Weihai, a small city on the east coast of China, has more to offer than its relatively obscure name suggests. Besides the usual fare expected of a seaside city, Weihai stands out with its cosmopolitan vibes and historical heritage.
At the easternmost tip of the Shangdong Peninsular, Weihai is the Chinese city closest to South Korea and Japan. Shop signs in both Chinese and Korean are the order of the day there. It’s not only the Eastern-Asia elements that abound in Weihai. The city was a leased territory of the United Kingdom from 1898 until 1930. The legacy of the British rule includes Victorian buildings scattered across the city, some secluded from public view, as if waiting to be discovered by the curious and sharp-eyed.
The British connection, however, is the less significant part of the history of a city at the forefront of the demise of imperial China.
Liugong Island, 15 minutes of sailing from Weihai, is known as the birthplace of China’s first modern navy. That navy was the Imperial Chinese Navy of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), or the Beiyang Fleet. Consisting of state-of-the-art warships at the time, bought from the United Kingdom and Germany, the Beiyang Fleet was China’s flagship effort not only to defend itself against foreign powers but also to embrace western technology. Liugong Island was where their headquarters were based.
It proved a false dawn during the First Sino-Japanese War, as the Beiyang Fleet was crushed by the Japanese in 1895, and the fortified island was occupied by Japanese forces until the British took over three years later.
Today, a grand museum for the Beiyang Fleet stands on the island, where short films, life-size dioramas and relics piece together that fraught chapter in Chinese history. Important buildings from the era, such as the fleet command and naval academy, have also been restored on the island. Well-preserved British buildings sharing the island with them remind visitors of the island’s checkered past. Be sure to visit the original gun batteries overlooking the sea, and you may hear the mighty weapons roar from more than a century ago.
Liugong Island is also home to Liugong Island Forest Park, which covers 74% of the island. More than 100 wild spotted deer roam this luxuriously wooded realm.