Paul Scharffenberg – Chancellor of Tianjin/Nanjing

Paul Hermann Johannes Scharffenberg was born on December 2, 1873, in Kobylnik, Poland. In 1888, he began studying at a school for non-commissioned officers, and in July 1900, he joined the Second Infantry Division East Asia in Beijing. From 1901-1903, he was a member of the East Asian Occupation Brigade. After almost 13 years of military service, he left the army and became an employee of Tianjin’s German Consulate. He was promoted to consulate secretary and chancellor in 1913. On 2 June 1916, he married Hilde Wedde, who lived in China as a home teacher. During WWI, the Scharffenbergs were evicted from the country in April 1917 (this document is exactly from this event!), but they returned in 1922. In late 1921, Scharffenberg had been appointed chancellor of the consulate general in Tianjin, and on 11 January 1922, he acceded his position. On 1 September 1934, he was transferred to the German delegation in Beijing, which was converted into the German Embassy and relocated to Nanjing in 1935. Paul Scharffenberg Tianjin Nanjing

I was contacting Dr. Torsten Weber, Principal Researcher for Modern East Asian History, specializing in the history of Japanese-Chinese relations and interactions at the German Institute for Japanese Studies (DIJ Tokyo), he gave me some further information on the document.

The Document Paul Scharffenberg Tianjin Nanjing

Paul Scharffenberg Tianjin Nanjing
A travel document issued due to severance of diplomatic relations in April 1917 by the Japanese Consulate General in Shanghai for Chancellor Scharffenberg & wife

The documents seem to be some kind of transit ticket (eventually a Geleitschein/Schutzschein) for the passage of the Scharffenberg’s from Shanghai via Nagasaki to the USA, issued in April 1917 by the Japanese Consulate General in Shanghai. They were to take the Dutch steamer “Goentor” (can’t read that very well) from Shanghai on April 8. The reason given is the severance of diplomatic relations. The document comes in excellent condition, without any damage, showing two pictures, stamps from the Japanese Consulate General in Shanghai, 28 x 40cm. Besides the Japanese language, we can read “Paul Scharffenberg, Chancellor German Consulate, Tientsin – Mrs. Scharffenberg” Paul Scharffenberg Tianjin Nanjing

The Nanjing Massacre Paul Scharffenberg Tianjin Nanjing

On 8 December 1937, Scharffenberg and his colleagues from the German Embassy and members of two other embassies and their nationals left Nanjing via the British gunship Cricket on the Yangtze. The massacre occurred over a period of six weeks, starting on December 13, 1937, the day that the Japanese captured Nanjing. During this period, soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army murdered disarmed combatants and Chinese civilians, numbering an estimated 40,000 to over 300,000, and perpetrated widespread rape and looting.

The Chinese government left for relocation on December 1, and the president left on December 7, leaving the fate of Nanjing to an International Committee led by John Rabe, a German national.

In an attempt to secure permission for this cease-fire from Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, Rabe, who was living in Nanjing and had been acting as the Chairman of the Nanking International Safety Zone Committee, boarded the USS Panay on December 9. From this gunboat, Rabe sent two telegrams. The first was to Chiang through an American ambassador in Hankow, asking that Chinese forces “undertake no military operations” within Nanjing. The second telegram was sent through Shanghai to Japanese military leaders, advocating for a three-day ceasefire so that the Chinese could withdraw from the city. Paul Scharffenberg Tianjin Nanjing

The following day, on December 10, Rabe got his answer from the Generalissimo. The American ambassador in Hankow replied that although he supported Rabe’s proposal for a ceasefire, Chiang did not. Rabe says that the ambassador also “sent us a separate confidential telegram telling us that he has been officially informed by the Foreign Ministry in Hankow that our understanding that General Tang agreed to a three-day armistice and the withdrawal of his troops from Nanjing is mistaken, and that Chiang Kai-shek has announced that he is not in a position to accept such an offer.” This rejection of the committee’s ceasefire plan, in Rabe’s mind, sealed the city’s fate. Nanjing had been constantly bombed for days, and the Chinese troops that remained there were disheartened and had taken to drinking before the city’s inevitable fall.

On December 11, Rabe found that Chinese soldiers were still residing in areas of the Safety Zone, meaning that it became an intended target for Japanese attack despite the majority being innocent civilians. Rabe commented on how efforts to remove these Chinese troops failed, and Japanese soldiers began to lob grenades into the refugee zone. Paul Scharffenberg Tianjin Nanjing

Many Westerners were living in the city at that time, conducting trade or on missionary trips. As the Japanese army approached Nanjing, most of them fled the city, leaving 27 foreigners. Five of these were journalists who remained in the city a few days after it was captured, leaving the city on December 16. Fifteen of the remaining 22 foreigners formed a committee called the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone in the city’s western quarter.

German businessman John Rabe was elected as its leader because of his status as a member of the Nazi Party and the German-Japanese bilateral Anti-Comintern Pact. The Japanese government had previously agreed not to attack parts of the city that did not contain Chinese military forces, and the members of the Committee managed to persuade the Chinese government to move their troops out of the area. The Nanking Safety Zone was demarcated through the use of Red Cross Flags.

On December 1, 1937, Nanjing Mayor Ma Chaochun ordered all Chinese citizens remaining in Nanjing to move into the “Safety Zone.” Many fled the city on December 7, and the International Committee took over as Nanjing’s de facto government. Paul Scharffenberg Tianjin Nanjing

Together with Rosen and Hürter, he returned on 9 January 1938 and re-opened the German Embassy. Scharffenberg died of food poisoning on June 19, 1938.

Read more details in John Rabe’s Nanjing Diaries and also some information in the diaries of Paul Scharffenberg

Paul Scharffenberg Tianjin Nanjing
“Farewell tea was given in honor of Mr. Rabe, Chairman of the Safety Zone Committee, by members of the staff, upon the occasion of his departure for German. February 21, 1938. In the pictures can be seen Mr. Magee, Mr. Sperling (German), Dr. Rosen (German Embassy staff), Mr. Rabe, Mr. Paul Scharffenberg (German Embassy staff who died in Nanking on June 19, 1938).” Ernest Forster, the photographer, was an American Episcopal missionary who stayed in Nanjing during the Japanese occupation, 1937-1938. Title: Farewell tea for John Rabe, Chairman of Safety Zone Committee, Nanjing, China,1938
Collection: International Mission Photography Archive, ca.1860-ca.1960. Owning Institution: University of Southern California Digital Library. Source: Calisphere, Date of access: March 9, 2021, 11:58. Permalink:

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