Founder of Modern Post of China


There is nothing more noble than work and nothing more necessary that work should be well done. In a building every brick is necessary, but the bricks most important are those lowest down and unseen. If they were not well laid the building would not stand but fall to pieces. So it was in life. Each one of them who had a task to perform, from the lowest to the highest, and each must see that he did his best.
- Robert Hart -

The Service which I direct is called the Customs Service, but its scope is wide and its aim is to do good work for China in every possible direction.
- Robert Hart -

I shall never leave China contentedly unless I see mines at work, railways in operation and telegraphs spreading.
- Robert Hart -

A brief history of Robert Hart
1835 February 20, born in Portadown, County Armagh, Northern Ireland
1845 sent to Wesleyan School in Taunton, Somerset; studied Latin for 2 years and also Arithmetic, Interest and Fractions
1848 sent to Wesley Connexional School in Dublin; drilled in Latin, Greek, English, French, mathematics, as well as Scripture History and Hebrew
1851 Matriculated from Queen's College and gained a scholarship at the beginning of each year; later received gold medals for Literature, Logic and Metaphysics
1853 B.A. and Senior Scholar, Queens's College, Belfast
1854 Gained nomination from British Foreign Office; July, arrived Hong Kong on steamship "The Pottinger"; serving in the Superintendency of trade; Sep., appointed to the British Consulate in Ningpo, official job was as a supernumary interpreter
1858 March, sent to the city of Canton as Secretary to the Allied Commission; Oct., promoted interpreter at the British Consulate
1859 Resigned from the British Consulate and joined the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs
1861 H.N. Lay, the Inspector General of Customs was attacked, severely wounded and sent home to England, Hart made Acting Inspector Generals in his place; suggested to Tsungli Yamen that it would be to China's advantage to eastablish a national post office
1862/3 Travelled up and down the land establishing new offices in Ningpo, Foochow, Amoy, Swatow, Chingkiang and Tientsin
1863 Lay was dismissed because of the "Lay-Osborn Flotilla Incident"; Hart appointed Inspector-General
1864 Visited Formosa (Taiwan) to inspect the new customs house there
1865 By the Treaty of Tientsin, the Chinese government was obliged to convey mail for the theaty Powers, Customs was entrusted with the duty and started the conveyance of mail
1866 Granted six months leave for home and took 5 Chinese with him to Europe; fallen in love with Hester Jane in Portadown, married in Dublin on the 22nd August and back to Peking
1873 Instructed Campbell to open the Chinese Customs Office in London
1875 Helped to settle difficulties between G.B. and China; conferred M.A., (Honorary) Queen's University, Belfast
1876 His work in 1875 resulted in Chefoo Convention and a turning point for the development of the Customs Post
1878 Went to the Paris Exhibition as President of the Chinese Government's Commission
1882 Conferred LL.D. (Honorary) Queen's University, Belfast
1884/5 With Campbell successfully teaming-up to handle the Ferry Affair and ratified the Li-Fournier Convention with France in Annam, Indochina
1885 Offered the post of British Minister in China; immediately relinquished as he felt he could do better work for China in the Maritime Customs Service
1886 Conferred LL.D. (Honorary) Mitchigan University, U.S.A.
1891 Organized first brass band in China
1894/5 Advocated necessary reform in China
1897 Tariff revision and Haikuan (Customs) Teal gold unit proposal; Inauguration of the Chinese Imperial Post Office
1898 To get the shipping companies on-side with the national post office, Hart offered to them a discount of 50% of the off-hours loading fee, in exchange for these not carrying mail for private letter companies
1900 Hart's office, home and practically all of his records were destroyed in the Boxer Rebellion
1901 Organized Native Customs Service
1908 Took "leave of absence" and returned to England, never to return to China again; conferred Freeman of Belfast, London and the Borough of Taunton
1911 September 20, died in England

Robert Hart's Distinctions received in China

The statue of Robert Hart designed by Charles Guernier of Paris was originally installed on the Shanghai Bund on May 25, 1914, and relocated to a spot opposite the new Shanghai Customs House in 1928. During WWII, it was demolished by the puppet Customs House on Sep. 9, and the statue was taken away by the Japanese on Oct. 5, 1943.

On one of the bronze plaques there was an epitaph written by President Charles William Eliot of Harvard University:

"Inspector-General of the Chinese Maritime Customs.
Founder of the Chinese Lighthouse Service.
Organiser and Administrator of the National Post Office.
Trusted Counsellor of the Chinese Government.
True friend of the Chinese People.
Modest, Patient, Sagacious and Resolute.
He overcame Formidable Obstacles, and
Accomplished a work of Great Beneficence for China and the World."