China Table of Contents
Since 1949 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been one of China's most important ministries. Each area of foreign relations, divided either geographically or functionally, is overseen by a vice minister or assistant minister. For example, one vice minister's area of specialty was the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, while another was responsible for the Americas and Australia. At the next level, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was divided into departments, some geographical and some functional in responsibility. The regionally oriented departments included those concerned with Africa, the Americas and Oceania, Asia, the Middle East, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Taiwan, and Hong Kong and Macao. The functional departments were responsible for administration, cadres, consular affairs, finance, information, international laws and treaties, international organizations and affairs, personnel, protocol, training and education, and translation. Below the department level were divisions, such as the United States Affairs Division under the Department of American and Oceanian Affairs.
A recurring problem for the foreign ministry and the diplomatic corps has been a shortage of qualified personnel. In the first years after the founding of the People's Republic, there were few prospective diplomats with international experience. Premier Zhou Enlai relied on a group of young people who had served under him in various negotiations to form the core of the newly established foreign ministry, and Zhou himself held the foreign ministry portfolio until 1958. In the second half of the 1960s, China's developing foreign affairs sector suffered a major setback during the Cultural Revolution, when higher education was disrupted, foreign-trained scholars and diplomats were attacked, all but one Chinese ambassador (to Egypt) were recalled to Beijing, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs itself practically ceased functioning.
Since the early 1970s, the foreign affairs establishment has been rebuilt, and by the late 1980s, foreign affairs personnel were recruited from such specialized training programs as the ministry's Foreign Affairs College, College of International Relations, Beijing Foreign Languages Institute, and international studies departments at major universities. Foreign language study still was considered an important requirement, but it was increasingly supplemented by substantive training in foreign relations. Foreign affairs personnel benefited from expanded opportunities for education, travel, and exchange of information with the rest of the world. In addition, specialists from other ministries served in China's many embassies and consulates; for example, the Ministry of National Defense provided military attaches, the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations and Trade provided commercial officers, and the Ministry of Culture and the State Education Commission provided personnel in charge of cultural affairs.
Data as of July 1987