Maritime History of Steamship Companies Impact in Modern China, 1840-1911

Dublin Core


Maritime History of Steamship Companies Impact in Modern China, 1840-1911


Session 11
Diversity in approaches to maritime archaeology, underwater cultural heritage and related areas


This paper aims to provide evidence of historical documents in Chinese steamship industry and how these materials may provide context to better understand the underwater cultural heritage. What were the economic impacts of steamship industry on China’s littoral landscape? Through a discussion on maritime policies the following examples are noted:

a) Assistance Policy – In 1876 Japan ordered a cessation on Chinese steamships from entering Japan to purchase coal. In response the Chinese government enacted the September 1876 Decree for Coal Aggregate Industry in Kai Ping in support of the first national coal mining industry. This caused great changes in the littoral landscape with the building of mining infrastructure.

b) Preferential treatment – The 1872 Royal Act declared the development of the first Chinese steamship company. The China Merchants Steam Navigation Company gained monopoly of the inland-waterway systems (Yangtze River – Shanghai to Hankou to Chong Qing). In support of its development the policy entailed the following:

i. Raised high-prices on freights with the implementation of a tax to twice their value;
ii. Private company taxes were increased but taxes reduced on the steamship company.
iii. prohibition on other competitive steamship companies until 1896.

These historical records can help to interpret maritime archaeology by providing reasons for ship-type shifts in cargo assemblages. When the government stepped in with these raised freights and taxes then the private companies operating junks were ousted by the national steamship company. This could explain why a shipwreck would encase high-valued merchandise along the canal system. The cargo could be misinterpreted to represent a pirate ship. However, knowledge of the relevant policy clarifies the fact that working steamships would have been the preferred vessel to carry cargoes of high-value.


Han Qing


November 2011



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