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The first sale to China of Mauser Oberbendorf

According to Jon Speed’s work, China reached Mauser Company as early as 1975/76, but their did not put their first order until 1880. In late 1870s, Imperial Chinese army were equipped single shot breech loading rifles such as Snider, Remington Rolling block rifle. Prior to 1879 China known little about Mauser and his rifle.

In early 1878, Li Hung-Chang demanded his subordinates from Tientsin Arsenal (Pei-yang Arsenal) to acquire more rifles. Officials from Tientsin contacted Li Feng-bao, the Chinese student supervisor attached to the Embassy in London, asking his help of purchasing rifles.

Li Feng-bao sent several specimens of Martini-Henry, Westly Richards. In July 1878, Li Feng-Bao was promoted to the Chinese Minister in Germany and he moved to Berlin in November. Thus he had opportunities to visit some arms manufacturers, such as Ludwig Loewe Company.

Before signing Mauser’s contract, Chinese Embassy in Berlin bought Li Hung-Chang 1500 M/71 carbines from Dreyse and 4416 M/71 Jager rifles from Steyr. Since Li Hung-Chang’s plan was to buy 10000 rifles, Chinese Embassy reached several manufactures again and eventually decided to put their order on Mauser Company.

Chinese Embassy translator Tcheng Ki-tong on behalf of Chinese Government negotiated the deal with Mauser Company delegate. He visited Mauser Oberndorf twice during the period. On August 6 Chinese minister received Tcheng’s telegraph in which Tchen had singed contract of 5000 M/71 rifles w bayonet with Mauser company. Each Chinese rifle costs 26 Marks which both Chinese and Mauser referred to it as “Second grade” rifle.

Tcheng Ki-tong firstly severed at Chinese Embassy in London as a translator to assist Li Feng-Bao’s work. When Li moved to Berlin, he came to Berlin Embassy still working as a translator. Because the Embassy had very few formal staffs, Tcheng also acted as Military attaché. Tcheng graduated from Chuan Zheng School, the first Chinese naval academy, thus he was able to obtain military rank after his graduation and promoted to You Ji (游击, Chinese military rank, roughly equals to Major) in 1881.

Paul Mauser was shocked by Chinese asking for “Second grade” rifle which he had never heard of before. To buy “second grade” rifle was a direct order from Li Hung-Chang. In this letter dated October 14 from Tientsin Arsenal said that The Minister (Li Hung-Chang) asked us to reduce expenditure as much as we can, surface flawed rifle is acceptable as long as rifle action is functioning. Li Feng-Bao explained that Mauser Company offering 30 to 40 Marks for each rifle at first. Thanks to Tcheng’s effort, according to Li Feng-Bao’s letter, Mauser agrees to lower the price to 26 Marks if China orders more rifles in the near future. Mauser rifles w bayonet are priced at 26, 34 and 49 Marks, rifles cost 26 and 34 marks are second grade.

In October, Li Feng-Bao received 44000 Sterling Pounds which Tientsin Arsenal originally allotted to Constantin von Hanneken, then a retired German Captain now hired by Imperial Chinese Army, to purchase surplus Needle rifles of Prussian Army. Chinese officials abandoned the idea of buying outdated needle firing rifles in the end. They transferred the fund to Li Feng-Bao and wish him to purchase another 10000 Mauser rifles. In October 1880, Chinese Embassy in Berlin ordered 3100 rifles of “second grade” and 8000 rifles of “first grade”.

Chinese requires standalone serial number of the rifles. “First grade” rifles will have Crown symbol in front of serial number while on “Second grade” rifle the crown symbol is replaced by Chinese character “津”, Tsin, for identification of buyer and type of rifle. Li Hung-Chang recommends stamping the serial number with Chinese character numbers instead of Arabic numerals. The idea was dropped because of lacking person to prepare Chinese character die.

Chinese Minister in Berlin hired Von Sydow to inspect the rifles. The first 2308 rifles of “Second class” was shipped from Hamburg to Shanghai on September 23. The ship carried the rifles ran aground in red sea. A telegraph arrived on November 3 morning informs Chinese Minister that the ship had wrecked. Letter from von Scheve to Paul Mauser reported same situation. However, according to Chinese Minister’s letter, the ship was okay and made the delivery though the rifles were in a badly rusty condition. The full shipment date of the rifles are listed below.


9.23 shipped 2308 rifles @ 26 Marks, paid 60008 Marks

10.9 Paid insurance and shipment fee 2587.5 Marks

11.30 Shipped 1152 rifles @26 Marks, paid 29952 Marks

12.5 Paid insurance and shipment fee 2774.78 Marks


1.29 Shipped 1540 rifles @ 26 Marks and 764 rifles @34 Marks, paid 66016 Marks

2.7 Shipped 1152 rifles @ 34 Marks, paid 39168 Marks

2.19 Shipped 1152 rifles @ 49 Marks, paid 56448 Marks, insurance and shipment fee 5999.04 Marks

3.1 Shipped 1152 rifles @ 49 Marks, paid 56448 Marks

3.24 Shipped 1152 rifles @ 49 Marks, paid 56448 Marks, insurance and shipment fee 3980.08 Marks

3.28 Paid insurance and shipment fee 1980.5 Marks

3.31 Shipped 1152 rifles @ 49 Marks, paid 56448 Marks

4.9 Shipped 1152 rifles @ 49 Marks, paid 56448 Marks

4.21 Shipped 1088 rifles @ 49 Marks and 64 rifles @ 34 Marks, paid 55488 Marks

4.29 Shipped 1120 rifles @ 49 Marks, paid 3808 Marks

5.5 Paid insurance and shipment fee 7984.3 Marks

5.28 Paid insurance and shipment fee 1981.7 Marks

The deal is done

Shipments from this list corresponds to the known Mauser sale records. However some shipments of this list are not appearing in Speed’s sales book. This document dated June 8 1881, and the last shipment date is May 28. It is not a future plan but a happened arrangement. I prefer to believe this is the actual full records. Probably Mauser records showing by speed is not complete.

Buyer constantly complained that Mauser Company package was not in a good condition when it arrived in Shanghai. They claimed that 3000 rifles were damaged and 44 rifle stocks were totally broken. Chinese Minister suggest to sent damaged rifles back to Mauser company for a replacement. On September 1881, Tientisn Arsenal reported to Chinese Minister to Berlin that they had received all Mauser company rifles of total 16100 pieces.

Jon Speed provides me some records of Mauser sales book, which corresponds to parts of the above list of shipments and some shipments are missed in Mr. Speed documents which I suspect it is not complete.  Only 13500 M/71 rifles sold to China is on the extant Mauser’s record. This induces another fact is even Mauser Company missed out some information when they compiled the list of sale records years later.

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