Illustrated Fleet lists of Steamship Companies of the China Coast, and the Pearl and Yangtze Rivers
Copyright from 1972 by the authors
Howard W. Dick and Stephen A. Kentwell
A short history and illustrated fleet list of Yu Ya-ching (Yu Xiaqing)'s notable endeavours in Chinese shipowning from 1909 until after World War II have been added in the 'Major Ship Operators' section immediately below (February 2020).
An illustrated list of ships of the Wo Fat Sing company has been added to the South China section (February 2020). An illustrated list of Mollers Towages Ltd. has been added to the Shanghai section (January 2020). Also to the Shanghai section a major illustrated list with history of the HOPING and ZHANDOU series ships, the backbone of China"s coastal fleet in the 1950s and 1960s has been added, with valuable contributions by Bill Schell and Peter Cundall (updated February 2020). Further in the Shanghai section, significant updates have been made to the Chung Hsing and Dah Loh lists. (February & January 2020). An update has been undertaken of the Shun Cheong list in the South China Section (January 2020). In the North China section the Dalian Bureau passenger ships list has been updated (January 2020) and a short history of the shipowning activites of the Chinese Mining & Engineering Company and an illustrated fleet list have been added (December 2019).
Yukihiko Miyata has kindly provided the authors a copy of his detailed illustrated list of ships captured by Japan in WWII which has allowed us to include new illustrations of ELBHOF (ex CHUSAN, Little Yangtse list), AN LEE (Ching Kee list), SLAV (later DAH LOH, Dah Loh list) and KENSEI MARU (ex HINSANG, Jardine list). The publication and further photographs will assist in the preparing of new lists which is underway. (20/1/20)
Richard N.J. Wright has kindly provided additional information to the entries for PEI LEE (Pei ships list) and KWANG LEE (Ching Kee S.N. Co. list). He has also drawn attention a mistake in the date of the 2nd Fengtien war in the entry for SHAWHSING (Shawhsing S.S. Co. list) which has been corrected to 1924. (19/1/20)
Peter Cundall has kindly provided very useful information and Chinese names for ships chartered by Shun Cheong-related companies in 1937-40. (10/12/19) A separate list of pre-war Shun Cheong 'predecessors' is therefore in preparation. (29/1/20)
Through the good offices of Malcolm Cranfield of the World Ship Society, Dr. George Wilson, former surgeon of the Denbighshire,has generously provided rare and valuable new photographs of the ARGUS (Madrigal list), HOPING 2 and HOPING 50 (HOPING/ZHANDOU list).
Note: The main content of this site is accessed by clicking on the PDF files introduced below. Here is a sample PDF.
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From the coming of the age of steamships the China Coast saw an active building up of shipping fleets, both by major foreign-flag companies which were able to dominate services to the "Treaty Ports" and by Chinese shipping interests. The Chinese companies were severely disadvantaged in political and economic terms but could draw together local capital and support, an outstanding ability to maintain ships and a persistence to override the various obstacles.
This site presents the major shipping fleets of both categories, which then faced the severe political and other difficulties of the 1930s and 1940s. Many of the Chinese companies went on to survive in some form, often under other flags, in second half of the 20th century. We also present some of the fleets of the early years of the People's Republic of China. Both passenger carrying vessels and cargo ships are featured.
We would very much welcome comments, photographs, publishable material or other new information to add to this site which will be updated periodically. All messages will be acknowledged. These may be sent to the webmaster at <>.
As a rule the contemporary Wade-Giles transliteration of Chinese names is used for pre-1958 ship and personal names, as that is how names were reported in the press of the era, and how ship names were officially registered and actually painted on the ships themselves. The Chinese characters painted on ships sides were read from right to left until 1946, when the writing mode changed to from left to right.
Photographs and other illustrations are presented at low resolution, sometimes with a text watermark, for study purposes only. Persons seeking copies of photographs should direct their enquiries to the sources as listed. An asterisk in the credits indicates that a photograph printed off the original negative or slide film is owned by one or both of the authors.
