Western Enterprise in Far Eastern Economic Development: China and Japan

By G. C. Allen; Audrey G. Donnithorne | Go to book overview

APPENDIX E A NOTE ON TELEGRAPHIC COMMUNICATIONS

Telegraphy on a commercial scale was introduced into China by two companies, one British and the other Danish, which were the predecessors respectively of the Eastern Extension Australasia and China Telegraph Co. Ltd. (now Cable and Wireless Ltd.) and the Great Northern Telegraph Co. Ltd. (of Denmark).1 The British company approached China from the south, laying a cable between Singapore and Hongkong in 1871. In the same year the Danish concern, which had a line across Siberia, extended it to Nagasaki, and thence to Shanghai and (via Amoy) to Hongkong. In 1883 this company, the Great Northern, duplicated its cables betwen Vladivostok and Nagasaki and Shanghai, while the Eastern Extension Co. laid a line from Hongkong to Foochow and Shanghai. From the outset the two companies worked closely together. In 1900 they were jointly responsible for laying a cable from Shanghai, via Chefoo, to Taku, near Tientsin; this opened direct telegraphic communication between Peking and Shanghai. The Companies made these lines for the Chinese Government and lent it the necessary funds. By agreement, the two Companies were to work the cables on behalf of the Government until the loans were repaid. Repayment was completed in 1933. In 1906 an American concern, the Commercial Pacific Cable Co., laid a cable between Manila and Shanghai.

The Eastern Extension and the Great Northern had a large part in training Chinese telegraph operators. In 1876 the Chinese authorities established a school of telegraphy at Foochow and staffed it with some of the Great Northern Telegraph Co.'s officers. Operators were also trained within the Companies' own organisation. Most of these remained in the employment of the Companies but some entered the Chinese Telegraphic Administration. The Great Northern Telegraph Company compiled a Chinese dictionary by means of which Chinese characters were expressed in 4-figure groups which could be sent by cable; the addressee re-converted these groups into the corresponding characters.

With the growth of nationalism in China, the Companies had to hand over to the Government the task of dealing directly with the public in accepting and delivering telegraphic messages. The concessions granted by the Chinese Government to the Companies expired in 1944, and were not renewed.2

____________________
1
The first telegraph in China was laid in 1866 and connected the Shanghai office of Russell & Co., an American firm, with their warehouses on the Bund. Chinese Customs Report on Trade, Shanghai, 1866, p. 11.
2
Information about telegraphic communications is derived from private inquiries.

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