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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 May 2013

University of Bristol
Department of History, University of Bristol, 11 Woodland Rd, Bristol, BS8


This article calls for attention to be paid to the infrastructures that underpinned nineteenth-century globalization, and the use of better-known technological developments and global patterns of professional migration. It does so by outlining the work of the Marine Department of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service after 1868, focusing on its development of a network of lighthouses along the coast of China in its political and comparative contexts. These lights were at once local sites and nodes within a developing national and global system, and evolving practices around circulation of data and best practice, accepted international standards, technology transfer, and maritime safety. The Customs Service was a Chinese government agency, albeit within the British orbit of influence, but acted as a buffer between China and foreign interests and pressures.

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1 It provides the opening quotation and discussion in Lee, Leo's Shanghai modern: the flowering of a new urban culture in China, 1930–1945 (Cambridge, MA, 1999), pp. 35Google Scholar. The ready acceptance of electric lighting is outlined in Dikotter, Frank, Things modern: material culture and everyday life in China (London, 2007), pp. 133–44Google Scholar.

2 See the opening credits of Malu tianshi (Street Angel) (dir. Yuan Muzhi, 1937), for a collage of street scenes in which light plays a key role. Scholars: Cochran, Sherman, ed., Inventing Nanjing road: commercial culture in Shanghai, 1900–1945 (Ithaca, NY, 2000)Google Scholar.

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4 The main published source is Banister, T. Roger, The coastwise lights of China: an illustrated account of the Chinese Maritime Customs lights service (Shanghai, 1932)Google Scholar. In general, there is very little academic work on lighthouses, although see the works cited below as well as Guigueno, Vincent's ‘Des phares-étoiles aux feux-éclairs: les paradigmes de la signalisation maritime française au XIXè siècle’, Réseaux, 19 (2001), pp. 95112Google Scholar. A good popular introduction is Bathurst, Bella, The lighthouse Stevensons (London, 1999)Google Scholar.

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13 Two accounts of different aspects of the process: MacPherson, Kerrie L., A wilderness of marshes: the origins of public health in Shanghai, 1843–1893 (Hong Kong, 1987)Google Scholar; Bickers, Robert, ‘Ordering Shanghai: policing a treaty port, 1854–1900’, in Killingray, David, Lincoln, Margarette, and Rigby, Nigel, eds., Maritime empires: British imperial maritime trade in the nineteenth century (Woodbridge, 2004), pp. 173–94Google Scholar. Mail: Harcourt, Freda, Flagships of imperialism: the P & O Company and the politics of empire from its origins to 1867 (Manchester, 2006), pp. 86113CrossRefGoogle Scholar; telegraph: Baark, Lightning wires.

14 IG Circular No. 10, 25 Apr. 1868, in Inspector general's circulars: first series: 1861–1875 (Shanghai, 1879), p. 138. Formally, Hart served as inspector-general from Nov. 1863 until 1911, although he was already in charge of the service by 1861.

15 On pilotage, see Philip, George, The log of the Shanghai pilot service 1831–1932 (Shanghai, 1932)Google Scholar.

16 Queen's University Belfast, Special Collections (QUB), MS 15/1/9, Hart journal, 5 Aug. 1867. There is actually less on the history of the Customs generally than might be imagined, and less still on its operational history, as opposed to its political history, or the history of the tariff and its implications. Useful introductions and surveys with very different rationales are Wright, Stanley F., Hart and the Chinese Customs (Belfast, 1950)Google Scholar; Takeshi, Hamashita, Chugoku kindai keizaishi kenkyu: shinmatsu kaikan zaisei to kaikoujou shijouken (Economic history of modern China: Maritime Customs finance and open port market zones in late Qing China) (Tokyo, 1989)Google Scholar; Shiqi, Chen, Zhongguo jindai haiguan shi (History of the modern Chinese Customs) (Beijing, 2002)Google Scholar; Lyons, Thomas P., China Maritime Customs and China's trade statistics, 1859–1948 (Trumansburg, NY, 2003)Google Scholar, Brunero, Donna, Britain's imperial cornerstone in China: the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, 1854–1949 (London, 2006)Google Scholar. Two recent sets of papers make use of the recently reopened archives of the Service: van de Ven, Hans, ed., ‘Robert Hart and the Chinese Maritime Customs Service’, Modern Asian Studies, 40 (2006), pp. 545736CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bickers, Robert, ed., ‘Revisiting the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, 1854–1950’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 36 (2008), pp. 221311CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

