The Qing Empire's Last Flowering: The expansion of China's Post Office at the turn of the twentieth century

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The Great Qing Imperial Post Office was set up in 1896, soon after the First Sino-Japanese War. It provided the first national postal service for the general public in the whole of Chinese history, and was a symbol of China's increasing engagement with the rest of the globe. Much of the preparation for the launch was carried out by the high-ranking foreign staff of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, an influential institution established after the first Opium War.

With a mission to promote modernization and project Qing power, the Imperial Post Office was established with a centrally controlled set of unified methods and procedures, and its success was rooted in integration with the new railway network, a strategy at the heart of its ambitious plans for expansion. This article explores the history of this postal expansion through railways, the use of which allowed its creators to plan networks in an integrated way—from urban centres on the coasts and great rivers through to China's interior.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)895-930
Number of pages36
JournalModern Asian Studies
Issue number3
Early online date6 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2015


  • Chinese Post Office
  • railways
  • Robert Hart
  • private letter hongs
  • communication networks

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