Foreign Office Files for China, 1919-1980

Sources from The National Archives, UK

Formerly restricted British Foreign Office files dealing with China, Hong Kong and Taiwan between 1919 and 1980.

Featuring diplomatic dispatches, letters, newspaper cuttings, political pamphlets, reports of court cases and other materials, this collection represents a constant exchange of information between London and the British embassies and consulates. Due to the unique nature of the relationship between Britain and China, these formerly restricted first-hand accounts provide unprecedented levels of detail into a turbulent period in Chinese history.

The documents allow students and researchers intimate access to eye-witness accounts, weekly and monthly summaries, annual reviews, reports and analyses, economic assessments, synopses on Chinese personalities, and more.

This is an immensely powerful resource for our understanding of the early Cold War era in China. British diplomats were present in China and able to witness the country’s massive social transformation under Mao. These documents are crucial in helping us to answer many key questions on both domestic and international policy in the early years of the People’s Republic of China.
Professor Rana Mitter, University of Oxford

Foreign Office Files for China, 1919-1980 is part of Archives Direct, a cross-searchable multi-product platform, sourced from The National Archives, UK.

Key Data


  • 1919-1929, Kuomintang, CCP and the Third International
  • 1930-1937, The Long March, civil war in China and the Manchurian Crisis
  • 1938-1948, Open Door, Japanese war and the seeds of communist victory
  • 1949-1956, The Communist revolution
  • 1957-1966, The Great Leap Forward
  • 1967-1980, The Cultural Revolution

Period Covered

  • 1919-1980


  • The anti-imperialist May 4th Movement, which grew out of student demonstrations against the Treaty of Versailles
  • The Long March, beginning in Jiangxi province in October 1934 and continuing to 1937, when the Second Sino-Japanese War forced a temporary cessation of hostilities between the CCP and KMT
  • General Joseph Stilwell’s mission to coordinate US aid to the KMT after December 1941
  • Accounts of the civil war years, the fall of Nanjing, the fate of HMS Amethyst on the Yangtze River and the repercussions for international companies with a strong presence in China, through to Mao Zedong’s first attempts to implement a Soviet-style command economy
  • Many files focus on industrial and economic development, the Great Leap Forward campaign and the Socialist Education Movement
  • The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, 1966-1976

Source Archive

  • The National Archives, UK

Material Types

  • Government memoranda
  • Official correspondence
  • Unofficial correspondence (from commercial firms, legal representatives, petitioners etc)
  • Maps
  • Records of court cases
  • Reports of meetings, investigations and expeditions
  • Profiles of people, places and organisations
  • Economic statistics and analyses
  • Chinese-language documents

Editorial Board

  • Cindy Yik-yi Chu, Hong Kong Baptist University
  • Catherine Ladds, Hong Kong Baptist University
  • Chi-Kwan Mark, University of London
  • Rana Mitter, University of Oxford
  • John Y. Wong, University of Sydney
  • Yuanmei Yao, East China Normal University


  • Anti-imperialist 'May 4th' Movement
  • Chinese reunification in 1928
  • Conflict between Communists and the Kuomintang
  • Japanese clashes with KMT forces in 1927 and 1928
  • The Long March
  • Mao Zedong's assumption of the leadership of the CCP in January 1935
  • The Mukden Incident and the invasion on Manchuria
  • Japanese atrocities in Nanjing
  • Soviet seizure of Manchuria from the Japanese in 1945
  • The Communist Revolution and all major figures involved
  • China and the Korean War
  • American military support and financial aid to Taiwan
  • The 'Great Leap Forward'
  • The 'Cultural Revolution'
  • Power struggles and student demonstrations
  • Political instability caused by conflict between Mao Zedong, Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping
  • Lin Biao's attempted coup
  • The 'Gang of Four'
  • The death of Mao Zedong, September 1976

Key Features

  • Full-text searchable English-language materials
  • Documents from the UK government's official archive
  • Available within the cross-searchable Archives Direct platform

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