17 Richard S. Horowitz, ‘Central power and state making: the Zongli Yamen and self-strengthening in China, 1860–1880’ (Ph.D. thesis, Harvard, 1998); Rudolph, Jennifer, Negotiated power in late imperial China: the Zongli Yamen and the politics of reform (Ithaca, NY, 2008)Google Scholar. The Zongli Yamen was as close as the Qing state got to creating a foreign ministry before 1901. It was in fact an office for dealing with foreign states, as well as foreign things and foreign matters generally.

18 Checkland, 'Richard Henry Brunton and the Japan lights, 1868–1876’, and Brunton, Building Japan.

19 Times, 1 Sept. 1906, p. 10.

20 QUB, MS 15/1/9, Hart journal, 31 Jan. 1867. This was later circulated as Appendix A in Circular No. 25/1870, 31 Dec. 1870, see Inspector general's circulars: first series: 1861–1875, pp. 325–30.

21 Article xxxii states that ‘The Consuls and Superintendents of Customs shall consult together regarding the erection of Beacons or Lighthouses, and the distribution of Buoys and Light-ships, as occasion may demand’; see also Wright, Hart and the Chinese Customs, p. 294. On the history of this revenue, see Stanley F. Wright, China's Customs revenue since the revolution of 1911 (3rd edn, revised … with the assistance of John H. Cubbon, Shanghai, 1935), pp. 34–7.

22 Banister, Coastwise lights of China, pp. 3–4.

23 QUB, MS 15/1/9, Hart journal, 1867: 19 Mar. (Burlingame), 19 Apr. (Hong Kong), 22 July (Zongli Yamen). He had already written to Forbes about his plans: 4 July.

24 QUB, MS 15/1/9, Hart journal, 12 July 1867.

25 The treaty is in Gubbins, J. H., The progress of Japan, 1853–1871 (Oxford, 1911), pp. 298304Google Scholar, article xi at p. 304; the evolution of the Convention is detailed in Auslin, Michael R., Negotiating with imperialism: the unequal treaties and the culture of Japanese diplomacy (Cambridge, MA, 2004), pp. 129–35Google Scholar; Brunton, Building Japan, 1868–1876; Checkland, ‘Richard Henry Brunton and the Japan lights’. The wider context of the work of these early foreign experts in Japan is explored in Jones, H. J., Live machines: hired foreigners and Meiji Japan (Tenterden, 1980)Google Scholar.

26 Checkland, ‘Richard Henry Brunton and the Japan lights’, pp. 220–3.

27 Thobie, Jacques, L'administration générale des phares de l'empire Ottoman et la société Collas et Michel, 1860–1960 (Paris, 2004)Google Scholar. Thobie's Phares ottomans et emprunts turcs, 1904–1961: un type de règlement financier international dans le cadre des traites (Paris, 1972) mainly looks at the later financial history of the concession.

28 For example, North China Herald (NCH), 17 June 1869, p. 315.

29 Ilersic, A. R., Parliament of commerce: the story of the association of British chambers of commerce, 1860–1960 (London, 1960), pp. 117–22Google Scholar. On the networking activities and concerns of British colonial chambers, see Magee and Thompson, Empire and globalization, pp. 145–7.

30 Defence: NCH, 31 Oct. 1868, p. 528.

31 Tonnage Dues Memo’, IG Circular No. 25, 1871, 31 Dec. 1870, in Inspector general's circulars: first series: 1861–1875.

