Weipin Tsai – Breaking the Ice: the Modern Chinese Postal Service in the Winter Season in the Late Qing Period

Event date: 14 October 2010 18:00
14 Stephenson Way
London NW1 2HD



Dr. Weipin Tsai
Breaking the Ice: the Modern Chinese Postal Service in the Winter Season in the Late Qing Period

The story of the modern Chinese postal service is highly instructive in understanding modern Chinese history. It particularly reveals how the Qing Government and later governments in the Republican period managed to reform, extend, unify and bring under state control China’s postal service, through lengthy and often energetic negotiations with both foreign and local powers, providing us with many insightful stories that illuminate politics and international relations. Meanwhile the arrival of the national postal service itself had significant effects across the whole of society, including impacts on trading patterns and the transmission of information and knowledge. Beyond institutional history and politics, the story of the postal service leads us into the heart of the communities it touched, and the changes in people’s daily lives.

Efforts to nationalise and unify the postal service were formally launched in March 1896, but in many ways this was a culmination of work initiated in previous decades. Beginning in 1878, a series of winter overland postal routes was established by the Chinese Maritime Customs Service. Gustav Detring (1842-1913), the Commissioner of Tianjin Port at that time, under the order of the Inspector General of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, Robert Hart (1835-1911), was assigned to manage this project. This article will focus on the period 1878 to 1882, and will examine several fundamental challenges encountered during this short four-year project, which set the scene for subsequent unification, reform and expansion.

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