The Former Legation Quarter

Duration: At least four hours

The rather stogy 1960s edition of Nagels' Guide to China describes the quarter at that time, with a soupcon of French disdain:

It has nothing Chinese about it. The (European houses combine all fhe styles in fashion at the beginning of the 20th century: mock gothic, mock baroque, mock (Empire, modern style, with all the bad taste of the (European nations and jAmerica put together.


Sadly there is less and less to mock here, as some of long- neglected buildings have been torn down and replaced by new office blocks and hotels. And while the former Legation Quarter extends north as far as East Changan Street, few of the buildings in the northern section retain their original aspect, or if they do, they are concealed by walls impenetrable by curious civilians. Thus we shall confine our walk to Dong Jiao Min Xiang.

M. Henri Borel, "Official Chinese Interpreter in the Dutch East Indies," visited Peking around 1909 and recorded his opinion of the quarter as follows:

What I, as an artist, cannot forgive my white brethren is that they have made this European Ghetto in Peking so ugly and commonplace... The entire Gesandschafts-Viertel (Legation Quarter) in Peking is a wretched crowd of dull buildings trying to look fine, all scrolls and bays and trivialities, all in that vile conventional modern style which causes the new portions of all European capitals to look exactly like each other. A dull, crude common-place city of barbarians, shapeless, colorless, lacking in distinction, huddled in the midst of the exquisite old Ehinese architecture which makes Peking a magnificent dream.


Start your walk at the Novotel Xinqiao Hotel, located at the east end of Dong Jiao Min Xiang where it meets Chongwenmen Nei Da Jie. The Novotel Xinqiao dates back to the 1950s when, as the Xinqiao Hotel, friendship still bridged the ideological gap between the Chinese and Soviet peoples for a decade or so. But since the Accor hotel management group took over in the 1990s, the hotel has operated on a strictly commercial basis. On the north side of the street at the first corner once stood the Deutsche Asiatische Bank, now occupied by a spanking new police station. To the north of this once stood the German hospital, now swallowed up by two huge Chinese hospitals, Beijing Hospital and Tongren Hospital. Patients in hospital pajamas can be seen walking about the neighborhood.