Qingdao History: Tombstone News

Here’s an update to Marcus’ earlier article in the October 2009 issue of Redstar, after he visited Germany to do further research on Qingdao (Tsingtau) history. Special thanks to Qingdao resident expert Ursula Ullman for assistance in contacting Dr. Matzat in Germany and background information.

On May 1st of last year, a local arm-chair botanist was casually strolling around the lush oasis of Zhongshan Park, when kneeling down for a rest next to a large stone-lined ditch his eyes were caught by the gleam of a polished stone. Looking closer, he noticed the polished stone was covered with Chinese characters and some ornate floral patterns. Continuing along the ditch searching for more specimens, he discovered some even contained letters from the Latin alphabet. He speculated that the pieces of stone were tombstones from the German colonial era and quickly grabbed some photos and contacted scholars at the local Academy of Social Sciences. When he got in touch with local scholar Dr. Zhang Shufeng, the seasoned historian confirmed his suspicions, and furthermore concluded that they were fragments from the rampant demolition that took place during ‘The Great Ten Year Plunder’ (十年浩劫), more commonly referred to in English as the ‘Cultural Revolution.’

The International Cemetery was set aside in 1899 for all European businesspersons, military figures and missionaries that passed away while stationed in the German concession of Tsingtao (Qingdao), and it contained the graves of several significant players in Qingdao’s colonial history.

The gravestones were originally located in the International Cemetery (Wanguo Gongmu/万国公墓) which is located on the southeastern side of Qingdao Hill. Today, the area is occupied by Baihuayuan (One Hundred Flowers Park/百花园) which consists of bronze sculptures of past Chinese intellectuals, peony flowers, and a well manicured grass lawn. There are no signs hinting at or revealing what once laid below.

Just recently, the fragments of a name on one of the tombstones discovered in the ditch at Zhongshan Park was deciphered by Dr. Wilhelm Matzat of Bonn, Germany (born in Qingdao in 1930, Matzat is one of the foremost historians on the area, and also maintains an informative website on Qingdao’s history at www.tsingtau.org). The name clearly matches that of Elisabeth Othmer (maiden name Buri), who was born on 03/28/1874 in Donaueschingen, Germany and passed away on 08/06/1920 in Qingdao, China. She was a hospital nurse and on May 17th, 1911 she married Dr. William Othmer, a man almost nine years her younger (more info in German). Dr. Othmer was the headmaster at Deutsch-Chinesische Hochschule, (German-Chinese Preparatory School) which was a middle-school or high-school of sorts, where Chinese students had to learn mostly German so they could later attend German lectures in university. He remained at this post up until 1914, when he was taken as a prisoner of war after the Japanese-led ‘Siege of Tsingtao.’ He was unable to return to Qingdao until the spring of 1920, at which point his wife’s health had deteriorated to a great degree, dying soon thereafter. Dr. Othmer later married Elisabeth’s younger sister and remained in Qingdao until 1933, when he had to return to Germany because of a serious illness.

Dr. Wilhelm Othmer had also demonstrated a mastery of Mandarin and taught Mandarin to German businessman in Qingdao. These lectures, alongside Ferdinand Lessing, eventually led the two to develop a German answer to the English-derived Wade-Giles romanization of Chinese. In other words they created German Pinyin (both Wade-Giles and German Pinyin have been replaced by Standard Pinyin since 1958).

The tombstones that line the ditch in Zhongshan Park only account for a small percentage of the many that once lined the hills on Qingdao Shan. It is thought that many were used to pave roads or even as building-stones during the Cultural Revolution (so keep your eyes open if you are in the area). A few tombstones of significant figures include those of previous Tsingtau Governor Captain Paul Jaeschke, another high ranking military official, Johannes Christ, as well as a preeminent German Sinologist/missionary, Ernst Faber. To our knowledge these have not been ‘rediscovered.’


In early 1901, Paul Jaeschke was infected with either typhoid fever or typhus and later died at the Government Hospital on Jiangsu Lu at the age of fifty. Born in Breslau, Germany, the son of a banker, he had quickly climbed up through the ranks of the German Navy, and arrived in Qingdao in 1899 to fulfill his duties as a high official in German’s Far Eastern Squadron. After arriving, his health steadily declined thereafter.

His large prominent tombstone included a quarry stone base and a double-edged sword sculpture pointing towards the sky.


