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UK in China

London 23:17, 02 Jan 2013
Beijing 07:17, 03 Jan 2013
Last updated at 11:01 (UK time) 25 May 2012

The Embassy and milestones

The site where the old British legation was located.

The site where the old British legation was located.

The Embassy

The Old British Legation

The old British legation was established on 26 March 1861 in the former palace of Duke I-liang. In Beijing today, the location is on the West side of Zhengyi Lu, between Dongjiaomin Alley and Dong Changan Jie. The northern section of the former compound is now largely occupied by the MSS/MPS, while the rest of the compound is used for other government functions (with the Supreme People’s Court to the south being built on the site of the old Russian legation). We have been told that one of the buildings we surrendered is now used as an "activity centre" for retired Ministry of Public Security officials.  They are reportedly very attached to it, so much so that during the construction of a new Ministry building they moved the old building rather than demolish it.

The Current Embassy

In Beijing, the UK have occupied the present Embassy and Residence since September 1959, two two-storey houses set in walled gardens, built by the Chinese authorities in the 1st Diplomatic District and offered by them in exchange for our previous premises, which they had required us to leave.  (“In January 1959 the Vice-Director of the West European Department… informed [the British] that past of the centre of Peking was scheduled for reconstruction and that the area occupied by the British Legation was required for the site of a large new building for the Judicial Executive. The staff of the Legation was therefore requested to move out of their quarters by May 31st 1959”).

The Bell

The Bell (now situated opposite the tennis courts, outside the main embassy conference room) was commissioned to mark Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and was originally hung in a tower outside the chapel in the grounds of the old Legation.  The current embassy’s new recreation facilities were put in place in 1983 (approx) and the bell was installed at that time as the namesake of the new bar.  Further background from the Cranmer-Byng article (PDF, 932KB, new window) (including a photo of “the bell” taken in 1958, at page 22), which itself draws on a separate book by Rev. Roland Allen The Siege of the Peking Legation (1901):

“Outside the Legation Chapel… stood a stone kiosk with a bell inside it, erected to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. This Bell Tower stood in the middle of the Legation at a point where four ways met. As Allen Explained: “The Tower stood in the midst of tree-shaded ways beautiful from every point of view, sheltered too, more than most spots from shot and shell. It was only once struck; no one was wounded there. It was well suited to be the centre of the life, as it was by nature the centre of the structure of the Legation”. People used to collect there in groups to discuss the latest news and rumours. The bell itself was used as an alarm in case of a general attack, when it was rung furiously, and in the case of fire when it was tolled. All round the kiosk were posted up notices for the guidance of the besieged as well as cables, messages, edicts and rumours. Here also was posted up, from time to time, an official census of the inhabitants of the Legation.“



Sir John Mansfield Addis, first British Ambassador to China and His Excellency Dong Biwu, Acting Chairman of the People’s Republic of China, 13 March 1972.

  • 26 March 1861 – British Legation officially opens in Beijing. Frederick Bruce becomes the first “Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary” to Imperial China to reside in Beijing.
  • 6 January 1950 – HMG recognises the Government of the PRC as the de jure Government of China and stages that they are ready to establish diplomatic relations and to exchange diplomatic representatives (by note to the Chinese MFA). Mr JC Hutchinson, previously Consul General in Beijing, was nominated as Charge d’Affaires (ad interim).
  • 17 June 1954 – Formal establishment of diplomatic relations. Chinese agree to send a Charge d’Affaires to London.
  • September 1959 – British Representation move to current estate on Guanghua Lu.
  • 13 March 1972 – Diplomatic Relations established at the Ambassadorial Level.

List of British Representatives to the People’s Republic of China (PDF, 215KB, new window)