The Republic of China ordered 15 Pz.Kpfw. I Ausf. As from Germany in mid-late 1936. These tanks arrived by sea on 22 June 1937 in rather poor condition.
"Packaging had not been adequate, resulting in heavily rusted parts, especially the telescopic gun sight, machine gun mounts, and steering brakes. Water about 2 to 4 cm deep had collected in the bottom of the hulls. Tool boxes, tools, cloth, and manuals were fouled and partially ruined. Electrical components were especially damaged by the warm moist air. Electrical cooling fans for the brakes didn't work until the collectors and points were thoroughly cleaned. In addition, all the contacts for the magnetos and voltage regulators were covered with a thick oxide coating which hindered their operation. A representative from Bosch in Shanghai examined the electrical devices and stated that the contact material was not suitable for use in tropical climates. The tank's poor condition resulted in the Chinese accusing Germany of delivering used instead of newly assembled tanks."
- Panzer Tracts No. 1-2
Ten of the tanks were deployed for the defense of Nanking as part of the 3rd Armored Battalion, where they were used in action from August to November 1937. After the Battle of Nanking, the tanks were abandoned at a crossing of the Yangtze River as there was no way for retreating Chinese troops to ferry the tanks across the river. I have heard that some of the tanks tried to ford the river unsuccessfully, but the claim sounds doubtful at best.
The tanks were captured by Japanese troops and shipped to Japan where they were given Japanese markings and used for research.
Other tanks were used for public exhibition, including display at the Yasukuni Shrine. Apparently because the Japanese and Germans were allied through the Anti-Comintern Pact, the exhibited tanks were labeled as being made in the Soviet Union.
The Panzer I's appear to have been 3 Series and/or possibly 4 Series models, and were armed with twin MG 13's with conical flash suppressors.
There is quite a bit of controversy regarding the coloration, with various sources claiming that the tanks were painted in a three tone hard edge camouflage (Buntfarbenanstricht), German Schwarzgrau, or Chinese Dark Green.
Arguments for Buntfarbenanstrich arise from German regulations from 1935 to 1937 that ordered tanks to be painted in the three-tone camouflage. Proponents claim that various dark patches on Chinese Panzer I's in photos as evidence, but I think the claims are dubious.
I personally support the theory that the tanks were delivered in Schwarzgrau, because the same regulation stipulating Buntfarbenanstrich for domestic tanks, also stipulated Schwarzgrau for export versions. The dark patches seen on the photos would be dirt, or rust/staining.
Dark Green was used to paint Chinese tanks, and proponents of this color for the Panzer I's argue that the tanks would have been repainted after being refurbished. They say that the presence of Chinese unit markings on the tanks lends credence to their theory.