The German military mission in Nanking, 1928-1938: A bridge connecting China and Germany

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Frederick D. Marquardt


Economic history, European history, History

Subject Categories

Asian History


China has a tradition of hiring foreigners as advisers, either in groups or as individuals, to modernize her country. The presence of a group of German advisers there from 1928 to 1938 was one example. Several incentive forces were responsible for the formation of this mission. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen's ideology favored a German model. The Treaty of Versailles forced the retirement of many officers. The new German army and industrialists hoped to find markets to exchange their products for raw materials. The mission in China, however, faced several problems in the beginnings: poor leadership from 1929 to 1933, civil war among the Chinese, Japanese aggression, the financial instability of the Nanking government, and lack of official support from Berlin. Not until 1933, when Hitler seized power and launched major rearmament in Germany, when China achieved a temporary peace, and when the government in Nanking developed a new economic program suitable for German investment, did the military mission achieve significant cooperation. General Seeckt, who became Adviser-General to Chiang Kai-shek from 1934 to 1935, used his personal influence to encourage several industrial firms to invest in the Chinese market and to cooperate with Chinese agencies to develop the region south of the Yantze river. The Berlin government gave its Nanking counterpart a revolving credit of 100 Reichmarks in 1936 under a barter agreement. With this assistance, the Chinese government launched a Three Year Plan.

Meanwhile, the mission made important contributions to modernizing the Chinese army. General Wetzell, chief advisor from 1929 to 1934, created demonstration brigades. Seeckt and General Falkenhausen (1935-38) created and expanded units adapted to mobile warfare.

The start of the Sino-Japanese war in 1937 forced Hitler to choose between his Japanese ally and China. He withdrew the mission in 1938.

The military mission was established and briefly flourished because it served the interests of both sides. Dislocated German officers, the German army, industrial firms, and Nazi rearmament: all benefitted. On the other side, the improved organization and equipment of parts of Chiang's army helped him consolidate his power and offer stiffer resistance to the Japanese than otherwise would have been likely.


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