(image source: Cambridge Core)
In 1896, Sir Halliday Macartney, counsellor of the Qing London legation, detained the revolutionary Sun Yat-sen on legation grounds in an attempt to deport him back to China. Since then, the image of the legation as an ossified extension of a despotic government has dominated public imagination. This article proposes a new way of understanding the legation's action: it exemplifies the legal activism of Qing diplomats in recovering judicial sovereignty that had been compromised by the presence of extraterritoriality and colonialism. Legations represented a broad range of interests of China through diplomatic negotiations and legal mediations, and brought unresolved disputes between foreign ministers and the Zongli Yamen in Beijing to the attention of their home governments. This article analyses the mediation and collaboration performed by the London legation between the various levels of the Qing government and the British Foreign Office. It argues that Qing legations and their diplomatic representation abroad were essential to the construction and imagination of China as a sovereign state.
(read more on Cambridge Core: DOI 10.1017/S0026749X2000030X)