Chinese Diplomatic passport - Our Passports
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  • 二战中国老护照
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Chinese Diplomatic passport


Pre-war used passport for Europe up to 1944.


One of the rarest of passports that one can find when collecting, and last year was fortunate enough to locate a rare sample and add it into my collection.


In my 10 years of searching for old passports, and mainly those related to the Second World War, I was never able to locate a pre-1949 official or diplomatic travel document that was issued by the Nationalist Government in China. No matter how often I would venture into the various flea-markets in the mainland, be it in southern or northern China, not to say also the capital Beijing, not one has ever surfaced, indicating that the families may have not kept them, 60 and 70 years after the war ended and such rare samples may only exist in archives.


China has many large and small markets for antiques and memorabilia and today, with everyone being aware of their historical value most items are already long gone. When I arrived in Beijing back in 2000, by then it was not easy to locate good items, and by today, well, I can say with near certainty, it is nearly impossible, only to find the rare opportunities, when they do occur, at the good and important auction houses that have sprung up like mushrooms after the rain. With the Chinese economic boom, and becoming a senior player in world economy, many have made their wealth in business and turned to collecting as a means of investment and also because of strong nationalistic feelings. Chinese history is extensively rich and dates back to 7,000 years back and collecting memorabilia is a very strong passion among many today.


So when I saw a Chinese diplomatic passport being offered for sale, I knew I had a rare chance in adding a superb specimen into my archive, and my gut feeling told me it may be one that would not appear again for many years to come.


Diplomatic passport number 1390 (in Chinese it has the prefix of (WAI) which would stand for Diplomatic, meaning diplomatic passport外交护照) was issued by the Foreign Ministry to Miss Cheng Chingwan at Nanjing on December 6th 1936.


The travel document was issued to the daughter of Chinese supreme judge to the Permanent Court of International Justice (国际法院) located at The Hague, Holland, which today is known as the International Court of Justice, located at the Peace Palace in the Netherlands. Originally back then it was called the World Court and it existed from 1922 to 1946, with today’s court being established the previous year and is the United Nations main judiciary branch.


Her father was Chinese judge Cheng Tien-His (郑天锡), born on July 10th 1884 – January 31st 1970, and who was the Chinese judge who was sent to serve at the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ) from 1936 to 1945, with his work being interrupted following the outbreak of war in 1939 and being evacuated the following year.


Some brief points relating to this important individual:


  • 1912 graduated from the University College of London – majoring in Law;
  • 1915 obtained the LL.D degree and becoming the first Chinese to receive a doctorate in Law from a British university;
  • 1918-1927 serving in various positions with the Chinese Government after his return back home;
  • 1921 – an expert to the Washington Conference (part of the Chinese Delegation);
  • Same time was a judge to the Chinese Supreme Court (大理院);
  • 1932 accepted the post of Executive Vice-Minister of Justice to the government in Nanjing and also acting Minister of the Justice Ministry;
  • 1935 was appointed commissioner to the London International Exhibition of Chinese Art in the UK, as a Special Commissioner which gave him the opportunity, on behalf of his government, to remove the valuable treasures from the Forbidden City in Beijing south, and thus avoid it falling into the hands of the Japanese later on;
  • 1936 serving as judge to the PCIJ, a post held up to 1945;
  • 1946-1950 served as the LAST ambassador of the Republic of China (1912-1949) to England;
  • 1950 and onwards Cheng lived both in the US and the UK and served in various international advisory positions for the United Nations and the court in The Hague;
  • Passed away in London on January 31st



The passport has interesting diplomatic visas being issued in China and one also in India, for the travel to Holland:


  • Dutch diplomatic visa numbered 22 issued on December 8th 1936;
  • French diplomatic visa No. 249 issued at Nanjing on December 8th 1936;
  • British diplomatic visa No. 131 also issued at Nanjing the following day;
  • Belgium diplomatic visa No. 251 issued at Shanghai on the 11th;
  • Italian diplomatic visa No. 42 issued at BOMBAY on September 1st 1937;


Miss Chen left China in August of 1937, transiting via Colombo on the 29th, sailing from there to India where she obtained the above mentioned Italian visa. From there she arrived into France around mid-September, with the applied border crossing date for the 13th.


Her passport was extended 2 months later on November 9th at the Chinese Legation in The Hague, valid till December 6th 1939.


Several passport extensions can be found inside the passport, with the odd visas up to the outbreak of war in 1939, with the interesting annotations inside being issued in 1940.


From pages 20 to 26 we can find the necessary transit visas inside for her travel out of Holland. Living in war time in the Continent with events developing fast and with great uncertainty for herself, her family, and most likely for the other members of the International Curt, preparations were to be made to leave and find refuge in some neutral or allied country, so the first visas were issued by the French and Swiss diplomatic missions in January 1940: French diplomatic visa 12 issued on January 3rd followed by the Swiss diplomatic visa 2955 from the 8th.  The next 2 visas were issued AFTER the country was occupied by Germany: Italian diplomatic visa 1434/97 issued on May 30th and Portuguese diplomatic visa issued the next day.


Here comes the most intriguing and fascinating visa from them all: German occupational diplomatic visa numbered 508 being issued by “Der Höhere SS- und Polizeiführer beim Reichskommissar für die besetzten Niederländischen “. The issuing authority was the SS and police leader (roughly translates for “The Higher SS and Police Leader of the Reich Commissioner for the Occupied Dutch areas). Apparently she was first issued a Diplomatic visa which was then cancelled, scratched out, and changed to a Diplomatic TRANSIT visa.


From archival material we can learn that in early 1940 plans were made to evacuate all the staff of the International Court, this could explain the early visas being issued in January of that year, but, as we all know by now, the suddenness of the German invasion into the western European states and full occupation made them plans more difficult. July 15th 1940 saw the abolishment of diplomatic privileges in occupied Holland, and later on safe passage was also awarded not only to the diplomats but also to the staff of the International Court, not including personal or staff with Dutch nationality. Thus after receiving the important German Diplomatic transit visa 508 on July 11th with the hand-written annotation on top which states that the holder is travelling onboard the Diplomatic Special train and is a member of the International Court in The Hague.

The train entered the Basel train station on July 16th, making her permanent residence for the duration of the war in Switzerland. She makes a short trip into Vichy France for about two weeks from August 23rd to September 2nd 1942, having her passport extended again, for the last time, at the Chinese diplomatic Legation at Berne on September 20th 1944, valid for the next 3 years.


Have added images of this special diplomatic passport.



Thank you for reading “Our Passports”.

Neil Kaplan
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