Minister to Peking: Sir Thomas Francis Wade

During the forty-one years he spent in China, writes Gerald Morgan, Thomas Francis Wade learned to understand the Chinese mind and culture without being absorbed by it.

With a new and promising era of relations between Britain and China in prospect it is timely to recall the career of that early Minister to Peking who strove so hard and with such conspicuous success a hundred years ago to establish proper diplomatic relations between the two countries. Thomas Wade arrived in Hong Kong in 1842, the year of its cession by the Treaty of Nanking at the end of the so-called Opium War.

That war had been less about opium than about forcing open China’s closed doors of trade, and the treaty, as one historian wrote, ‘marked the beginning of a struggle which lasted twenty years and was to decide the national and commercial relations which were to exist between East and West’.

Thirty-five years later under the Treaty of Chefoo, for which Wade was largely responsible, he triumphantly accompanied to London the first Chinese Minister to be accredited to Britain. Altogether, first as Charge d’Affaires and then as Minister, he was Her Majesty’s representative in Peking for fifteen of the forty-one years he spent in China.

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