China was one of the earliest countries to begin a communication system. About some 2,500 years ago, China already had an efficient postal system at that time. Marco Polo described that in his day there were 10,000 post stations 25 miles apart from the next with 300,000 horses to carry couriers throughout the Empire.
In the first half of 19th Century (道光年間 / reign of Tao-Kuang) some private postal carrier networks (LETTER HONG / 信行) originated in China. They gained popularity through the years based on their reliability and good reputation. However the private mail delivery networks developed only on those paying routes, "word massage" and notes carried by fellow villagers were the main communication method for many Chinese.
A series of modern post offices operated by foreign powers began to rival in the mid 19th Century that infringed the sovereignty of China. For various reasons, including a lack of deep-water-capable vessels, China could not provide service to carry mails overseas on a regular base.
Major postal setups operated in China around 1896 (22nd Year of Kuang Hsu)
- I-CHAN / 驛站 - government operated courier network that delivered only governments official and military documents. The system was started in the T'ang / 唐 Dynasty (618-907) and consummated in the Yuan / 元 Dynasty (1279-1368). There were 1,970 I-CHAN (postal station) and 13,935 JI-DI-PU / 急遞鋪 (express relay shop) in the reign of Kuang Hsu / 光緒.
- WEN-PAO-CHU / 文報局 - government operated "Bureau of Communication" for the handling of diplomatic bags between Peking and members of different Chinese legations abroad (including their families' private letters and packages). There were 15 offices set up from 1876 to 1890s and located in several cities .
- MIN-HSIN-CHU / 民信局 - private operated LETTER HONG that mainly handled Chinese mails for commercial and civil purposes.
- QIAO-PI-CHU / 僑批局 - private operated LETTER HONG in the southern coastal areas specialized for overseas Chinese and their family, relative and friends at home. The earliest PI-CHU may be the DE LI HSIN CHU / 德利信局 in Chauchow, Canton / 廣東潮州, founded in 1858.
- LOCAL POST / 商埠郵局 - municipal postal services operated by alien residents autonomies in treaty ports that served foreigners local and inter treaty ports mail matters. The earliest LPO was the Shanghai LPO / 上海工部局書信館 founded by the Municipal Council of the Shanghai International Settlement / 上海公共租界工部局 in July 1863. Other ports followed as
Hankow / 漢口 (1893)
Chefoo / 煙台 (芝罘) (1893)
Chungking / 重慶 (1893)
Kewkiang / 九江 (1894)
Chinkiang / 鎮江 (1894)
Ichang / 宜昌 (1894)
Wuhu / 蕪湖 (1894)
Amoy / 廈門 (1894)
Foochow / 福州 (1895)
Nanking / 南京 (金陵) (1896)
- GUEST POST / 客郵局 - alien postal organizations in China operated by Western Powers that mainly served foreigners correspondents between China and foreign countries. The British was the first to set up post office in China as Consular Packet-Agency since 1844 at Shanghai / 上海, Canton / 廣州, Foochow / 福州, Amoy / 廈門 and Ningpo / 寧波. From 1861, starting from Shanghai, these agencies separated from the consulates became independent post offices and named Hong Kong Post Offices Agencies. Other countries followed the British as
United States (1867)
- CUSTOMS POST / 海關郵局 - postal system operated by the Imperial Maritime Customs that provide postal service on a trial basis. Although the operation was limited to treaty ports and cities where there were customs houses, Customs Post was the embryo of modern Chinese postal service, which laid foundation for the Post of China.
(After the Customs Post transformed into Imperial Post, all the Local Post offices closed in 1897 except Shanghai LPO that was absorbed by the I.P.O. The rest of the postal setups still operated until later times. The Chinese Imperial Post had been growing under competition with private letter hongs and foreign postal organizations as well as cooperation with them.)
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