All rights are reserved. These lists have involved considerable research by Howard and Stephen since the 1960s and we are concerned that authors' rights be protected. We are amenable to allowing use of material on this site for private study and for non-profit making purposes. A condition for any reproduction is that the source should be acknowledged and the authors should be informed.
Because of the large number of fleet lists, we have divided them by geographic area, as indicated by subsequent headings:
Major China-based steamship operating companies with operations covering the whole Coast, the Yangtse and beyond
Coastal steamship companies which mainly operated to and from North China
Steamship fleets and companies mainly operating on the Yangtse and from Shanghai to Ningpo
Coastal steamship companies mainly operating to and from Shanghai
Steamship companies operating between Hong Kong, Canton and Macao
Steamship companies operating companies mainly sailing to and from South China
Pioneering steamships and companies of other nationalities sailing to China including Japan, French Indochina and the Philippines.
Major Ship Operators Whose Operations Covered the Whole Coast and Yangtse
From the 19th century the major coastal shipping companies, operating along the coast from north to south and to some destinations abroad were, in order of establishment:
Jardine, Matheson & Co., London, undertaking China coastal and river operations from 1852, including as
China Coast Steam Navigation Company (1873-81)
Yangtze Steam Navigation Company Ltd (1879-81)
Indo-China Steam Navigation Company Ltd (1881-1976)
Click the PDF at right for a full illustrated fleet list of the Jardine, Matheson & Co. ships.
A company subsumed by the Indo-China Steam Navigation Co was the German-managed Trautmann & Co (1863) for which the fleet list is included in the Shanghai section.
Indo China S N Co river steamer KUNG WO, photo attribution US Naval History Heritage Command 77128
Russell & Co., Shanghai (U.S. flag) managed Shanghai Steam Nav. Co. Ltd. (1861), which was the principal predecessor of the great China Merchants Steam Nav. Co. Ltd (CMSNC).An illustrated fleet list of the Shanghai Steam Nav. Co. Ltd. and an illustrated fleet list of the China Merchants Steam Nav. Co. Ltd. are in preparation and will be posted at this site soon. The General Manager of CMSNC, Tong King-sing formed the Chinese Engineering & Mining Company (CEMC) to supply coal for the ships. The small CEMC fleet is covered in the North China section.
FIRE QUEEN was the largest Yangtse steamer built for Shanghai Steam Nav. Co. Ltd. and became part of the China Merchants fleet (Chinese flag).
China Merchants S N Co. coastal steamer HAI HENG Barclay, Curle & Co.
China Navigation Co's fast North China service steamer SHENGKING, photo attribution to the separate site wikiswire.com, which links to pages covering histories and illustrations of all the China Nav Co ships up to the present day. We recommend <http://wikiswire.com/wiki/Category:Ships> for details of the China Navigation Co. and John Swire & Sons ships.
Negotiations by the Chinese Government resulted in the Treaty of 1943 which reserved Chinese coastal and river services for Chinese-flag ships only. Nevertheless, it is notable that a number of Chinese coastal operators had managed to build substantial fleets in the difficult conditions in the first part of the 20th century. We are introducing some of these operators below.
Yu Ya-ching (Yu Xiaqing) built up and managed a number of companies with varied shareholdings including
Ningshao S.N. Co. (1909)
San Peh S. N Co (1914)
Hoong On S, N Co. (1918)
Ningshin S, S. Co. (1918)
Chinese-Italian Navigation Co. Ltd. (1937).
A short textual history of the Yu Ya-ching (Yu Xiaqing) shipping companies written by Howard Dick and published in "Sold East" in 1991 may be found in the PDF at right. The second PDF contains full illustrated fleetlists of the five Yu Ya-ching-managed companies, ship histories by Howard, updated from "Sold East", and illustrations newly prepared by Stephen.
Yu Xiaqing built HSIN NINGSHAO in China and operated her for Ningshao S.N. Co. SK collection
CHANG HSING was operated by Yu Xiaqing for San Peh S N Co from 1926 until lost in 1948. The ship was built in Hong Kong and remodeled in Shanghai. Photo attribution Malcolm Rosholt, Historic Photographs of China, University of Bristol ro-n0993.
