Kaiser Wilhelm II on German Interests in China

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WWI Document Archive > Pre - 1914 Documents > Kaiser Wilhelm II on German Interests in China


Kaiser Wilhelm II and German Interests in China

[The following two documents, the second in two versions, illustrate the style of German imperialism in the Wilhelmine era. An uprising of the Society of Righteous Harmonious Fists--the Boxer Rebellion--was a desperate effort by native Chinese forces to stave off foreign influence and the dismemberment of their country by the Great Powers. In June 1900, 140,000 Boxers occupied Peking, laying siege to the foreigners and attacking Chinese converts to Christianity. An international expeditionary force raised the siege in August, but not before several Europeans, including the German envoy and several missionaries, had been murdered. The Boxer Rebellion occasioned heated nationalistic rhetoric all over Europe. Although Kaiser Wilhelm II outdid all others in his posturings, behind the rhetoric, there stood concrete economic interests that had to be protected if Germany were to achieve its "place in the sun."

Upon confirmation of the news that the German envoy to Peking had been murdered, a military force was assembled in Bremerhaven for a punitive expedition. Wilhelm and his wife happened to be present at the embarkation, when the Kaiser made this impromptu speech to the soldiers on July 2, 1900. Source: Ernst Johann (ed.), Reden des Kaisers: Ansprachen, Predigten und Trinksprüche Wilhelms II (Munich, 1966), pp. 86-88. Translated by Richard S. Levy.]


Into the midst of the deepest peace--alas, not surprising to me--the torch of war has been hurled. A crime unprecedented in its brazenness, horrifying in its cruelty, has struck my trusted representative and carried him off. The ambassadors of the other powers are in danger of their lives and along with them your comrades who were dispatched for their protection. Perhaps, they have today fought their last battle. The German flag has been insulted, and the German Empire held up to scorn. This demands an exemplary punishment and revenge.[1]

With fearful speed the conditions have become extremely serious. Since I have summoned you to arms, [the situation has become] still more serious. What I had hoped to restore with the help of the marines will now require the united contingents of troops from all the civilized nations. Today the chief of the cruiser squadron has implored me to consider sending an [entire] division.

You will oppose an enemy no less resolute in the face of death than yourselves. Trained by European officers, the Chinese have learned the use of European weapons. Thank God your comrades in the marines and in my navy, with whom you will join, have asserted and maintained the old German repute in combat; they have defended themselves with glory and victory and eased your task.

Thus I send you now to avenge injustice, and I shall not rest until the German flag, united with those of the other powers, waves victoriously over the Chinese, planted on the walls of Peking, and dictating peace to the Chinese.

Maintain a good comradeship with all the troops whom you will join with there. Russians, Englishmen, Frenchmen, and whoever else--they all fight for one cause, for civilization.

Yet we also bear in mind something higher, our religion, and the defense and protection of our brothers overseas, some of whom have stood up for their Savior with their life.

Think also of our military honor, of those who have fought for you, and depart with the old motto of the flag of Brandenburg: "Trust God, defend yourself bravely. In that lies all your honor! For whoever ventures on God with a full heart will never be routed."

The flags that wave above you here go into fire for the first time. Bring them back to me pure, unblemished, and without stain!

My thanks and my concern, my prayers and my solicitude will not leave you. With these I accompany you.


[At the end of July, the Kaiser paid a visit to another body of troops being dispatched to China, again in Bremerhaven. The following document represents the official, heavily edited, version of his remarks on this occasion put out for public consumption by Chancellor Buelow. Source: Wilhelm Schroeder (ed.), Das persönliche Regiment: Reden und sonstige öffentliche Äusserungen Wilhelms II (Munich, 1912), pp. 40-42. Translated by Richard S. Levy.]


Great overseas tasks have fallen to the newly arisen German Empire, tasks far greater than many of my countrymen expected. It is in character for the German Empire to meet the obligation of defending its citizens who are being oppressed in foreign lands. These tasks that the old Holy Roman Empire was not up to, the new German Empire is in position to perform. The means that makes this possible is our army. During thirty years of peaceful labor it has been built up according to the principles of my late grandfather [Wilhelm I, 1861-88.] You, too, have received your training according to these principles and shall now test them before the enemy. Your comrades in the navy have already undergone this test and have demonstrated that the principles of our training are sound. I am proud of the praise from foreign leaders which your comrades have earned over there. It is for you to do the same.

A great task awaits you: You must see to it that a serious injustice is expiated. The Chinese have overturned the law of nations. Never before in world history have the sanctity of diplomats and the obligations of hospitality been subjected to such contempt. It is all the more outrageous that these crimes have been committed by a nation which prides itself on its ancient culture.

Maintain the old Prussian virtue. Show yourselves Christians in the joyful bearing of sorrow. May honor and fame follow your banners and your arms. Give all the world an example of manliness and discipline. Well you know that you shall be fighting against a sly, brave, well-armed, and cruel foe.

When you come upon him, know this: Pardon will not be given. Prisoners will not be taken.[2] Bear your weapons so that for a thousand years no Chinaman will dare even to squint at a German.

Carry yourselves like men, and the blessing of God go with you. The prayers of the entire nation and my good wishes go with you, each and everyone. Open the way for civilization once and for all! Now you can depart! Adieu, comrades!


[Prince Bülow did not realize that a reporter from a local newspaper had taken down the kaiser's speech in shorthand; it was this much more lurid version that was picked up by the world press and which provided further evidence of Wilhelm's impulsiveness.]


The task which I am sending you out to do is a great one. You must see that a serious injustice is expiated. In this case the Chinese have dared to overturn a thousand year old international law and to make a mockery of the sanctity of the diplomat and the right of hospitality. The case is unprecedented in world history--and this from a people proud of its ancient culture!

But you can see from this what a culture not based on Christianity comes to. Every heathen culture, no matter how beautiful or august, will come to nought at the first catastrophe!

...When you come upon the enemy, smite him. Pardon will not be given. Prisoners will not be taken. Whoever falls into your hands is forfeit. Once, a thousand years ago, the Huns under their King Attila made a name for themselves, one still potent in legend and tradition.[3] May you in this way make the name German remembered in China for a thousand years so that no Chinaman will ever again dare to even squint at a German!

You will have to fight a force superior in numbers. But, as our military history demonstrates, we are accustomed to this....Gather new laurels for your [regimental] flags. The blessings of the Lord go with you and your prayers. An entire nation accompanies you on all your paths. My best wishes to you for the fortune of your arms....And may God's blessing attach itself to your banner and bring a blessing upon this war so that Christianity may survive in that land and such sad events never reoccur. To this end stand by your oath. And now, a prosperous voyage! Adieu, comrades!


  1. Deleted from this official version of the speech was the following: "I hope...to take revenge such as the world has never before witnessed."
  2. Thanks to skillful editing in this paragraph, it is possible to read the text to say that the Germans will meet with no mercy at the hands of the enemy. Text 3, however, makes it abundantly clear that the kaiser is enjoining his soldiers to give no quarter to the enemy.
  3. The kaiser's allusion to Attila was seized upon by enemy propagandists during World War I. In popular consciousness the Germans and the barbaric "Huns" became one.


Michael Balfour, The Kaiser and His Times (New York, 1964)

WWI Document Archive > Pre - 1914 Documents > Kaiser Wilhelm II on German Interests in China