History of Shandong
With its location on the eastern edge of the North China Plain, Shandong was home to a succession of Neolithic cultures for millennia, including the Houli culture (6500–5500 BCE), the Beixin culture (5300–4100 BCE), the Dawenkou culture (4100–2600 BCE), the Longshan culture (3000–2000 BCE), and the Yueshi culture (1900–1500 BCE).
The earliest dynasties (the Shang dynasty and Zhou dynasty) exerted varying degrees of control over western Shandong, while eastern Shandong was inhabited by the Dongyi peoples who were considered “barbarians”. Over subsequent centuries, the Dongyi were eventually sinicized.
During the Spring and Autumn period and the Warring States period, regional states became increasingly powerful. At this time, Shandong was home to two major states: the state of Qi at Linzi and the state of Lu at Qufu. Lu is noted for being the home of Confucius. The state was, however, comparatively small, and eventually succumbed to the larger state of Chu from the south. The state of Qi, on the other hand, was a major power throughout the period. Cities it ruled included Linzi, Jimo (north of modern Qingdao) and Ju.
Early Imperial history
The Qin dynasty conquered Qi and founded the first centralized Chinese state in 221 BCE. The Han dynasty that followed created a number of commanderies supervised by two regions (刺史部) in what is now modern Shandong: Qingzhou (青州) in the north and Yanzhou (兗州) in the south. During the division of the Three Kingdoms, Shandong belonged to the Cao Wei, which ruled over northern China.
After the Three Kingdoms period, a brief period of unity under the Western Jin dynasty gave way to invasions by nomadic peoples from the north. Northern China, including Shandong, was overrun. Over the next century or so Shandong changed hands several times, falling to the Later Zhao, then Former Yan, then Former Qin, then Later Yan, then Southern Yan, then the Liu Song dynasty, and finally the Northern Wei dynasty, the first of the Northern dynasties during the Northern and Southern dynasties Period. Shandong stayed with the Northern dynasties for the rest of this period.
In 412 CE, the Chinese Buddhist monk Faxian landed at Laoshan, on the southern edge of the Shandong peninsula, and proceeded to Qingzhou to edit and translate the scriptures he had brought back from India.
The Sui dynasty reestablished unity in 589, and the Tang dynasty (618-907) presided over the next golden age of China. For the earlier part of this period Shandong was ruled as part of Henan Circuit, one of the circuits (a political division). Later on China splintered into warlord factions, resulting in the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. Shandong was part of the Five Dynasties, all based in the north.
The Song dynasty reunified China in the late tenth century. The classic novel Water Margin was based on folk tales of outlaw bands active in Shandong during the Song dynasty. In 1996, the discovery of over two hundred buried Buddhist statues at Qingzhou was hailed as a major archaeological find. The statues included early examples of painted figures, and are thought to have been buried due to Emperor Huizong’s repression of Buddhism (he favored Taoism).
The Song dynasty was forced to cede northern China to the Jurchen Jin dynasty in 1142. Shandong was administered by the Jin as Shandong East Circuit and Shandong West Circuit – the first use of its current name.
Early modern history
Street market in the city, photographed by members of the Fragata Sarmiento’s crew in the late 19th century
The modern province of Shandong was created by the Ming dynasty, where it had a more expansive territory including the agricultural part of Liaoning. After the Ming-Qing Transition in 1644, Shandong acquired (more or less) its current borders.
During the nineteenth century, China became increasingly exposed to Western influence, and Shandong, a coastal province, was especially affected. Qingdao was leased to Germany in 1897 and Weihai to Britain in 1898. As a result of foreign pressure from the Russian Empire, which had annexed Outer Manchuria by 1860, the Qing dynasty encouraged settlement of Shandong people to what remained of northeast China.
Shandong was one of the first places in which the Boxer Rebellion started and became one of the centers of the uprising. In 1899, the Qing general Yuan Shikai was appointed as governor of the province to suppress the uprising. He held the post for 3 years.
As a consequence of the First World War, Germany lost Qingdao and its sphere of influence in Shandong. The Treaty of Versailles transferred the German concessions in Shandong to Japan instead of restoring Chinese sovereignty over the area. Popular dissatisfaction with this outcome, referred to as the Shandong Problem, led to the May Fourth Movement. Among the reservations to the Treaty that the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations approved was “to give Shantung to China,” the treaty with reservations was not approved. Finally, Shandong reverted to Chinese control in 1922 after mediation by the United States during the Washington Naval Conference. Weihai followed in 1930.
The return of control over Shandong fell into the Warlord era of the Republic of China. Shandong was handed over to the Zhili clique of warlords, but after the Second Zhili-Fengtian War of 1924, the northeast China-based Fengtian clique took over. In April 1925, the Fengtian clique installed the warlord Zhang Zongchang, nicknamed the “Dogmeat General”, as military governor of Shandong Province. Time dubbed him China’s “basest warlord”. He ruled over the province until 1928, when he was ousted in the wake of the Northern Expedition. He was succeeded by Han Fuju, who was loyal to the warlord Feng Yuxiang but later switched his allegiance to the Nanjing government headed by Chiang Kai-shek. Han Fuju also ousted the warlord Liu Zhennian, nicknamed the “King of Shandong East”, who ruled eastern Shandong Province, hence unifying the province under his rule.
Qingdao, the largest city of Shandong Province, 2016
In 1937 Japan began its invasion of China proper in the Second Sino-Japanese War, which would eventually become part of the Pacific theatre of the Second World War. Han Fuju was made Deputy Commander in Chief of the 5th War Area and put in charge defending the lower Yellow River valley. However, he abandoned his base in Jinan when the Japanese crossed the Yellow River. He was executed for not following orders shortly thereafter.
Japanese and communist rules
Shandong was occupied in its entirety by Japan, with resistance continuing in the countryside, and was one of the provinces where a scorched earth policy (“Three Alls Policy”: “kill all”, “burn all”, “loot all”) was implemented by general Yasuji Okamura. This lasted until the surrender of Japan in 1945 killing millions of people in Shandong and Northern China.
By 1945, communist forces already held some parts of Shandong. Over the next four years of the Chinese Civil War, they expanded their holdings, eventually driving the Kuomintang (government of the Republic of China) out of Shandong by June 1949. The People’s Republic of China was founded in October of the same year.
Under the new government, parts of western Shandong were initially given to the short-lived Pingyuan Province, but this did not last. Shandong also acquired the Xuzhou and Lianyungang areas from Jiangsu province, but this did not last either. For the most part Shandong has kept the same borders that it has today.
About 6 million people starved to death in Shandong during the great famine.
In recent years Shandong, especially eastern Shandong, has enjoyed significant economic development, becoming one of the richest provinces of the People’s Republic of China.