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Q: First Chinese Ambassador to England ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: First Chinese Ambassador to England
Category: Reference, Education and News > General Reference
Asked by: woodland-ga
List Price: $30.00
Posted: 17 May 2003 19:48 PDT
Expires: 16 Jun 2003 19:48 PDT
Question ID: 205273
Who is the first ambassador to England from China (Qing Dynasty) in
the 19th century? Are there any anecdotes or stories arising from
cultural differences?
Subject: Re: First Chinese Ambassador to England
Answered By: angy-ga on 17 May 2003 23:28 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi, Woodland-ga !

China Soul, a Christian website, mentions the ambassador in their
potted history of China and names him as Guo Songtao, at:

"C36) In 1860, when the allied forces took Tianjin again--Emperor
Xianfeng imprisoned all thirty-nine Anglo-French negotiation delegates
in Beijing.
C37) Three days later, when the allied forces entered the city, half
of the delegates had been tortured to death. In retaliation, the
Garden of Yuanming, the Emperor's luxurious summer palace was burned.

C38) Pressured by the Western Powers, the Chinese emperor began to
receive foreign diplomats in 1873. Consequently, Guo Songtao was sent
to London, the first Chinese ambassador in history. "

The English edition of The People's Daily of Monday March 31st 2003,
carries a story about him at:

Guo Songtao (1818-1891) was China's first resident diplomatic
commissioner to foreign countries, and the renovation of his mausoleum
is currently underway in  central China's Hunan Province. His career
is summarised as follows:

"In 1847, Guo passed the highest imperial examination of the Qing
Dynasty (1644-1911) and was chosen as a member of the Imperial
Academy. He also served as governor of Guangdong Province and the
chief prosecuting attorney of Fujian Province.

In 1876, Guo was sent to Britain as the resident imperial
commissioner. He later served as commissioner in France.

An innovative government official, Guo contended that China should
learn from western countries, especially with regard to the
development of military forces and technology.

Guo died at the age of 74 in 1891 and was buried near Huajiang Village
in Shaxi township in Miluo..."

Yuelu Academy, which has him dying a year earlier, in 1890, numbers
him among its alumni at:

"His courtesy name is Bochen, and his alias, Yunxian. He entered the
Academy at the age of 18, and got the Presented Scholar degree in the
Dao Guang Reign (1821-1851). He served successively as Governor of
Guangdong Province, Surveillance Commissioner of Fujian Province, Vice
Minister of Ceremonies, Vice Minister of Defence and Envoy to Britain.
..... His works include Mission to the Western Countries, Collected
Works of the Yangzhi Study, Guo Songtao's Diaries, etc."

There is a photo of him dressed in furs at:

Yuelu Academy - now the Hunan University - was founded over a thousand
years ago in 976.

A poem of his is quoted on the site for the South Heaven Gate on
Hengshan Mountain (delightfully spelt "Sooth Heauen") at:

He wrote: "Haze spits out the sun from chilly rocks; cloud emerges
from old cliffs."

It is one of several poems by various writers describing the Gate's
location at the meeting place where airstreams from north and south
merge together in the Hengshan Mountain causing frequent haze and
cloud, and the writing of poetry marks Guo Songtao as an educated man
of his day.

A site focussing on the history of Korea at:

tells us that Guo Songtao was aware of the latest theories of Western

"China's first knowledge of Darwin and Spencer does not, however,
start with the Hunanese reform movement. Yan Fu ( ?? ) (1853~1921),
who went to England in 1878 to study naval science, learned about the
natural, political and social theories of Darwin, Spencer, Mill and
Montesquieu and discussed these with China's first ambassador to
Europe Guo Songtao "

I have not been able to trace his diaries or "The Mission to the
Western Countries" online, though these may contain more personal
anecdotal material. However, the University of Pittsburgh at:

lists Guo Songtao as author of  "Kuo's London Letter to Li Hung-Chang
which is required course reading. for History 1470: Eurasian Currents

The Instructor for the course is Anthony Barbieri-Low (Office: Posvar
Hall 3M28
Work  Ph: 412-648-7465) who might be able to help you source this
material. There is a link to his email on the page.

All in all, Guo Songtao seems to have been an educated, open-minded
man who felt that China could best advance by opening itself to a
knowledge of Western thought, and was probably sent to London as
ambassador precisely because he was not likely to make social mistakes
because of culture differences.

Thank you for a an interesting question.

Search terms:

Qing dynasty Chinese ambassador
Guo Songtao

Request for Answer Clarification by woodland-ga on 18 May 2003 02:29 PDT
Hi angy-ga!

