Zongli Yamen

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Front gate of the Zongli Yamen. The tablet reads "中外禔福" (Peace and Prosperity in China and Outside), from Hanshu - Biography of Sima Xiangru

Zongli Yamen (Tsung-li Ya-men; traditional Chinese: 總理衙門; simplified Chinese: 总理衙门; pinyin: Zǒnglǐ Yámén; Wade–Giles: Tsung3-li3 Ya2-men2) was the government body in charge of foreign affairs in imperial China during the late Qing dynasty. It was established by Prince Gong (Prince Kong) in 1861, following the Convention of Peking. It was abolished in 1901 and replaced with a Foreign Office of ministry rank.

The former site of the Zongli Yamen is now located in Dongtangzi Hutong, Dongcheng District, Beijing. Nearly all buildings are preserved in good condition.

Meaning of name[edit]

Zongli Yamen is a traditional abbreviation of the official name in Chinese, Zongli Geguo Shiwu Yamen (Tsung-li Ko-kuo Shih-wu Ya-men; simplified Chinese: 总理各国事务衙门; traditional Chinese: 總理各國事務衙門; pinyin: Zǒnglǐ Gèguó Shìwù Yámén; Wade–Giles: Tsung3-li3 Ko4-kuo2 Shih4-wu4 Ya2-men2), literally meaning "Office in charge of Affairs of All Nations". The corresponding name in Manchu, the other official language of the Qing Empire, was Geren gurun i baita be uherileme icihiyara yamun. (Yamun mn1.png) A common misconception is that the Yamen's name means the "Premier's Office". This arose because the word Zongli (总理) is now used in Chinese to refer to the Premier or Prime Minister of a country. In fact, the name Zongli Yamen is an abbreviation of its full name, which makes it the bona fide office of foreign affairs.

Function in Qing Bureaucracy[edit]

A photographic engraving of the members of the Zongli Yamen in 1894, at the time of the Sino-Japanese War.

Prior to the creation of the Yamen, Qing foreign relations were conducted by several different agencies, such as the Ministry of Rites and the Lifan Yuan. The Zongli Yamen was the first significant institutional innovation in the central Beijing bureaucracy that the Qing had made since Emperor Yongzheng created the nucleus of the Grand Council in 1729. The Zongli Yamen was supervised by a controlling board of five senior officials (initially all Manchus), among whom the emperor's uncle, Prince Gong, was the de facto leader. In their discussions on establishing the new agency, Qing officials reiterated that it was only to be a temporary institution, maintained until the current foreign and domestic crisis had passed. The Zongli Yamen had a relatively low formal status in the Qing administrative hierarchy and its members served concurrently in other government agencies, which further weakened its position. Furthermore, the Zongli Yamen was not the sole policy making body in foreign affairs, a prerogative which still rested in the hands of the emperor. While the Yamen remained an important body for a few decades after its foundation, its influence was soon overshadowed by influential officials such as Zeng Guofan and Li Hongzhang. Nevertheless, it became the means of communication between the Qing court and the foreign ministers to China in Beijing's legation quarter.

In 1873, the Zongli Yamen got into a quarrel with the foreign ministers to China over the protocol that was to be followed at their audience with the Tongzhi Emperor, as the foreign ministers not surprisingly refused to perform the ritual kowtow to the emperor, with an impasse eventually being solved thanks in part to the Japanese ambassador to China, Soejima Taneomi. Similar protocol would be followed in 1891 with the ministers' audience with the Guangxu Emperor.

Following the Boxer rebellion, the Qing government was forced to change its foreign service. According to article XII in the Boxer Protocol 1901, the Zongli Yamen was replaced with a Foreign Office, known at the time as the Wai-wu Pu or Wai-wu-pu (simplified Chinese: 外务部; traditional Chinese: 外務部; pinyin: Wàiwùbù), which ranked above the other six boards in the government; "as the course of subsequent events made clear, the Wai-wu-pu was as ineffective in the establishment of good relations between China and the outside world as the Tsungli Yamen had been."[1]


  1. ^ S. M. Meng, The Tsungli Yamen: Its Organization And Functions, p. 81.

See also[edit]


  • Immanuel C. Y. Hsü. China's Entrance into the Family of Nations: The Diplomatic Phase, 1858 -1880. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1960.
  • Banno Masataka. China and the West, 1858-1861: The Origins of the Tsungli Yamen. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1964.
  • Meng, S. M. The Tsungli Yamen: Its Organization and Functions. Cambridge, MA: East Asian Research Center, 1962.
  • H B Morse. International Relations of the Chinese Empire. 3 volumes. London and New York: by Longman and Green, 1910-18.
  • Spence, Jonathan D. "The Search for Modern China." New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990.