The second most important government official to die while in Qingdao was Major Johannes Christ. Born in Frankfurt in 1855, he died in 1902 just two years after arriving in Qingdao. Although the cause of death is unknown, it is purported that he did not adapt well to the low standards of living and hygienic standards. Supposedly after this second significant death, German officials decided to decisively upgrade hygienic services and medical treatment standards.

He was buried just below the senior ranked Jaeschke, and although they used black marble this time, the monument was built in a similar style to Jaeschke.


Ernst Faber died of typhus in 1899. A type of celebrity for Qingdao at the time, he was a prominent Sinologist, botanist and missionary. Born in Coburg, Germany in 1839, he was first sent to China as a missionary in 1864, but because of throat problems was not a very effective preacher and spent much of his time conquering Mandarin. From 1864-1899 he was endlessly collecting fauna from around China, supposedly discovering around 120 different types and his name has been preserved through the ages in a couple plant names. Supposedly he discovered the Qingdao Lily on Xiao Qingdao (小青岛) and was said to spend most of his short stay exploring the small island.

The conditions were very rough at this time; with straw roofs leaking throughout the summer, the damp homes became breeding grounds for bacteria that cause typhoid and dysentery. He died along with many other foreigners in what was a small pandemic at the time. His tombstone was much more modest than the two adjacent military officials. After he died, at his request, there was a hospital built in his name (Faber Hospital) using his life savings. Today the hospital, created for the impoverished and needy, still exists on Wending Lu, and is now called Children’s Hospital (儿童医院). One of Faber’s books, Civilization: China and Christian, first went in to print in the Spring of 1884 and by the time of his death in 1902 had already sold 54,000 copies; it is still in print today and noted as an important text on Christianity in China.

For more information on Qingdao history, contact Marcus Murphy.

Relevant Links:
Photos of other tombstone fragments at Zhongshan Park
Article about the rediscovery of the tombstones in Zhongshan Park (in Chinese)
Article about the history of Wanguo Gongmu (in Chinese)

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  1. hmm.. using tombstones to build a ditch – how ‘cultural’.
    thanks for bringing this back to life.

  2. Thanks for the great post. I’m a great-grandson of Governor Jaeschke, and I have visited Qingdao some years ago, but didn’t know about the history of the graveyard.

    One question: Your article is not completely clear about the following: Do fragments of Paul Jaeschke’s tombstone (and Johannes Christ’s and Ernst Faber’s) also belong to the redicovered ones lining the ditch, or do you just mention them as belonging to the ones yet to be found?

  3. Dear Lorenz-Meyer,

    Terribly sorry I did not make it clearer in the article, but while writing this the only tombstone fragment that had been identified was that of Elisabeth Buri Othmerborn (the last picture on this page).

    After reading about the tombstones in a local newspaper last fall I hurried out to the ditch to see what I could find, and these pictures (http://www.flickr.com/photos/qingdaossadventures/sets/72157623562646568/) include all of the fragments I personally found.

    It seems that just this month they have identified a new piece of tombstone in the area, that of the prolific German missionary, C. Johannes Voskamp (thanks to Dr. Matzat for the link: http://club.qingdaonews.com/showAnnounce_1038_3826626_1_0.htm).

    I have not been back to look for more tombstone fragments since last but I certainly hope to and will be sure to inform you of any new discoveries.

    By the way, had you ever seen a picture of your great-grandfather’s grave? This link (http://wanbao.qingdaonews.com:8080/epaper/qdwb/html/2008-05/04/content_655103.htm) previously contained a couple pictures of the graveyard, one being that of Jaeschke’s grave alongside Johannes Christ’s, but the link now seems to be broken.

    Would be greatly interested to hear more about your great-grandfather if you have the chance to forward us some information.

    Best regards,

  4. Lorenz Lorenz-Meyer

    Two more pictures re:Jaeschke and Qingdao in a recent blogpost of mine: http://www.scarlatti.de/?p=556

  5. Lorenz Lorenz-Meyer

    (Sorry, had to take down one of the pictures for copyright reasons. It was a 1909 photograph showing the Jaeschke memorial erected on Kaiser-Wilhelm-Ufer.)

  6. Henning Stedtnitz

    @ Lorenz Lorenz-Meyer:
    I am a great-great-grandson of Paul Jaeschke as well, and only just discovered this article after reading Paul Jaeschkes collected correspondence, which was given to me by my mother, whose maiden name is Jaeschke.

    • @Henning Can you send me E-Mail? You’ll find my mail address in the Scarlatti.de imprint.

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