China was not a U.P.U. member in the Ch'ing (Qing) Dynasty. When the Imperial Post Office started operation in 1897, mail exchange with foreign countries had to rely on so called "Guest Posts" - alien postal organizations set up and operated in China by Western Powers. In general, each of the foreign offices handled certain area of the world, and the I.P.O. also had preference for transmission. For instense, mail originated from Wenchow and north sent to Shanghai and forwarded to F.P.O., B.P.O. and I.J.P.O. Mail originated from Foochow and south sent through Hong Kong via H.K.P.O. There were some exception, for example, mail for U.S. originated from Foochow sent to Shanghai I.J.P.O. instead of Hong Kong.
French / Indo-Chinese Office
France, French colonies, Europe (by sea)
British / Hong Kong Office
Britain, British colonies, Europe (by sea)
Japan, America (via Japan)
German / Kiaochow Office
Germany, German colonies, America
Russia, Europe (via Siberian Railroad)
United States, Europe (crossing U.S. via Trans-Continental Railroad)
India, other countries (via India)
Since there had been no postal treaties between China and other countries until early twentieth century, Chinese stamps were not recognized by foreign offices. In addition to Chinese stamps (franked by senders at international rate), overseas mails had to be franked with foreign offices' stamps at U.P.U. rate or the stamps of the first country to which the mail would enter (by Chinese office) before handed to foreign offices for transmission. This double franking practice resulted so-called Combination Covers.
Combination franking was ended after the postal agreements with France (1/1/1902), Japan (7/18/1903), Hong Kong (2/1/1905), Germany (11/3/1905), and Russia (2/19/1909) went into effect. These agreements defined exchanging mail matters and recognizing postage stamps of each other. There was no postal agreement signed between China and the United States of America.
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