China 1985

We, the Embassy, host an event for the British community in Beijing at the Summer Palace every Christmas. We don’t know all of the people who attend, and that included the bearded stranger who came with the teachers from one of the universities, but we diplomats serve the drinks, circulate and chat, and organise the events.

The Palace’s lake is very pretty, and very busy. Lots of skaters, some games of hockey and, skidding everywhere, the Chinese kids on wooden boards, with runners, steering themselves with two spikes. In previous years the ice has in fact given way: this year a pool began building up around the table where we were serving the mulled wine but there were no accidents.

Wherever you look around the lake there are little pavilions or ornamental bridges. The 17-arch bridge and the elegant, but very solid, boat built of marble are the highlights. In one of the lakeside pavilions we offered a buffet banquet: quail, thousand-year-old eggs and such like. And, after the banquet, the traditional game of cricket on ice, which the Ambassador wittily hopes will produce a Beijing Duck.

It is always a good event. But it’s ironic: the British community holding its annual party in the gardens of a palace which our army destroyed in the 1860s during the Second Opium War; and which we looted and damaged again in 1900 after the Boxer Rebellion.