Imperial China received diplomatic missions from other places whenever those places decide to send a mission (for example: Japanese missions to Imperial China). These missions were irregular, and were only done in one direction (i.e. to China, and not from China). The sending country would learn more about China during their mission.

The Qing opened their first consulate in Singapore in 1873 (followed by consulates in Hawaii, Cuba, etc.). But before that, how did the Qing keep in contact with other places? How did they get information about other places if they did not send (regular or irregular) diplomatic missions?

2 Answers 2


I have only very superficial knowledge of Chinese history and the following is mostly based on some quick Wikipedia reading.

The Qing did not make much effort to keep in contact with the outside world. On the one hand, by the nineteenth century it was in a long slow decline and faced internal problems, culminating in a series of rebellions. On the other hand, it wanted to avoid contact with the West in the hopes of preventing encroachment.

Here is a list of tributary missions received by China during the Qing period. They were indeed limited and infrequent, and mostly limited to the 18th century.

The Lifan Yuan was a Qing agency that managed relations with outlying territories like Mongolia and Tibet.

For most of the Qing reign, trade with foreigners was limited to the cohong in Canton. The James Flint affair led to a tightening of restrictions in 1759. These restrictions stayed in place until the First Opium War. After this (1840s onward) European powers imposed what came to be known as the unequal treaties which gradually forced China to accept foreign trade at other locations.

This article by Larisa Zabrovskaia in the Journal of Historical Sociology looks relevant for further reading.

  • I am sorry I DVed. Your knowledge seems to be really "superficial". See my answer's "Tributary system" which was conducted by Empires to Empires.
    – user12387
    Mar 14, 2019 at 2:13
  • 2
    Answer is well researched and supported with explicit links. Not my field, so I can't adjudicate the controversy, but if I were interested in learning more, this is the answer that would lead me to further learning.
    – MCW
    Mar 14, 2019 at 11:19

From the Tan dynasty era, Chinese empires ( if China is split into 2 countries, the "subordinate" countries paid later explained Tributary System to the closest superior country. ) used Tributary system.

Qing was most powerful country at that time in China.

Qin also "put under symbolic control" many countries around them through the aforementioned Tributary system.

That's where Qing dynasty get the source ( of information from another country etc etc. )

Though the power of the Qing dynasty was weakened or even lost a war to Japan due to the Western industrialization and Japan which followed it.

  • 3
    Your reference to the Tributary System is interesting. But your post does not answer the question: How did the Qing send messages to foreign powers? The Wikipedia article about the Tributary System only explains that they received embassies in irregular intervals. This did not help them in initiating communication should they have desired to do so.
    – 0range
    Mar 14, 2019 at 15:02

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.