32 NCH, 29 Dec. 1866, p. 207, 16, 30 May 1868, p. 247; petitions: NCH, Tianjin, 9 Dec. 1867, p. 401.

33 See, for example, comment from Niuzhuang after the lightship commenced operation: NCH, 23 Nov. 1867, p. 370.

34 The phrase was toned down when the 31 Jan. 1867 ‘Coast Light Memorandum’ was published as a circular: Inspector general's circulars: first series: 1861–1875, p. 327. It was, however, publicly known from the private circulation of the proposal: NCH, 22 Apr. 1869, p. 199, 17 June 1869, p. 315.

35 QUB, MS 15/1/9, Hart journal, 12 July 1867.

36 MacLeod, Roy M., ‘Science and government in Victorian England: lighthouse illumination and the Board of Trade, 1866–1886’, Isis, 60 (1969), pp. 438CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Tagliacozzo, ‘The lit archipelago’, passim.

37 IG Circular No. 10, 25 Apr. 1868, No. 20, 22 June 1868, in Inspector general's circulars: first series, pp. 137–42, 162–3.

38 Wright, Hart and the Chinese Customs, p. 298. On Forbes's varied life and experiences, see Documents illustrative of the origin, development and activities of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service (7 vols., Shanghai, 1937–40), vii, p. 88.

39 One such return is in Tianjin No. 38, 15 Aug. 1867, Second Historical Archives of China (SHAC), 679(2), 1928.

40 There is no history of the firm, but see Chance, James Frederick, The lighthouse work of Sir James Chance, baronet (London, 1902)Google Scholar. Forbes resigned in Dec. 1870.

41 Wright, Hart and the Chinese Customs, p. 298. Wright's book was based on the Customs Archives, which he established in the 1930s, and contains a well-informed survey of the Marine Department's lights activities, pp. 295–304. L. Tweedie-Stodart, ‘Statement of training and experience’ (1906), Tweedie-Stodart papers, private collection.

42 The most notable Customs example was Sir Patrick Manson, who founded the discipline of tropical medicine, and who served as a Customs surgeon: Haynes, Douglas M., Imperial medicine: Patrick Manson and the conquest of tropical disease, 1844–1923 (Philadelphia, PA, 2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. On the issue of professional circulation, see Lambert, David and Lester, Alan, eds., Colonial lives across the British empire: imperial careering in the long nineteenth century (Cambridge, 2006)Google Scholar.

43 On engineers and empire, see Buchanan, The engineers, pp. 148–57.

44 The foreign inspectorate assessed duties payable, under Maritime Customs commissioners in each open port, and the parallel office of (Chinese) superintendent and his staff collected them. This division of responsibility underpinned the structure of the Service until 1912.

45 Progress can be followed through the pages of Notices to mariners: first issue, 1862–1882 (Shanghai, 1883). A detailed survey up to 1901 is J. Reginald Harding, ‘The Chinese Lighthouse Service’, reprinted in Documents illustrative of the origin, development and activities of the Chinese Customs Service, vi, pp. 637–60.

46 Orders 1–3 are coastline lenses, 4–6 harbour lights. On the Fresnel lens, see Elton, Julia, ‘A light to lighten our darkness: lighthouse optics and the later development of Fresnel's revolutionary refracting lens, 1780–1900’, International Journal for the History of Engineering and Technology, 79 (2009), pp. 183244CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

47 On the Paris firm, see Guigueno, Vincent, Au service des phares: la signalisation maritime en France XIXè–XXè siècles (Rennes, 2001)Google Scholar.

48 Times, 30 Nov. 1920, p. 11.

49 Campbell to Hart, No.105, 23 Oct. 1874, Chen Xiafei and Han Rongfang, eds. in chief, Archives of China's Imperial Maritime Customs (Beijing, 1990), i; Ed Gould, The lighthouse philosopher: the adventures of Bill Scott (Saanichton, 1976).

50 Barbier Bénard and Turenne, Album de Photogravures (Paris, n.d., c. 1910s); BBT catalogue general (Paris, n.d., c. 1930s), both in Tweedie-Stodart papers, private collection.

