Chinese Maritime Customs Service
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The Chinese Maritime Customs Service was a Chinese governmental tax collection agency and information service from its founding in 1854 until its bifurcation in 1949 into services operating in the Republic of China on Taiwan, and in the People's Republic of China (see General Administration of Customs). Until 1912 it was named the Imperial Maritime Customs Service .
Largely staffed at senior levels by foreigners, the Service was controlled by Chinese central government throughout its history. It was effectively established by foreign consuls in Shanghai in 1854 to collect maritime trade taxes that were going unpaid due to the inability of Chinese officials to collect them during the Taiping Rebellion. Its responsibilities soon grew to include domestic customs administration, postal administration, harbour and waterway management, weather reporting, and anti- smuggling operations. It mapped, lit, and policed the China coast and the Yangtze. It conducted loan negotiations, currency reform, and financial and economic management. The Service published monthly Returns of Trade, a regular series of Aids to Navigation and reports on weather and medical matters. It also represented China at over twenty world fairs and exhibition, ran some educational establishments, and conducted some diplomatic activities. Britons dominated the foreign staff of the Customs, but there were large numbers of German, U.S., French, and later Japanese staff amongst others. Chinese began to be promoted into senior positions from 1929 onwards.
After two decades of operation, the system collected about one third of the revenue available to the government in Beijing. In addition, foreign trade expanded rapidly because international trade was regulated and predictable. Foreign governments benefitted because there was a mechanism to collect revenues to repay the loans that they had imposed on or granted to China. By 1900, there were 20,000 people working in forty main Customs Houses across China and many more subsidiary stations.
Among the contributions of the Service under Hart from 1863 to 1911 were the establishment of the Tongwenguan, which produced many translations of works of international law, science, world history, and current events; the postal service; and the Northern Navy. Hart established China’s central statistical office in the Maritime Service in Shanghai and the Statistical Secretariat 1873-1950) and following the Boxer Uprising, set up Customs College to provide educated Chinese staff for the Service.
Inspectors-General and notable officers
Its first Inspector-General, Horatio Nelson Lay (Chinese name 李泰国), was dismissed in 1863 and replaced with Robert Hart (Chinese name 赫德), by far the most famous "I.G.," who served until his death in 1911. Hart oversaw the development of the Service and its activities to its fullest form. Hart was succeeded by Sir Francis Aglen (1869–1932) (Chinese name 安格联) and then by his own nephew, Sir Frederick Maze (1871–1959) (Chinese name 梅乐和), who served from 1929-1943. In January 1950 the last foreign Inspector-General, American Lester Knox Little (Chinese name 李度), resigned and the responsibilities of the Service were divided between what eventually became the Customs General Administration of the People's Republic of China, and the Republic of China Directorate General of Customs on Taiwan. It was the only bureaucratic agency of the Chinese government to operate continuously as an integrated entity from 1854 to 1950.
Amongst the many well-known figures who worked for the Customs in China were Willard Straight, botanist Augustine Henry; Johan Wilhelm Normann Munthe, Norwegian; G.R.G. Worcester (1890-1969), River Inspector from 1914 to 1948, and author of seven published books on the Yangzi River; novelist and journalists Bertram Lenox Simpson (known as Putnam Weale) and J.O.P. Bland; and historian H.B. Morse. Medical Officers attached to the Customs included John Dudgeon, in Peking, James Watson at Newchwang and Patrick Manson at Takow and Amoy. The Hong Kong Chinese businessman and political leader Robert Hotung served as a Customs clerk for two years (1878–1880).
Life in the Customs
Even higher level 'Indoor staff' could have their difficulties in the nineteenth century, as the buying power of their salaries varied with the price of silver, and the extra year's pay every seven years which Hart had negotiated for them in place of a pension did not always allow for adequate saving for retirement. Family travel costs were at the officer's expense, so not all took punctually their due of foreign leave of two years on half pay after the first seven years, and subsequently every ten years. They were subject to all the usual hazards of life in China from illness and civil disruption and difficulties in providing for the education of their children, which often involved family separations. To some extent this was compensated by the strong esprit de corps. A network of friends was sustained across changes of post by letter-writing, quite frequently the duty of their wives.
Sir Robert Hart could be a sympathetic boss, but he insisted on high standards of efficiency and honesty, and, for those aspiring to the highest rank of Commissioner, a thorough knowledge of written and spoken Chinese. His most likely young men spent a year or more in Peking learning Chinese under his eye, which enabled him also to evaluate other characteristics that would enable them to act sensibly and rapidly in crisis situations demanding immediate response without referral back to him. The compensations included a short working day, which meant the later afternoon could be spent in exercising and socialising, going to the races, playing tennis, amateur dramatics and musical performances, and later at dinner parties which might include 'absurd games', or a musical interlude.
- Chinese Maritime Customs Project, University of Bristol
- Dr. Chihyun Chang, “Modern China’s Customs Services: A Brief Introduction,” (Academic Sinica)
- “The Chinese Maritime Customs Service: Forgotten History,” Stina Björkell, quoting Prof Han Van der Ven, University of Cambridge, gb times January 25, 2008.
- Chang, Modern China's Customs Services.
- Chinese Maritime Customs Project, University of Bristol
- Mary Tiffen, Friends of Sir Robert Hart: Three Generations of Carrall Women in China, Tiffania Books, 2012 www.tiffaniabooks.com
- Donna Brunero (2006). Britain's Imperial Cornerstone in China: The Chinese Maritime Customs Service, 1854-1949. Routledge. Google Book 
- Chihyun Chang. (2013)Government, Imperialism and Nationalism in China: The Maritime Customs Service and Its Chinese Staff. New York: Routledge, Routledge Studies in the Modern History of Asia. ISBN 9780415531429 (hbk.) ISBN 9780203075845 (ebook).
- Fairbank, John King (1953). Trade and Diplomacy on the China Coast: The Opening of the Treaty Ports, 1842-1854. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Mary Tiffen (2012). Friends of Sir Robert Hart: Three Generations of Carrall Women in China. Tiffania Books.
- Stanley Fowler Wright (1950). Hart and the Chinese Customs. Belfast: William Mullen and Son for Queen's University.
- Crawford David S (2006). "James Watson, MD, LRCSE – an Edinburgh trained physician and surgeon in northeastern China 1865–1884". J. Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.
- Bristol University Chinese Maritime Customs Project
- Handlist of L.K. Little papers at Houghton Library, Harvard University
- Maria Bugrova Bumali Project about Chinese Maritime Customs
- Modern China and the Imperial Maritime Customs project page Center for Geographic Information Science, Research Center for Humanities and Social Science, Academia Sinica