Thank you for the very thorough answer.  Could you lead me to a
website with Guo Songtao's Chinese name (in Chinese characters)?  If
you happen to know Chinese, perhaps you can type it out for me.

When you searched the websites you listed, did you come across any
websites in Chinese? I would like to check out some.  They might
present Guo from a different angle.  I heard that he was denounced by
the Qing Dynasty when he came back from his short stint in London? 
Did you come across any stories on that?

Many thanks.

Clarification of Answer by angy-ga on 18 May 2003 22:57 PDT
Hi !

I'm sorry, but I don't speak either Mandarin or Cantonese. However,
all is not lost ! Digging around as outlined below, I found an
alternate spelling of his name as Kuo Sung-t'ao. Searching under that
turned up an article in English by Tao, Yuan Chen (Zhen), "Patterns of
Changes of Chinese Officialism" at:

Searching the page (Ctrl F in Microsoft IE) for "Kuo Sung-t'ao" turned
up a paragraph about him, with his name in Chinese beside the English.

The article points out that he was one of two ambassadors sent out to
the West at the one time. A senior secretary of the Board of
Punishment Ch' Lan-pin was aent to represent China's interests in
Spain, Peru, and the United States.

Here is what I was able to find additionally:

There's a Portugese site which has references to him in transliterated
Chinese at:

Dartmouth College Library (now the Digital Library at Dartmouth)

Guo Songtao deng shi xi ji liu zhong / Kuo Sung-tao ... [et al.] chu ;
[Pan Zhenping ze ren bian ji]
Beijing Shi : Sheng huo, du shu, xin zhi san lian shu dian, 1998
Baker Berry Orient DS754.18 .G86 1998 

There are two copies of this, which appears to be a 1998 anthology of
various Chinese writings including his account of the London visit.

The Library has two URLs:

Here I found the ambassador is also referred to as Kuo Sung-tao, Kuo
Sung-t'ao and Kuo Sung Tao. Presumably "Guo Songtao" is the new
transliteration, as "Beijing" is now the approved Western spelling of
whta we used to call "Peking".

As Kuo Sung-t'ao Dartmouth hold a copy of "The first Chinese embassy
to the West; the journals of Kuo Sung-t'ao, Liu Hsi-hung and Chang
Te-yi." Translated and annotated by J.D. Frodsham. Oxford, Clarendon
Press, 1974.
Library call number DS740.5.G5 K8 

This book seems to be quite well-known, and there are references to it
in other libraries as well as in the extensive Qing Dynasty
bibliography to be found at:

Dartmouth also holds two reproduction copies of some of Kuo
Sung-t'ao's  original manuscripts.

(Search under "Author".)

A Chinese Education site in Taiwan is at:

They list an out of print monograph from 1971

"A Chronological Biography of Kuo Sung-tíŽao" by Kuo TíŽing-yee &
Lu Pao-chíŽien. It runs to 1011 pages.

Searching under Kuo Sung Tao found a splendid 1877 "Vanity Fair" water
colour of him by Spy (Sir Leslie Ward), at:

You mention the possibility of his being reprimanded on his return to
China. There is an interesting transcription of Tseng Chi-Tse [Zeng
Qizi] (1839-1890) 's meeting with the Dowager Empress prior to his
relieving Kuo Sung Tao as Ambassador to London. His account of the
Audience is at:

After discussing the logistics of the handover, including house rental
and the system for sending dispatches and other documents, Tseng
Chi-Tse says:

"Kuo Sung-tao is certainly an upright and straightforward person. This
time he also risked damage to his reputation in order to manage
affairs for the nation. In the future it is hoped that the special
grace of the Empresses and the Emperor will protect him in every

Decree: Up above [ shang-t'ou, i.e., by the rulers ] it is thoroughly
understood. Kuo Sung-tao is a good man. Since his mission abroad he
has managed many affairs but he has also received plenty of scolding
from people.

Answer: Kuo Sung-tao is vexed by the fact that China cannot become
strong immediately and he has frequently argued with people and
therefore he has been scolded. After all he is a loyal minister.
Fortunately the Empresses Dowager and the Emperor understand him. Even
though he has lost his reputation in the fight, still it is
worthwhile. ....

Decree: We all know him. The princes and great ministers also
understand him.

Answer: Yes."

So while there seems to have been some controversy, it appears that he
still enjoyed the confidence of the Emperor - at least in so far as
Tseng was told !
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