Former Legation Quarters

This area used to be the legation quarter, established after the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. Dongjiaominxiang is the main street stretching from west to east across the quarters. The old legation quarter used the southern city wall (today’s Second Ring Road) as the southern side of its boundary. It had its own wall and gates at the west, north, and east sides, which are now Tian’anmen (Gate of Heavenly Peace) Square, East Chang’an (Eternal Peace) Avenue, and Chongwenmennei Street. In the past, there were various kinds of buildings in the legation quarter, including barracks, hospital, hotel, church, club, banks, and post office.

The architectural styles employed in the legation quarter reflected a variety of foreign influences. During the time of construction, there were two main styles of world architecture. One emphasized the revival of the architectural style of the past. The other was modern, aiming at the 20th century. The architecture of the past was very popular in Europe and North America. It can be labelled a kind of “eclecticism, between the classical revival and romanticism.” The buildings in the legation quarter are in this category, although they differ inform and style. There were only two exceptions among these legation houses. One was the British 1egation, part of which was the former residence of a Qing Dynasty prince, and the other was the Spanish legation house, which was a local citizen’s residence. Some of these old legation buildings remain in splendid style and are still in use, but many others were destroyed.

The first group of buildings to the northern side of Dongjiaominxiang Alley’s western end was the former French hospital. Across the street were the sites of former barracks and legation of the United States. Next to the US legation was the site of the Dutch legation. The Dutch legation’s former entrance was a brick structure with a pillar on each side. It can still be recognized, although the gate-way has been blocked up by bricks. To the east of the Dutch legation was the National City Bank of New York. It is distinctive due to its well-preserved four tall, thick, decorative columns. It is now the office of the Beijing Fire Control Bureau. To its north across the street was the site of the former Russian legation and barracks, now the site of the Supreme People’s Court. Most of the old buildings have disappeared and a big new court building has been erected. Still in existence is the Russian Legation Lane, renamed USSR Legation Lane in 1917; the sign board still exists. It is between the former Russian legation and barracks. To the north of the Russian legation was the British legation and barracks, which covered the largest area. Some of its buildings and its former entrance gate are in good condition. The Chinese style roofs of these buildings can easily be seen from the street.
To the east of the British and Russian legations there was once a canal running from north to south. The water came from the Jade Spring, west of the Summer Palace, through the Imperial City, flowing southward and out of the old city wall through the Water Gate. The canal was covered in 1925 and has become a street, now called Zhengyilu Street. Across the former canal, opposite the British legation, was the Japanese legation and barracks. The main structure of its entrance is quite well-kept, but its decorations have been removed. It is now occupied by the municipal government. South of the Japanese barracks at Zhengyilu Street and Dongjiaominxiang Alley stands a well-preserved two-storey building. It has a dome above its entrance and is handsomely decorated. Inside the building, the ceilings and walls have been renovated according to their original designs. The marble wainscoting and fireplaces are still in good condition, although the fireplaces are not used in the wintertime. The building is a mixture of Gothic Revival and Neoclassic. It used to be the former office of the Japanese Yokohama Species Bank and is now the office of China Huacheng Finance Corporation. East of the Japanese area is now a post office. Its old tiled floor is still in fine condition. Further east-ward was the site of the former French legation. It has a very imposing entrance gate, which may remind people of the Gate of Triumph and the watch tower of the old Chinese city wall.

Across Dongjiaominxiang Alley and opposite the French legation and Yokohama Species Bank were the sites of the former German legation, the Banque Franco-Chinoise and Wagon-Lits Hotel which were wrecked in fires in the past. A modern hotel (the Capital Hotel) and Hongdu Fashion Company are now situated there.

North of the Japanese and French legations was the Italian legation and barracks. The Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries is now based there. Its gatehouses and part of the buildings in the courtyard still exist. East of the Italian, French and German legations runs another street paralled to Zhengyilu Street.

It is Taijichang Street (originally called Marco Polo Street).

On the eastern side of Taijichang Street from north to the south were the sites of the former Austrian legation, Peking Club, French barracks, a Catholic church, and the Belgian legation. The entrance of the Belgiari legation no longer exists but the decorative brickwork above the buildings’s roofs can still be observed clearly from the out-side. Several villa-like two storey buildings are well kept and have been renovated. The former Belgian legation is now the Zijin Guest House.
Across Dongjiaominxiang Alley and opposite the Belgian legation is a Catholic church which was renovated recently. The main building of the former Peking Club is in its original form but has been repainted. It now houses the Standing Committee of the Beijing People’s Congress.

Walking eastward from the Catholic church along Dongjiaominxiang Alley, vocationers can see the former office building of the Deutsche Asiatische Bank. The distinguishing shape of its tower roof looks much like the bell tower roof of the famous Aschaffenburg built in the 16th century. Its decorative iron window grills are still in place. It has become, together with the former German hospital to its north, part of the Beijing Hospital.

A walk along this old legation quarter is highly recommended, be-cause you may experience a kind of nostalgia, a feeling that you are walking along the streets of Europe in old China.