Beijing Legation Quarter

The area east of Tian'anmen has been known as the Legation Quarter for housing the diplomatic representations of many a nation from the mid 19th to the mid 20th century. It was a tumultuous time for China as it was engaged in the Opium Wars, the Boxer Rebellion and the Japanese Invasion and went from monarchy to a republic and finally to the PR China we know today.

The Legation street, Beijing

The way we used to be

A ghetto for the privileged

It seems as if the inhabitants of diplomatic enclaves (especially in third world countries) by some unspoken rule lead a bit of a life for themselves regardless of time and place. This was no different in the Legation Quarters of old Beijing which not only accommodated for diplomats but also business people, artists, political activists etc. After the Boxer Rebellion around the turn of the century the Legation Quarters actually became a city onto themselves, reminding visitors of London or Paris with small boutiques and cafes. Chinese nationals were not really allowed in and the foreigners had succeeded in isolating themselves even more from the Chinese public.

Nice dwellings for the powerful and privileged

Nice dwellings for the powerful and privileged

Legation Quarters today

The area east of Tian'anmen is a popular tourist destination today. It is one of the only places in Beijing featuring authentic western architecture. One must, however, say that a visit can be disappointing if no background knowledge exists. A great read is the historical thriller “Midnight in Peking” by British author Paul French. Learn about the mysterious murder of Pamela Werner in the Legation Quarter while taking in the beautifully described atmosphere and mood of the place.

St Michael's Church still has services today

St Michael's Church still has services today

Useful Chinese words

  • 天安门 Tian'anmen, Gate of Heavenly Peace
  • 东交民巷 Dongjiaomin Alley, the main street running through the former Legation Quarter
  • 外交 diplomat
  • 老外 foreigner