walking the legation quarter

Map of the Legation Quarter circa 1912

Earlier this week, I decided to take a walk from the Beijing by Foot series. (One of my goals, before I leave Beijing, is to go through all 40 of the walks. They are like doing a giant treasure hunt.)  I chose the Legation Quarter walk as I’ve meandered through the Qianmen area many times and never quite managed to hit the Quarter itself.

Located near Tian’anmen Square, the tree-lined Legation Quarter is Beijing’s oldest embassy area, dating back to the end of the Second Opium War. Located on Dongjiaomin Lane, the area was first designated by the Emperor Yongle for farming and animal husbandry; during that time, it was known as Dongjiaomi Lane. Its name was later changed during the Legation Quarter period.

From J.E. Hoare’s book Embassies in the East, a history of British embassies in East Asia (this book is partially available on Google Books and even with missing pages, it’s a fascinating read), the beginning of the Legation Quarter as it is now:

While in Beijing for the exchange of ratifications, both the English and the French ambassadors demanded accommodation for the permanent missions they wished to establish. This the Chinese were obliged to provide under the terms of the treaties. That autumn of 1860, the French and the British were each assigned a palace to the south-east of the Forbidden City near the long established Russian Orthodox Church. This was an area long associated with the presence of foreign envoys in Beijing, for it was near the site of the hostel where the Korean, Annamese, Burmese and Mongolian envoys who arrived on their regular tribute missions were lodged.  There they were also coached in the elaborate etiquette necessary for their presentation at court. Now it was also to see the beginning of the official French and British presence in Beijing, and the birth of the Beijing legation quarter.

The Legation Quarter was also a locus for anti-foreigner sentiment in the years leading up to the Boxer Rebellion, as Chinese citizens were forbidden to enter the area, and was famously under siege during the uprising itself. Hoare’s book has an account of the siege from the British legation’s point of view, where as the siege went on, the inhabitants found themselves eating horsemeat and mule meat.

Ironically, as many of the former legations have become government buildings, they are still largely forbidden to the public. I was even forbidden from entering the Ch’ien Men 23 entertainment and restaurant complex, formerly the American Legation.  I must have looked too poor to eat at Maison Boulud.

Formerly called Rue Hart, this street is now Taijichang Toutiao; it was named for British Inspector General Sir Robert Hart.

 The Rue Hart sign is still faintly visible at the end of the street, across the street is his former residence.

St. Michael’s Church

I love that this massage parlor is now housed in what might have been a gentleman’s sports club.

The former French Legation.

Old French post office, now a Sichuan restaurant.

Not exactly sure what this building used to be, possibly part of the Japanese legation according to the map above, but the detailing is stunning.

The Yokohama Specie Bank.

Inner courtyard of the Yokohama Specie Bank. (Technically, you’re not supposed to enter, but I promised the guards I wouldn’t move beyond my vantage point at the front gate.)

Statue in Zhengyi Lu Park. This street used to be a canal.

The British Legation. Before it became the legation, it was the residence of the Dukes of Liang. Now it is the Ministry of State Security.

The Japanese Legation is now the headquarters of the Beijing municipal government.

Possibly the Russo-Asiatic Bank. No matter what it is, it’s a gorgeous building.

Perhaps the gate into the Netherlands Legation.

No idea what this lovely building with its age on its sleeve is!  Maybe the building for the Russian Guard.

I will likely take this walk again after reading through the Legation Quarter chapter of The Search For a Vanishing Beijing and Embassies in the East, and especially, armed with the 1912 map found at the beginning of this entry.

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7 Comments on "walking the legation quarter"

  1. Scott
    28/08/2009 at 6:29 am Permalink

    Great pictures! Really interesting entry. How long did the walk take?

  2. Patricia
    05/04/2011 at 7:57 pm Permalink

    Wonderful photos. When I saw the church I had scroll back to top to make sure the title says its really Beijing. Never knew such architecture exists there too.

  3. increase your bench press
    07/04/2011 at 1:09 pm Permalink

    Wow. great pictures man. Reminds me of my trip to Europe. I always likes walking in the cities. So much to see.

  4. Adrian McCluskey
    13/04/2011 at 10:10 pm Permalink

    Beijing is a city rich in history. Your post and the pictures are fascinating. I hope you were able to meet your goal of making all 40 walks. cheers

  5. Bo
    04/05/2011 at 7:47 am Permalink

    I really LOVE your photos! As I was scrolling through I couldn’t help but notice the Western influences in some of the architecture.

    Webmaster @ Inflatable Boats

  6. Robert Murdoch
    19/02/2013 at 9:38 pm Permalink

    I am currently reading a book ‘Midnight in Peking’ by Paul French, a true story about the gruesome murder of Pamela Werner in Beijing in January 1937. Her body was found at the foot of the Fox Tower just outside the Legation Area. The book inspired me to check out the Legation area online and came across your site with the great photos. My wife (5th generation Australian Chinese) and I will take our 7th trip to China in September, including Beijing, and was interested in checking out the Legation area. I am thinking of putting together a tour of the main coastal treaty ports of China.
    Regards Robert Murdoch

  7. Ro
    17/07/2013 at 9:26 pm Permalink


    Superb photos, I live in HK but have never made it up North yet. I’ve read a lot on that period and its great to have some modern pictures. Amazing that so many of these buildings are still there and still in tact. I suppose many of them were still maintained by their various countries until the 50s.

    I doubt that last building was built by the Russians in 1918 however. It seems unlikely the Kerensky or Bolshevik governments would have been constructing anything and foreign Russian Missions tended on the whole to remain White Russian until replaced in the 20s.

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