51 Electricity was not a viable power source for this dispersed and isolated network, but even in Europe, it was only slowly adopted in lighthouse systems: Schiffer, Michael Brian, ‘The electric lighthouse in the nineteenth-century: aids to navigation and political technology’, Technology and Culture, 46 (2005), pp. 275305CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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54 Bickers, Robert, The Scramble for China: foreign devils in the Qing empire, 1832–1914 (London, 2011), p. 199Google Scholar.

55 Hart to Campbell, 24 Jan. 1881, letter 313, IG in Peking, p. 355.

56 ‘Joint report by the coast inspector and the engineer-in-chief on a four years’ programme for lighthouse work’ [1904], SHAC, 679(1) 1044, ‘Joint reports by engineer-in-charge and coast inspector on investigation of lighthouses on the islands along coast 1877–1905’.

57 ‘History of the Pingching’, in MacRobert to Sabel, 26 Mar. 1941, SHAC, 679(1) 684 eastern commander to coast inspector (CI), 1940–7.

58 Banister, Coastwise lights of China, pp. 15–16, 19.

59 Ibid., p. 15.

60 Bickers, Scramble for China, pp. 254–5, 264–70.

61 Rhoads, Edward M., China's republican revolution: the case of Kwangtung, 1895–1913 (Cambridge, MA, 1975), pp. 140–1Google Scholar; Documents illustrative of the origin, development and activities of the Chinese Customs Service, iv, p. 58; ‘Pratas Island’, North China Daily News, 14 Oct. 1934, in SHAC, 691(1), 3693. Some of the wider context is covered in Granados, Ulises, ‘China meets the southern sea frontier: ocean identity in the making, 1902–1937’, Pacific Affairs, 78 (2005), pp. 443–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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63 On loyalties and identities, see Ladds, Empire careers.

64 Arnold, David, ‘Europe, technology, and colonialism in the twentieth century’, History and Technology, 21 (2005), pp. 85106CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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66 In 1948: Lamko: a white flash every twenty seconds; Cape Cami: two white flashes every twenty seconds; Chilang: three white flashes; Breaker Point: one followed by two, etc. List of lighthouses, light-vessels, buoys, beacons, etc., on the coast and rivers of China, 1948.

67 Banister, Coastwise Lights of China, pp. 31–2. For more on Banister's volume, see below.

68 Ibid., pp. 57, 65, 150.

69 Ibid., p. xvii.

70 For explorations of the issue more widely, see Corbin, Alain, Village bells: sound and meaning in the ninetennth-century French countryside, trans. Thom, Martin (New York, NY, 1998)Google Scholar; Rath, Richard Cullen, How early America sounded (Ithaca, NY, 2003)Google Scholar; see also Coates, Peter, ‘The strange stillness of the past: toward an environmental history of sound and noise’, Environmental History, 10 (2005), pp. 636–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar. A partial exception in the China case is Wasserstrom, Jeffrey N., ‘A Big Ben with Chinese characteristics: the Customs House as urban icon in old and new Shanghai’, Urban History, 33 (2006), pp. 6583CrossRefGoogle Scholar, although this is mainly architectural in focus.

71 NCH, 30 Nov. 1867, p. 382; Banister, Coastwise lights of China, pp. 88–91, 115.

72 ‘Inspection report by the engineer in chief on the southern lighthouses, October and November 1887’, SHAC 679(2), 66; Banister, Coastwise lights of China, pp. 94–7, 158.

73 ‘Report by the engineer-in-chief and coast inspector on the proposed lighthouse for Lao tai tou, Lao tieh Shan promontory, Kwantung peninsular’, 5 Aug. 1891, in SHAC 679(1), 1044.

74 Banister, Coastwise lights of China, p. 43.

75 SHAC, 679(1), 23820, ‘Wreck of German gunboat Iltis, 1896: questions concerning “Iltis cemetery” and visitors book presented to S. E. Promontory Light Station by the survivors, 1932–1937’.

76 20 Sept. 1904, 1 Dec. 1906, ‘Chaopeitsui Lighthouse visitors book, 1892–1936’, SHAC 679(1) 4173.