Tung Chao-yung (C.Y. Tung) was a prewar operator in Tianjin and Shanghai who came to have an important position in private sector shipping services. After the war he sought to reinvigorate coastal, Yangtse and international shipping by consolidating assets with other owners but with the Revolution, moved to Hong Kong where he was able to use his outstanding negotiating skills to build his fleets including the major international shipping line now known as Orient Overseas Container Line. Tung's eldest son Tung Chee-hwa became the first Chief Executive of Hong Kong after it was returned to China. We will be adding further material to this site.
C.Y. Tung's PEI MING of Tientsin Nav Co was carrying passengers and cargo between Tianjin and Shanghai in the late 1940s S. Kentwell collection.
In 1970 C.Y. Tung bought the QUEEN ELIZABETH, then the largest passenger ship in the world. Photo by Stephen Berry
Following the establishment of the People's Republic 1949, large State-owned fleets developed on the coast included the Shanghai-based HOPING (HEPING) cargo ships, later renamed in the ZHANDOU series, the Guangzhou-based NAN HAI series, and the Shanghai-based MIN CHU passenger ships, later renamed in the GONG NONG BING series. By the mid-to late 1950s some attractive new ships were being built in China. In the Shanghai section below is a PDF file presenting an illustrated fleet list covering the more than 20 passenger ships of the MIN CHU ("Democracy") series, which in 1966 became the GONG NONG BING ("Workers, Peasants and Soldiers"), series. Most of these 20 ships were later transferred to the Dalian Maritime Administration (q.v. for the illustrated list). Lists of some state owned fleets will be found in the different geographic sections, and more will be added.
These two ships were completed for the Chinese State in 1958 in a friendly race between Dalian and Shanghai which commanded national attention. HOPING 25 (upper) was built by Dalian Dockyard in North China. A similar ship HOPING 28 (lower) was built by the Jiangnan Dockyard & Engineering Co. in Shanghai. Photo attributions Xinhua.
Coastal Steamship Companies Operating from North China 华北沿海轮船公司
This category covers a diversity of operators based in ports around the Gulf of Pohai, covering the Shantung Peninsula and Manchuria.
The Chinese Mining & Engineering Company (CEMC) was founded by Tong King-sing and in 1889 commenced to acquire a small fleet of coal-carrying ships. This was the second Chinese-flag shipping company recorded in Lloyd's Register of Shipping, but over Chinese objections was taken over by foreign interests following the Boxer Rebellion. A short history and fleet list is in the PDF file at right..
The largest prewar company in this area, Ching Kee S.S. Co., was close to Japanese interests in Chefoo (Yantai) but in the 1930s sent its fleet to layup in Hong Kong to avoid capture. See the PDF file at right for a full illustrated list.
There were two companies based in Tientsin which used "PEI" nomenclature for their ships, and these are presented in the next Pei Ships PDF.
The Shawhsing S.S. Co. was a company based in Newchwang (Yingkou) from the 1920s until the late 1940s. An illustrated fleet list is in the next PDF.
George Lewis Shaw was a British merchant based in Dandong (Antung) from around 1907 until 1938 when he moved to Foochow and continued his activities from there. He owned a small fleet of ships which is listed in the next PDF.
A number of small Chinese companies operating prewar in the Pohai Gulf area, continuing in some cases after the war, are brought together in a "Little Pohai" fleetlist, in the PDF at right.
Following the transfer of Manchurian territory from the administration of the Soviet Union to China in the 1950s, the Dalian Maritime Bureau was established in 1957 to run all passenger and cargo shipping administered hitherto both by the Shanghai Bureau's Dalian Sub-bureau and otherwise in the Pohai Gulf. The passenger ships were eventually transferred to a new national entity called China Shipping Passenger Liner Co. Ltd. The Dalian passenger ships are listed in the PDF at right.
Steamship Fleets and Companies Operating on the Yangtse & between Shanghai and Ningpo
The China Navigation Company (John Swire and Sons) of London commenced its steamship operations in 1873 on the Yangtse which had just been opened up for steam shipping. We have compiled an illustrated list of all CNC ships on Yangtse and Ningpo services which is at the PDF at right. For ship histories for the full CNC fleet we recommend the Wikiswire website.
