending over two thousand years of imperial rule, but the quest for independence sparked by the humiliating trade and territorial concessions, one might reasonably argue, led directly to the Communist Revolution, since much of the territory occupied by the ROC during its final years was controlled by ruthless warlords with whom the people had little or no sympathy.

It was during the period of trade and territorial concessions - the period of the so-called Unequal Treaties - beginning with the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842, that much of Shandong Province fell under the German 'sphere of influence'. The city of Qingdao was outright leased to Germany in 1897 (the famous Qingdao beer of today, Tsingdao Beer, was originally a typical German pilsner (a light beer as opposed to a dark lager beer) created by German brewers), while the city of Weihai was leased to the British the following year. The rest of the province became, as indicated, part of the German 'sphere of influence' in China.

Grossly unfairly, the Treaty of Versailles, which came at the conclusion of the First World War, transferred the German China concessions not back to China (not to the ROC) but to Japan. This cowardly act led to the May Fourth Movement, which was an open, impromptu, anti-imperialist, pro-nationalist Chinese movement that only fuelled the broader independence movement in China that would culminate in the Communist Revolution.

The Japanese-controlled parts of Shandong Province were eventually returned to the ROC in 1922, thanks in large part to the efforts of the United States of America during the Washington Naval Conference, which was an offshoot movement of the League of Nations, which latter political forum had failed to achieve an equitable solution to the many problems, including territorial problems, that existed at the close of WWI. Weihai, which was still under British rule after the rest of Shandong Province had been returned to China, was turned over to the ROC in 1930, though the British would hang onto certain other Chinese territories (think: Hong Kong) for another 67 years.

Curiously, the Manchu rulers of the Qing Dynasty opened up Shandong Province, which had long been controlled by the Jürchens cum Manchus, to Han Chinese immigration, and the province was quickly flooded with new, Han Chinese Shandongers.

Present-Day Shandong Province

Shandong Travel Guide

Shandong is the 19th largest and the 2nd most populated province in China. Topographically, Shandong Province is as varied as its history, with rolling hills in the eastern and southern parts of the province, an alluvial plain (the Yellow River Delta, part of the North China Plain) in the north and northwestern parts of the province and a mountainous region in the central part of the province that is also home to Mount Tai, one of the Five Sacred (to Taoism) Mountains of China (note that Chinese Buddhism similarly has Four Sacred Mountains, the two groups of mountains being mutually exclusive). Shandong Province borders the Yellow Sea to the east and the Sea of Bohai to the north. Not surprisingly, the Yellow River Delta of Shandong Province includes a number of large lakes, including Lake Nansi and Lake Dongping. The Grand Canal, stretching from Hangzhou in the south to Beijing in the north, passes through Shandong Province.

As already indicated, the city of Qingdao is home to China's most famous beer, Tsingdao Beer. But the province is also home to numerous vineyards that produce some of China's finest wines, including varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet Gernischt (note that Cabernet Gernischt is a grape variety which today is found only in China, its original French counterpart having been entirely wiped out by a wine grape disease in the late 19th century, though the grape used to produce the famous French wine, Cabernet Franc, is believed to be a cousin to the Cabernet Gernischt grape).

As the wine-making prowess of Shandong Province progresses over time, the province's wines - which comprise over 40% of China's grape wine production, and many of which vinyards, notably excluding the Cabernet Gernischt vinyards, are of recent origin - are expected to increase in value. Two of the province's major wineries are the Changyu Pioneer Wine Company and the China Great Wall Wine Company.

The main tourist cities of Shandong Province include: Qingdao (to learn more about the city of Qingdao, click here); Jinan - the capital, aka "Spring City" thanks to its many natural springs, and also the venue for the 2008 Olympics Sailing Regatta (to learn more about the city of Jinan, click here); Weihai (to learn more about the city of Weihai, click here); Yantai (to learn more about the city of Yantai, click here); Qufu, the hometown of Confucius (to learn more about the city of Qufu, click here); Weifang (to learn more about the city of Weifang, click here); and Zaozhuang (to learn more about the city of Zaozhuang, click here).

As can be deduced from the above, Shandong Province, thanks to its long and eventful history, is home to numerous significant cultural relics and historical sites, including sites that reflect the province's colonial past. Thanks to its varied topography, the province boasts beautiful mountains with clear streams and extensive plains characterized by broad rivers and large lakes while on the cultural-historical side, the province offers some 500 scenic sites with more than 13,000 ancient structures and ancient historical sites, including 27 state-protected sites that have been recognized especially as historically and culturally preservation-worthy.

There is a myriad of other greater and lesser tourist sites throughout the province, many of which enjoy either state or provincial-level protection. With its coastal flavor, its temperate climate, its varied topography and its European connection via the province's colonial history - not to speak of the province's brewery and its many vinyards - Shandong Province is a well-formed pearl that never ceases to delight, or, to use a perhaps more appropriate mataphor, Shandong Province is itself like a vintage wine that continues to improve as it ages.

Top Things to Do in Shandong

Major Tourist Cities in Shandong

Shandong Travel Guide

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