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British Embassies in China, 1945-2000

From 1945-50, the Embassy was once again at Nanjing, but following the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, and Britain's recognition of the new government, embassy staff from Nanjing arrived in Beijing early in 1950, and returned to the old compound. The Chinese Government, while according them every diplomatic courtesy, treated them not as an embassy, but as a negotiating team. It was not until 1954 that Premier Zhou Enlai and Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden agreed at the Geneva Conference on an exchange of diplomatic missions. Even then, despite its grand site, the British Embassy was only to be known as the Office of the Charge d'affaires. It so remained until 1972, when Britain and the PRC finally exchanged Ambassadors.

Soon after its establishment, the new Chinese Government indicated that it intended to move all the embassies and legations out of the Legation Quarter. In many cases, this was easy, since many countries had not established diplomatic relations with the PRC and their former premises were empty. Others like the Soviet Union were willing to go. The British wanted to stay, but eventually were forced to leave the Lianggongfu, for "temporary premises" on Guanghua-lu in the Jianguomenwai area in October 1959. Although the office building was destroyed in the Cultural Revolution, it was rebuilt and the Guanghua Lu site remains the British Embassy to this day. There are however, plans to build a new Embassy eventually.

Text by J E Hoare, Research Counsellor, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, London. Those who wish to learn more can read Dr Hoare's book Embassies in the East: The story of the British and their Embassies in China, Japan and Korea from 1859 to the present (Richmond, England: Curzon Press, 1999).


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