The Making of China’s Post Office: Sovereignty, Modernization, and the Connection of a Nation

Research output: Book/ReportBook


The Making of China’s Post Office traces the origins and early development of the country’s modern postal system. Sweeping in perspective, it goes beyond the bounds of institutional history to explore the political maneuverings, economic imperatives, and societal pressures both inhibiting and driving forward postal development. Although its prime mover was Robert Hart, Inspector General of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, the wider cast of characters includes foreign and native staff, Qing officials, local administrations, commercial interests, and foreign governments.

Drawing extensively on archival material from the Second Historical Archives of China in Nanjing, the Tianjin Municipal Archives, and the Archive of Queen’s University Belfast, Weipin Tsai contextualizes the making of the post office within the country’s long and contested path of modernization, bringing Chinese voices to the fore. Tsai illustrates the extent to which local agency shaped the design and development of the service as it expanded from experimental coastal operation into China’s interior and on to its border periphery, the first nationwide modernization project to directly impact people’s daily lives. Ultimately, the grand spatial reach of the Post Office carried significant symbolic meaning in relation to sovereignty for the Qing government and for later Republican administrations.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherHarvard University Asia Center
Number of pages450
ISBN (Print)9780674295889
Publication statusPublished - 20 Feb 2024


  • Chinese Post Office
  • Chinese Maritime Customs Service
  • Robert Hart
  • Théophile Piry
  • railways
  • private letter hongs
  • postage stamps
  • First Sino-Japanese War
  • Li Hongzhang
  • Zhang Zhidong
  • communication networks
  • Chinese sovereignty
  • Chinese modernisation
  • Qing Dynasty
  • Boxer Rebellion
  • postal maps
  • Tibet
  • Outer Mongolia
  • 1911 Revolution

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