Qing Dynasty Passport 1891

Passport History Qing Dynasty

The term “passport” first appeared in Chinese passport documents during the Qing Dynasty in 1689 when the Sino-Russian Treaty of Nibuchu (also known as the Treaty of Nerchinsk) mentioned that “all individuals from both countries holding passports would be permitted to cross the border and engage in trade.”

During the same year, the Qing Dynasty government issued what was known as the “Letter-type Collective Passport.” This “letter-type collective passport” served as a form of “letter of introduction” to confirm the identity of the passport holder.

Single Person Passports

Following the Opium War in 1840, the Qing government, under the influence of unequal bilateral treaties with Western powers, began authorizing consulates and customs offices outside of China to issue passports in various formats to Chinese nationals.

During this period, the “single-person, single-paper” Chinese passport began to take shape and continued to be used in the People’s Republic of China, including the “exit passport” of the Communist Party of China during the “Soviet Republic of China.”

The Qing Dynasty’s “single-person, single-paper” passport typically featured an upper trapezoidal border and a lower rectangular border. The word “passport” was written in traditional Chinese characters within the upper trapezoid, while the main text of the passport was written from top to bottom in the lower rectangle, from right to left.

Huge Passport Format

The passport’s primary content was inscribed from the top to the bottom of the rectangle, and a government department seal was used as a security measure. Remarkably, the size of the passport was 87cm by 56cm, making it the largest passport in the modern world.

Physical Description and Passport Photo

The font used for Qing Dynasty passports was traditional Chinese calligraphy. Due to technological limitations, passports in the late 19th and early 20th centuries did not include photographs. To accurately identify the holder, Chinese passports primarily described the bearer’s “physical features,” including height and physique.

Photo technology was introduced in Chinese passports during the Republic of China era. However, the 1953 edition of the PRC passport still retained many textual descriptions from Qing Dynasty passports, including “physical features.”

No Centralized Passport System

Given the absence of a centralized passport issuing authority during the Qing Dynasty, passports issued by different authorities generally adhered to the main design described above but exhibited variations in detail.

For instance, during the Guangxu emperor’s reign, some Qing Dynasty passports featured a decorative design with the national emblem. A frame of six five-clawed flying dragons—on the outer border of the passport. These five-clawed flying dragons can be considered a variation of the “yellow dragon flag,” the national flag of the Qing Dynasty.

Source: Congrong Xiao, College of Packaging Design and Art, Hunan University of Technology, Zhuzhou, China


The Passport

Printed form, with hand-writing in ink, and stamps, issued to a British merchant G. Whitefield, permitting him to travel from Shanghai to Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Anhui, dated 13.11.1891. 52.5 x 43cm.

Qing Dynasty Passport issued to British merchant G. Whitefield in 1891


Chinese Taiping Rebel Pass sold at, USD7000



incl. FREE guideline!

FAQ Passport History pasaporte passeport паспорт 护照 パスポート جواز سفر पासपोर्ट

1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...

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