Meteorological work of the Chinese Maritime Customs


Robert Hart first discussed developing a meteorological service in 1869, but it was not until 1874 that the project got off the ground. By the late 1930s the Chinese Maritime Customs Service had developed a network that was collecting meteorological data several times daily at fifty-two ports and lighthouses across the length and breadth of China. This data formed a fundamental component of the research activities of key institutions engaged in meteorological work in the Far East, most notably the Zikawei (Xujiahui, also formerly romanised by Anglophone speakers as Siccawei) Observatory in Shanghai, the Hong Kong Royal Observatory, and, after 1928, the Institute of Meteorology, Academia Sinica, in Nanjing. The meteorological work of the Customs was badly affected by the 1941-45 Pacific War, which saw the destruction of most of the Service's equipment. In early January 1947 the Customs ordered meteorological work at posts to cease if other state meteorological stations were operating at the same locale, due to the prohibitive cost of replacing equipment.

ACRE collaboration

The Customs project has been collaborating with Rob Allan and the ACRE project (Atmospheric Circulation Reconstructions over the Earth) at the UK Meteorological Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Predication and Research. The work has been funded by ACRE, and by an AHRC Knowledge Catalyst Partnership award (May-August 2008).

Partners in this research have included Dr Catherine Ladds, University of Bristol, and Dr SHI Yihui, of the Department of History, Nanjing University. As well as producing a report on the history of the meteorological activity of the Customs and its partners (and competitors), the team has produced a preliminary inventory of the surviving data recorded by Customs stations. A paper on this aspect of Customs activity was published in 2016: Robert Bickers, '"Throwing Light on Natural Laws": Meteorology on the China coast, 1869-1912', in Robert Bickers and Isabella Jackson, eds, Treaty Ports in Modern China: Law, Land and Power (London: Routledge, 2016), pp. 180-201.


Some Customs meteorological data can be found in the annual Medical Reports. Some material about the development of the system can be found in T. Roger Banister, The Coastwise Lights of China: An Illustrated Account of the Chinese Maritime Customs Light Service (Shanghai, 1932). The Customs Service published in 1905 (revised and reprinted 1932, 1935, 1939) as volume no. 27 in its 'Service Series', Instructions concerning Meteorological work. This superseded use of William Doberck's Instructions for making Meteorological Observations, prepared for use in China, which had been prepared in 1883, and which was published for Customs use in 1887 as 'Special Series' volume no. 7, together with his Law of storms in the Eastern Seas.

See also: Chinese Maritime Customs Project Occasional paper No.3: Robert Hart, Documents relating to, 1o  the Establishment of Meteorological Stations in China; and 2o Proposals for co-operation in the publication of meteorological observations and exchange of weather news by telegraph along the Pacific coast of Asia [1873]