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Clemens von Ketteler, German diplomat murdered in China

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German diplomat Clemens August Baron von Ketteler, born in Potsdam on November 22nd 1853, was murdered in Peking on June 20th, 1900. His assassination triggered the 55-day-long siege of the Legation Quarter. Following his graduation in 1873, he served in the Prussian Army until joining the German diplomatic corps in 1879.

Between 1880 and 1889 he served as an interpreter in the consulates in Canton and Tientsin. After working in Berlin for a short period, he was posted to Washington, D.C. between 1892 and 1896 and then to Mexico City from 1896 to 1899.

After Germany had leased Kiautschou Bay (including the tiny village of Tsingtau) in Shantung province from China in April 1898, von Ketteler returned to Asia a year later as Minister of the German Empire. There he rapidly became aware of the growing dangers that foreigners were facing, especially after the xenophobic Boxer Rebellion started on November 2nd, 1899.

He was killed by a local soldier while on his way to the Zongli Yamen, the predecessor of a Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His murder was arrested while trying to sell his victim’s watch. Showing no remorse and arguing that he had acted on orders from above, he was beheaded in public on December 31st, 1900.

As compensation, an ornamental arch called the “Ketteler Memorial” was erected at the exact location where he fell. It was inaugurated on January 18th, 1903 in the presence of his American widow Matilda Cass Ledyard (1871–1960). On November 13th 1918, just two days after Germany had signed an armistice that ended World War I, it lost its official function.

In 1919, the Chinese government moved it to the present-day location and renamed it “The Victory of Justice Gate”. In 1953, the Mao Tse-tung’s Communists renamed it once again as “The Protection of Peace Gate”.

Von Ketteler was succeeded as Ambassador by Sinophile Philipp Alfons Baron Mumm von Schwarzenstein, who signed on behalf of Germany the document that would officially end the hostilities, the Boxer Protocol, on September 7th, 1901. He also organized the trip of Prince Chun to Europe, who in Potsdam offered his regrets on behalf of the Ching Dynasty to Kaiser Wilhelm II.

An enthusiastic amateur photographer, Mumm left behind many pictures documenting the turn of the 20th century in various parts of China. Before taking up his new position in Japan, he received a handmade gift from Empress Dowager Cixi, the éminence grise at the Chinese Imperial Court.

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