The Queen became the first British sovereign to visit China in 1986, officially visiting the country with the Duke of Edinburgh over a six-day period beginning on 13 October.
The Queen and Prince Philip visited the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, Kunming, Guangzhou during their historic trip; viewing the Great Wall of China, the Museum of Qin Terra-cotta Warriors in Xi’an, and the Forbidden City, among other prominent engagements.
The reason this state visit was so important was that it signified a strengthening of relations between Britain and the People’s Republic of China following the agreement that sovereignty over Hong Kong would be returned to China in 1997.
A 99-year lease had been signed in 1898 granting sovereignty to Britain, but in 1984, the leaders of both countries signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration, meaning that sovereignty would be passed back to China on 1 July 1997.
A state visit had been offered a few years prior to The Queen’s 1986 visit, but diplomats noted that the resolution of Hong Kong sovereignty needed to be completed before it could be considered. When the visit was confirmed, it was hoped that it would be a boon to trade between the countries.
In a speech at a glittering state banquet at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, The Queen said: “Some 390 years ago my forebear, Queen Elizabeth I, wrote to the Wan Li Emperor expressing the hope that trade might be developed between England and China. The messenger met with misfortune and that letter never arrived. Fortunately, postal services have improved… Your message inviting us here arrived safely, and it has given me great pleasure to accept it.”
Chinese President Li Xiannian told The Queen that her visit gives “powerful impetus to the deepening of relations between the two countries.”
This 1986 visit is the only one The Queen ever made to China; Prince William became the first member of the Royal Family to visit the country since her historic visit, travelling to Beijing, Shanghai, and Xishuangbanna between 1-3 March 2015. Princess Anne visited China in July 2017 to celebrate ambassadorial ties between the countries.