British historians in early 1980s started compiling the British Documents on Foreign Affairs. In its introduction of May 1983, the editors said "It is in the last thirty years or so that historians have begun to realise the importance of modern diplomatic achieves for other kinds of history than the history of diplomatic relations between two or more countries. . . British archives contain one source that no other national archive can match, the product of a practise without exact parallel in the machinery of government of any other major power. This is the so-called Foreign Office Confidential Print".1 This Foreign Office Confidential Print (FOCP) comprises of diplomatic dispatches from England to its overseas agencies/representatives who might be a colonial governor or a British armed forces leader. The starting date of the collection is about 1850s, depending on the destination of the dispatch and the location of the addressee. The original intention of FOCP was for the information of the Queen or King of England, and major embassies abroad. They were also circulated to major departments of the British government. This practice was later extended to Cabinet Office and various sub-committees , and the Committee of Imperial Defense. All these organizations later became recipients of the FOCP. Regarding the origin of the practice of keeping FOCP, in May 1983 according to the general editors of British Documents on Foreign Affairs, the fullest study done so far was by Dr. Lo Hui-min, who suggested that the practice of systematically keeping diplomatic papers was a response of the small post-Napoleonic Foreign Office to the enormous increase of dispatches received after 1821, thereafter a filing system by numbering and classifying was introduced. On hand the documents collected in the archive numbered from 1 to 20,000 and up. These documents are now divided into three parts. Part I is from the start up to 1914, that is before WWI. Part II covers 1914 - 1940, that is the period between the two Wars. Part III is 1940- 1945, that is WWII period. Because British was a huge empire, many diplomatic events had happened in those days. For the purpose of publishing the British Documents on Foreign Affairs, under the same period, the prints now are further divided by geographical regions. The region that I am interested is Asia and the period is before 1914, when many important events had happened in China, for example the Opium War and the Boxer Uprising. Through these documents, mostly secret if not confidential, readers could see how British formulated their foreign policy towards Asian countries in general, and China and Japan in particular.
1. Nish, Ian Hill ed. British Documents on Foreign Affairs - Reports and Papers from the Foreign Office Confidential Print, Part I Series E Asia, 1860-1914. Frederick, Md.: University Publications of America, c1989 - , volume 15, page xv.