A Post Office for China: The Creation of the Chinese Post Office and its Role in Late Qing Modernisation and the Birth of the Republic

Project: Research

Project Details


A Post Office for China tells the story of the birth of the Chinese postal service, a surprising, multi-layered tale that has not previously been the subject of a monograph. The story starts in the late nineteenth century, when the Qing Government was conventionally thought to have already lost control of domestic affairs, and ends in 1918 with the completion of the network as it reached to China’s borders with Russia and India. How did such a giant nationwide institution come successfully into being at the very sunset of empire? Building on rich archival materials and the unique perspectives of the author, A Post Office for China follows in the footsteps of the principal characters who presided at the birth of China’s Post Office, and offers a glimpse into the complexities surrounding their project’s survival and success.

The aim of this book is to move away from established tropes which seek to label all large projects in the late Qing period as functioning in the context of the ‘central/elite-control principle’, within the obit of the Self-Strengthening Movement. This book provides a fresh perspective which demonstrates the unique place of the Post Office at this point in Chinese history, showing that a fundamentally different approach was employed. Indeed, the Post Office is exceptional by its very nature, not just in being the largest, most far-reaching institution established in the Qing era, but also because of its unequivocal success. The book reveals how this came about, with official sanction to proceed but without direction from the Central Government in any form, entirely driven and funded by a group of people within the Chinese Maritime Customs Service on an extremely tight budget.

The initial status of the Post Office was ambivalent; it never appeared at the high table with the Bureau of Railway Transportation and the Maritime Custom Service, because of its lowly revenue income and, in the early days, its limited reach. Its success was like a mutation arising from the myriad of reforms undertaken in the closing period of the Qing Dynasty. Yet in parallel with the visible but seemingly mundane business of delivering mail, it carried the flag for two important missions: the construction of a unified national communications network across China’s enormous land mass for use by the general public for the first time in Chinese history; and the projection of national sovereignty, most notably at the country’s periphery.
Effective start/end date20/09/1620/02/19


  • Chinese Post Office
  • Robert Hart
  • Chinese Maritime Customs Service
  • Piry
  • postal history
  • Late Qing
  • Postal maps
  • Republic of China
  • frontiers
  • postal routes
  • transportation