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The transfer of foreign modernity in Beijing: the new urban space in the Legation Quarter, 1900–1928

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 July 2022

Xusheng Huang*
School of Architecture, Southeast University, Sipailou 2, Xuanwu District, Nanjing, China
*Corresponding author. Email:


This article suggests that the post-colonial viewpoint could be valuable in understanding Beijing during the colonial crisis between 1900 and 1928. Through the examination of urban space in the Legation Quarter, it pays attention to the emerging special types and forms, as well as the mechanisms behind them, and explains the transposition of a foreign modern cityscape to the local context. The Europeanized district in Beijing was a symbol of Western civilization and the uneven power dynamics in the city, and was regarded as both a spatial model and a competitor for the Chinese government's attempts to create a modern capital.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press.

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22 It is difficult to know the exact figures for the number of foreigners residing in the Legation Quarter, since ‘the Diplomatic Corps controls the Legation Quarter and has never taken a census of those living inside its walls’, and ‘each legation keeps track of its own nationals living in Peking’. However, an approximate number in the thousands can be reached based on Gamble's social surveys, in which he stated that: ‘It is known, however, that the strength of the American Legation Guard, a detachment of the U.S. Marine Corps, is ordinarily about 300 men, and that the number of Americans who might contribute to the American Liberty Loan was well over 500. It is also known that the Americans are the largest group of foreigners in Peking, next to the Japanese.’ Ibid., 111.

23 Ibid.

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34 The map, which was influenced by the Western method of drawing in perspective, drew both the plan and façade of a building together.

35 It was also partly paid for by the Chinese government, to the tune of around 5,000 yuan each year as a subsidy, although the Legation Quarter was beyond the Beijing government's administrative authority; see Beijing Municipal Council, Jingdu shizheng huilan (Collected Reports on City Administration in Beijing) (Beijing, 1919), 103.

36 The only unpaved streets in the quarter covered about two miles and were reserved for heavy cart traffic; see Duncan, Peiping Municipality, 118, 145.

37 Ibid., 118.

38 Ibid.

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41 Because the city wall extended eastward, the canal from Dongbuya Bridge to Chang'an Avenue came inside the imperial city, which stopped ships entering from Tongzhou. It also happened because the Baifu Spring gradually dried up during the Ming dynasty.

42 Department of Construction (Japanese Puppet Government), Jingshi chengnei hedao gouqu tushuo (Mapping the Rivers and Sewers in Beijing) (Beijing, 1941), 32.

43 According to Duncan, Mr Thiele had been connected with the Diplomatic Quarter since 1907, when he began his service in the Eastern Legation Quarter. From 1914, he worked for the ACDQ. All the work of street construction and maintenance in the quarter was under his supervision; see Duncan, Peiping Municipality, 145.

44 Moser and Moser, Foreigners within the Gates, 113.

45 Ibid.

46 But according to 石桥丑雄 (Ishibashi) from the Tourism Department of the Municipal Council, the project was finished later, in April 1925; see Department of Construction, Jingshi chengnei hedao gouqu tushuo, 33.

47 Ibid., 32–3.

48 The Beijing Municipal Council regarded covering the open canal as one of the important government projects in the early twentieth century, as can be seen, for instance, in the reconstruction of Xinhua Road. Influenced by the renewal of the Imperial Canal in the East Jiaomin Lane district, the north part of the Imperial Canal was soon reconstructed as a new street in the underground Western style, with a large horseshoe-shaped section of the sewer as well.

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54 ‘Protocol regarding Legation Quarter at Peking’, in MacMurray, Treaties and Agreements, 316.

55 Arlington and Lewisohn, In Search of Old Peking, 18–19; Moser and Moser, Foreigners within the Gates, 122.

56 Ibid.

57 Wang, ‘Bei gongdi ji’, 7.

58 Duncan, Peiping Municipality, 29.

59 Wang, ‘Bei gongdi ji’, 7. A zhang is a Chinese unit of measurement, which corresponds to 3⅓ metres.

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62 Rogaski, ‘Hygienic modernity’, 76.

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64 W.A.P. Martin, The Siege in Peking: China against the World (New York, 1900); A.H. Tuttle, Mary Porter Gamewell and Her Story of the Siege in Peking (New York and Cincinnati, 1907).

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73 Qiuxingfuzhaizhu, ‘Dong Jiaomin Xiang suoji’ (A Record of East Jiaomin Lane), Ziluolan, 1 (1926), 1–5, at 1–2.

74 Moser and Moser, Foreigners within the Gates, 114.

75 Ibid., 115; G.N. Kates, The Years that Were Fat: The Last of Old China (Cambridge, 1967), 78.

76 J.C. Loeffler, The Architecture of Diplomacy: Building America's Embassies (New York, 1998), 17.

77 For more details on architectural transformation in the Legation Quarter, see F. Zhang, Beijing Jindai Jianzhushi (The Modern Architectural History of Beijing from the End of the Nineteenth Century to the 1930s) (Beijing, 2004), 68–86.

78 G. Collins, Extreme Oriental Mixture (London, 1925), 33.

79 Njoh, Planning Power, 122.

80 The Legation Quarter strongly influenced the surrounding area, especially the Inner First district, in terms of architecture, interests, habits and commerce, but hardly penetrated into more Chinese areas, even the Waiyiqu (Outer First District) to the south; see Duncan, Peiping Municipality, 32–3.

81 X. Zhang, Wenhua shiying yu zhongxin zhuangyi: Jinxiandai Shanghai kongjian bianqian de dushi renleixue yanjiu (The Cultural Adaptation and Shift of the City Centre: An Urban Anthropological Study of the Spatial Transformation of Modern Shanghai) (Nanjing, 2006), 12–13.

82 Qiuxingfuzhaizhu, ‘Dong Jiaomin Xiang suoji’, 3.

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91 Ibid., 338.

92 C. Zhang and Y. Liu, ‘International concessions and the modernization of Tianjin’, in Victoir and Zatsepine (eds.), Harbin to Hanoi, 83–102, at 100.

93 Beiping Government Secretariat, Beiping shi shizheng gongbao (Beiping Municipal Bulletin), 3 (1931), section on Zizhi (self-government), 3.

94 X. Huang, ‘Reforming Beijing in the shadow of colonial crisis: urban construction for competing with the foreign powers, 1900–1928’, in C. Hein (ed.), International Planning History Society Proceedings, 17th IPHS Conference, History Urbanism Resilience (Delft, 2016), 83–93.

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