Jardine, Matheson & Co. commenced dedicated Yangtse operations in 1879. A fleet list of the river ships only is in this PDF. For the full Jardines fleet see the "Major Ship Operators' section above.
Several Japanese companies joined to form Nisshin Kisen which became the largest company on the Yangtse prewar. A brief history and illustrated fleet list is at the next PDF at right.
Yu Ya-ching (Yu Xia-qing)'s five companies became major players in Ningpo and Yangtse passenger shipping before World War II. An illustrated list of these ships may be found in the PDF at right, while the full illustrated list of all of his ships may be found in the 'Major Ship Operators' section above.
The Asiatic Petroleum Company (North China) developed a fleet mainly for operating on the Yangtse and Upper Yangtse. An illustrated fleet list may be found at the next PDF.
The Standard Oil Company also developed a fleet mainly for operating on the Yangtse and Upper Yangtse. An illustrated fleet list may be found at the next PDF.
Many small companies operated in the Yangtse river delta, to Yangtse ports, northwards to ports such as Yichen and Haizhou, and southwards such as to the Zhongshan (Chusan) islands, Ningbo and Wenzhou. An indicative illustrated list of many of these companies, with ship histories as far as is known, is in the "Little Yangtze" list in the PDF at right.
From around 1900 the Upper Yangtse to Chungking and beyond was opened up to steam shipping, and many companies were formed in ensuing years. It is not possible to provide a comprehensive list, but we have provided a "Little Upper River" listing of the ships of many of the companies in this PDF.
A significant United States operator on the Upper River 1923-35 was the Yangtze Rapid S.S. Co., an illustrated fleet list of which may be found in the PDF at right.
The Yangtse Maritime Bureau operated Yangtse the river steamers in the 1960s, taking over the fleets run by China Merchants (CHIANG names) and by Ming Sung (MING names). There were reorganised into one fleet in 1966 with DONG FANG HONG ("The East is Red") names and a number. Vessels with pre-revolutionary origins, such as DONG FANG HONG ships numbered up to No.10 are listed with full histories and illustrations, as far as available, in the first PDF at right. Vessels built after 1949, such as DONG FANG HONG ships numbered No.11 and later are listed with illustrations but, without full histories, in the second PDF.
Coastal Steamship Companies Mainly Operating from Shanghai
A pioneering company operating from Shanghai in the period from 1863 was Trautmann & Co. This company was reformulated as the North China Steamer Co. in 1868, but was soon taken over by Jardine, Matheson & Co. The PDF at right contains an illustrated fleet list.
A major company commencing with coal mining operations and later operating steamships out of Shanghai, including after 1949, was the Chung Hsing company. A short history and illustrated fleetlist is at right.
Another sizeable company operating out of Shanghai was the Dah Loh Steamship Company. An illustrated fleet list is contained in the next PDF.
In the early-1950s, coastal ships based in Shanghai were added to the fleet of the Shanghai Maritime Bureau, often after passing through private-public partnerships. Priority was given to the repair, reconditioning, and from the late-1950s, construction cargo ships. For the SMB's early CHUNG HSING series, see the final part of the CHUNG HSING list above. The main Shanghai-based cargo fleet was developed with ships named in the HOPING ('Peace') series which started at HOPING 1. To instill revolutionary fervour at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution all the names were changed from HOPING to ZHANDOU ('Combat'). A list of these HOPING and ZHANDOU cargo ships may be found in the PDF file at right.
Gradually a coastal passenger fleet of 20 ships bearing MIN CHU ('Democracy') names was built up for operating to Ningpo. Wenchow, Tientsin, Dalian and a few other northern ports. These ships in this sub-fleet of the Shanghai Maritime Bureau are listed in the illustrated PDF at right. Other passenger ships of the Shanghai Maritime Bureau, including passenger ships with ZHE HAI and ZHE JIANG names, and the large CHANG and XIN classes are covered in the next PDF at right..