77 See, for example, ‘Report by the coast inspector and the engineer-in-chief on the proposed lighthouses and buoys for the Hainan Strait’, 2 Dec. 1890, SHAC, 679(1), 1044; Eldridge, T. J., Knots in a sailor's life (Bournemouth, 1937), pp. 117–19Google Scholar.

78 Summaries of the work were published annually in Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society from at least 1878 to 1911. The 1878–9 report includes descriptive notes of Admiralty work in the Magellan Straits, Madagascar, Cyprus, China (Wenzhou approaches, Hong Kong to Shanghai seaboard, Hainan Straits), west coast of Japan, Jamaica, Australia, Fiji, as well as British waters: Evans, F. J. O., ‘Admiralty surveys for the year 1878–1879’, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography, New Monthly Series, 1, 6 (1879), pp. 369–72Google Scholar.

79 Graham, Gerald S., The China station: war and diplomacy, 1830–1860 (Oxford, 1978)Google Scholar.

80 Tagliacozzo, Eric, ‘Hydrography, technology, coercion: mapping the sea in south-east Asian imperialism, 1850–1900’, in Killingray, , Lincoln, , and Rigby, , eds., Maritime empires, pp. 142–58Google Scholar. For earlier British activity, see Cook, Andrew S., ‘Establishing the sea routes to India and China: stages in the development of hydrographical knowledge’, in Bowen, Huw V., Lincoln, Margarette, and Rigby, Nigel, eds., The worlds of the East India Company (Woodbridge, 2002), pp. 119–36Google Scholar.

81 Eldridge, Knots in a sailor's life, pp. 117–19.

82 Ibid., pp. 97–8.

83 This paragraph is mostly derived from a 1930 survey: ‘Coast inspector's comments on Kuan-wu Shu despatch No. 3, 530’, enclosed in CI S/O to IG No. 663, 13 Oct. 1930, SHAC: 679(1),3847.

84 Banister, Coastwise lights of China, p. 15; Eldridge, Knots in a sailor's life, p. 116. Tyler also left a memoir: Pulling strings in China (London, 1929).

85 Bickers, Scramble for China, pp. 272–4; Glen Dudbridge, ed., Aborigines of South Taiwan in the 1880s (Taibei, 1999).

86 IG Circular No. 28, 12 Nov. 1869, in Inspector general's circulars: first series: 1861–1875, p. 245.

87 MacKeown, P. Kevin, Early China coast meteorology: the role of Hong Kong (Hong Kong, 2010)Google Scholar; Pyenson, Lewis, Civilizing mission: exact sciences and French overseas expansion, 1830–1940 (Baltimore, MD, 1993)Google Scholar; Zengxiang, Wu, Zhongguo jindai qixiang taizhan (Meteorological observatories in modern China) (Beijing, 2007)Google Scholar.

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89 Statistical work: Eberhard-Bréard, Andrea, ‘Robert Hart and China's statistical revolution’, Modern Asian Studies, 40 (2006), pp. 605–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Lyons, China Maritime Customs and China's trade statistics.

90 Baark, Lightning wires, p. 81.

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92 NCH, 22 Aug. 1884, p. 203.

93 NCH, 14 Feb. 1908, ‘Late news extra’, p. 1.

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96 Published as Series iii, Miscellaneous Series, No. 38.

97 Published as Series ii, Special Series, No. 5, and Series iii, Miscellaneous Series, No. 6, respectively.

98 Correspondence in SHAC, 679(1), 21516, ‘Customs publication: iii. Miscellaneous Series No. 7: “List of Chinese Lighthouses, etc.: Chinese version”’.

99 See the discussion in Jürgen Osterhammel, Approaches to global history and the question of the ‘Civilizing Mission’ (Global History and Maritime Asia working and discussion paper series, Osaka, 2006).

100 Schiffer, ‘The electric lighthouse in the nineteenth-century’, p. 380.

101 Gallagher, John and Robinson, Ronald, ‘The imperialism of free trade’, Economic History Review, n.s., 6 (1953), p. 5CrossRefGoogle Scholar.