Our History

Officially inaugurated on 16th July 1974 by the then foreign secretary, Jim Callaghan, the Great Britain-China Centre grew out of the Great Britain-China Committee, which had been established two years earlier. This Committee was set up under the auspices of the British Council, and with the help of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, with the objective of promoting cultural exchanges for the development of relations between Britain and China.

Lord Callaghan With Song Zhiqiang And Rt Hon Malcolm Macdonald

Foreign Secretary Lord Callaghan declares Centre open on July 16 1974

The appetite for understanding China amongst the British public had exceeded all expectations at “The Genius of China” exhibition in 1973 – the most important Chinese cultural event held overseas since the establishment of the People’s Republic - and the need for a body to encourage greater non-governmental contact between the UK and China was self-evident. The Chinese Embassy at that time warmly welcomed the setting up of the Centre, and those good relations have continued to the present day.

From this point, GBCC took its place in the UK-China relationship, under the Presidency of the Rt. Hon. Malcolm MacDonald, the Chairmanship of Sir Harold Thompson, and the Directorship of Joe Ford. Our principal activities at this stage were hosting visits by such diverse groups as the Wu Shu Martial Arts Troupe, a press delegation, and an anti-metal corrosion delegation, with visits to China being made by groups of Sinologists, librarians and geographers, amongst others. By 1984, GBCC had become a vital reference point for all kinds of people engaging with China, playing a key role in promoting city twinning links, as well as running a work placement scheme for young Chinese professionals.

Former Gbcc Chairman The Late Lord Howe With Former Premier Wen Jiabao

Former GBCC Chairman, the late Lord Howe with former Premier Wen Jiabao

Following the visit to China of a British human rights delegation in 1991, led by our former President the late Lord Howe of Aberavon, GBCC began its programme of exchanges in the area of legal reform. The GBCC has continued to maximise the impact of the public funds it receives, making a significant contribution to the UK-China relationship. Over the decades we have enjoyed and continue to enjoy excellent access to senior figures in the UK and China, and our core values have not changed over this time.

At the heart of GBCC’s work is the desire to promote understanding between the people of the UK and China, although the way in which that objective is met has changed in line with the developing bilateral relationship and developments within China itself. Since the early 1990s, we have increasingly concentrated our exchange programme activities on the areas of legal reform, rule of law and good governance, and today this has become our core area of expertise and our unique contribution to the overall development of the UK-China relationship.


Student attending the Global Tour of the Magna Carta in 2015, jointly organised by GBCC and the FCO