A major local salvage and towage company based in Shanghai prewar was Mollers Towages Ltd., which postwar became Hong Kong Salvage & Towage Ltd. A short history and illustrated fleet list is contained in the PDF at right.
Passenger Steamship Companies Operating Hong Kong/Canton/Macao
There are many factors which have played in the development of Hong Kong into what it is today. One of the most significant (and overlooked by many non-Hong Kongers) is the development of its unique and often colourful shipping companies, with their diverse popular shareholdings, Hong Kong and Canton Chinese managements, capable crews from the mainland (on a Hong Kong ship there might be deck crew from Shanghai, engine room ratings from Soochow and catering staff from Canton), and not least, excellent ship maintenance.
Historically, the first area for steamship operations in China was the Pearl River. The above photograph, taken at Canton in 1916, shows three steamships. At centre is the HONAM, built in 1882, of the pioneering Hongkong, Canton & Macao Steamboat Co. Ltd. (HCMSC). At right is the SUI-AN or the SUI-TAI, owned by the same company but originally built for a German-flag operator on the Yangtse. At left is the KWONG SAI or KWONG TUNG, operated by a rival company. These three ships and many others were owned almost entirely by Chinese shareholders in Canton or Hong Kong, but their owners chose to operate them under the British flag. KWONG SAI and KWONG TUNG continued to operate into the 1950s.
A study of HCMSC was undertaken by Howard Dick and first published in H.W. Dick & S.A. Kentwell, Beancaker to Boxboat: Steamship Companies in Chinese Waters (Nautical Association of Australia, Inc., 1988). It has been updated by Howard and illustrations have been added by Stephen.
Click on the first PDF for a short history (no illustrations of ships) of the Hongkong, Canton & Macao Steamboat Co. Ltd.
The second PDF provides a chronological illustrated fleetlist of the company's vessels such as TAISHAN and HEUNG SHAN.
The third PDF is a detailed, illustrated list of other Canton River steam vessels to 1889, such as RIVER BIRD and HANKOW.
The fourth PDF is an illustrated list with some details, as far as is known, covering the period from 1890 until the final sailing by the LO SHAN in 1992.
Coastal Steamship Companies Companies Operating from South China 南北沿海轮船公司
Operating northwards from Hong Kong to Swatow, Amoy and Taiwan was the Douglas Steamship Co. Ltd. (DSSC). The short history and fleet list were prepared by Howard and an early version was first published in 1973. It has been updated by Howard and illustrations have been added by Stephen. Click on the first PDF at right for a short history (no illustrations) of the Douglas Steamship Co. Ltd. The second PDF provides a chronological illustrated fleetlist of the Douglas Steamship Co. Ltd. vessels such as HAI CHING and SEISTAN.
A number of operators developed the trade out of Hong Kong southwards, often carrying emigrant workers outward and bringing back rice from Indochina. One of these operators, Wo Fat Sing became well known in the Prewar period. A short history and illustrated fleet list of Wo Fat Sing and its precursor Li Shek Pang (from 1933 Wo Fat Sing Ltd.) is in the PDF at right.
Another operator in this trade was Shun Cheong S.N. Co. which became well known in the Postwar period. The above photograph by Ian Schiffman is of the CHEONGWIND, one of this company's last two ships, which were withdrawn in 1983, in effect concluding conventional regular steamship services which had lasted ninety years (c.f. the photograph below of HANOI of 1893 and fleet list of Marty and D'Abbadie). An illustrated fleet list is in the PDF at right, and a short history by Howard and updated fleet list of Shun Cheong S.N. Co. will be posted very soon.
The next PDF contains an illustrated list of the passenger ships of the Guangzhou Maritime Bureau.
Pioneering Steamships and Companies of Japan, Indochina and the Philippines
Our final section deals with some pioneering steamship companies of Japan, Indochina and the Philippines which played an important role in the development of steam navigation in China and were often seen in Chinese ports. The American-flag Pacific Mail S.S. Co. also had a pioneering role.
