Shandong (Shantung) Question (1919)

Shandong (Shantung)
Shandong (Shantung)

Shandong (Shantung) is a province on China's northern coast. It is the birthplace of two great sages, Confucius and Mencius, and is therefore called China's Holy Land. Dramatically weakened after its defeat by Japan in 1895, Germany set off the "scramble for China" in 1898 by seizing Jiaozhou (Kiaochow), a port in Shandong, for a German naval base and forcing the Qing (Ch'ing) government to lease it to Germany for 99 years.

Germany also received the right to build and control two railways in Shandong and gained other mining and financial concessions. Shandong became a German sphere of influence.

Japan entered World War I as an ally of Great Britain with a goal of destroying German influence in East Asia; by November 1914 it had ousted all German interests in Shandong. In 1915 the Japanese government presented Chinese president Yuan Shikai (Yuan Shihk'ai) with the Twenty-one Demands, aimed at establishing its hegemony in China.

One group stipulated the transfer of German interests in Shandong to Japan. Although Yuan agreed to the demands in May 1915, they were never ratified by the Chinese parliament, which he had dissolved. In 1917 Japan's allies (Great Britain, France, Russia, and Italy) agreed to the transfer of German rights in Shandong to Japan after the war. After joining the war the United States also agreed to Japan's special rights in China.

China joined World War I in 1917 as an associated power and thus won a seat at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Its broad goal, the rescinding of the unequal treaties China had been forced to sign with Western powers since 1842, was never discussed. Japan had three goals at Paris:
  1. the Micronesian Islands (Carolines, Marianas, and Marshalls) in the northern Pacific as mandates under the League of Nations, which was granted;
  2. a clause in the covenant of the League of Nations on racial equality, which was controversial and withdrawn; and
  3. obtaining German rights in Shandong.
China's legal position was compromised when Japan revealed a secret agreement with Yuan's successor in China that acknowledged Japan's rights in Shandong in return for Japanese loans.

May Fourth Movement
May Fourth Movement

The loss of Shandong provoked enormous public anger in China, directed mainly against its politicians, who were seen as incompetent and traitorous. Protests led by students, called the May Fourth Movement, won widespread support from merchants and workers. The government was pressured into not signing the Treaty of Versailles with Germany.