The language of emotion played a substantial role in British comments about development in Chinese politics throughout the twentieth century. Whether it was comments regarding the ‘fervour’ of Chinese revolutionaries, or claims that the China in the first few years of the People’s Republic’s existence was a ‘happy’ China, British politicians, journalists and civil servants frequently reflected on the emotional repertoire of Chinese people. This paper will explore why and how an examination of the role of emotions in British attitudes towards China can help us explore the motivations and assumptions underlying Britain’s relationship with China. In particular, it will explore the different ways in which British decision-makers attempted to read Chinese emotions in the first half of the twentieth century, from the beginnings of constitutional reform in imperial China to the first few years of the People’s Republic: through behaviour, relationships, and material culture. This, it is argued, provided a way of dealing with what many British commentators perceived as the ‘inscrutability’ of ‘the Chinese’, but at the same time it opened up new challenges by sparking new fears and concerns about the potential danger of not being able to ‘manage’ Chinese emotionality.