A primary reason why the the United States forced the opening of Japan to the outside world in 1858 was to gain access to Japanese coal for steamships. As a strategic measure, the Tokugawa government and regional Daimyo strongholds then very actively acquired steamships both old and new. The late T.M. Milne researched and published a List of Steamships Acquired by Japan up to 1870, which incidentally, had often been in service on the China coast. Mr Milne was a correspondent of both Howard and Stephen, and sought Stephen's assistance in disseminating his work in Japan. While the late Goro Yamataka published some of Milne's work in tabular form, it is largely now forgotten in Japan. The PDF at right therefore revives Milne's work, with a few additions which are clearly marked, mainly in the form of illustrations.
The first regular steamship service across the Pacific was one commenced from Sydney to Panama in June 1866, but this was soon followed by a service started by the major U.S. operator, Pacific Mail S.S. Co. from San Francisco to Yokohama and Hong Kong in January 1867. To supplement this service, at the same time, Pacific Mail introduced a Branch Line from Yokohama to Nagasaki and Shanghai. An illustrated fleet list of Pacific Mail steamers that served Japan and China (but not other routes) is in the PDF at right.
In Japan a merchant from the Tosa Han, Iwasaki Yataro began to build up Japan's largest fleet of steamships from about 1870, which came to be known as the Mitsubishi Mail S.S. Co., the first company in the now world-famous Mitsubishi conglomerate. Cooperating closely with the Japanese government, in January 1875 Mitsubishi commenced a four-ship service to Shanghai with the aim of closing down the Pacific Mail Branch Service which was, in effect a cross trader, an outside line that was not operated by Chinese or Japanese ships. Mitsubishi soon won this battle and purchased the four Pacific Mail Branch Line ships. The next year P.&O. commenced a two-ship branch line between China and Japan but this effort too was defeated by Mitsubishi. A detailed illustrated fleet list of Mitsubishi, kindly checked and updated by the late T.M. Milne, is in the PDF at right.
In the early 1880s a new company, Kiodo Unyu K.K. was formed in Japan to challenge the Mitsubishi monopoly with major shareholdings by Mitsui and the Japanese government. It also ran a four-ship service between Japan and Shanghai. An illustrated fleet list of its steamships is in the PDF at right. The combination of the Milne, Mitsubishi and Kiodo lists covers 80-90% of all major Japanese steamships until the establishment of the Osaka Shosen Kaisha in 1884 and the merger of Mitsubishi and Kiodo into Nippon Yusen Kaisha in 1885, companies which are well recorded. We note that histories of Japanese merchant ships and companies from around that time until the present day are also recorded at Fumio Nagasawa's website <http://jpnships.g.dgdg.jp/>.
The above magnificent photgraph of Kiodo Unyu's largest ship, YAMASHIRO MARU, with a sail furled on a forward yard, was taken in Sydney Harbour by the photographer Alfred William Buchanan Dufty (1858–1924). The Royal Navy ensign on the foremast signifies that the vessel is headed for a British port, and possibly that the British master is qualified as a Royal Navy officer. The houseflag on the mainmast is that of Nippon Yusen Kaisha, formed by the merger, each of two red stripes signifying one of the companies in the merger.
A company based in French Indochina which developed services to China was La Soc. Service Subventionne des Correspondences Fluviales au Tonkin, Haiphong, better known as Marty & d'Abbadie. The above image is of the HANOI, built in Sunderland for that owner in 1893. The image is taken from a postcard found in the Northeast of the United States about 50 years ago by Bill Schell's father. It notates a voyage taken from Haiphong to Hong Kong in 1907. An illustrated fleet list is in the PDF at right.
The Compania Maritima, formed through merger in the Philippines in the late-1890s, became that country's best known steamship company. Its vessels were initially concentrated on domestic routes, but also visited Chinese ports. The next PDF is an illustrated fleetlist of that company's postwar vessels.
Another major Philippine steamship company was run by the Madrigal family. An illustrated fleetlist of that company's postwar vessels is attached at right.
Further illustrated lists, including of the Shanghai S.N. Co, the China Merchants S.N. Co, theprewar Compania Maritima, the Madrigal ships and the Elizalde ships will be added soon.