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
Stephen A. Kentwell
Note: The main content of this site is accessed by clicking on the PDF files introduced below. Here is sample PDF.
This is a non-profitmaking site. It is under continuing development
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 names, as that is how names were officially registered, it is how the ships and companies were named in the press of the era, and it is how ships' names were 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 below by geographic area, as indicated in the headings below:
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 Operating To and From South China
Pioneering Steamships and Companies of other Countries 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)
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..
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 Nav 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.
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).
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 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.
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.
C.Y. Tung later 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 Shipping Administration (q.v. for the illustrated list). Lists of some state owned fleets will be found in the different geographic sections.
These ships were completed for the Chinese State in 1958. HOPING 25 (left) was built by Dalian Dockyard in North China. A similar ship HOPING 28 (right) 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 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 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 attached 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 attached 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 attached 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 this PDF.
Following the transfer of Manchurian territory from the administration of the Soviet Union to China in the 1950s, the Dalian Shipping Bureau was established in 1957 to run all passenger and cargo shipping administered both by the Dalian Sub-bureau and otherwise in the Pohai Gulf. The passenger ships were eventually transferred to a new entity called China Shipping Passenger Liner Co Ltd., Dalian. These ships are listed in this PDF.
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 made a illustrated list of all CNC ships on Yangtse and Ningpo services which is at this PDF.
Jardine, Matheson & Co. commenced dedicated Yangtse operations in 1879. A fleet list of the river ships only is in this PDF
Several Japanese companies joined to form Nisshin Kisen which became the largest company on the Yangtse prewar. An illustrated fleet list is at the attached PDF.
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 this 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 this 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 this PDF.
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. Vessels built after 1949, such as DONG FANG HONG ships numbered No.11 and onwards are listed with illustrations but without full histories 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 contains an illustrated fleet list.
A major company operating out of Shanghai, including after 1949, was the Chung Hsing company. A full detailed list has not been possible as many details are missing, but an indicative illustrated fleetlist is contained in this PDF.
Another sizeable company operating out of Shanghai was the Dah Loh Steamship Company. An illustrated fleet list is contained in this 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. However, gradually a coastal passenger fleet of 20 ships bearing MIN CHU names was built up fpr 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 attached illustrated PDF.
Passenger Steamship Companies Operating Hong Kong/Canton/Macao
Historically, the first area for steamship operations in China was the Pearl River. A study of the pioneering Hongkong, Canton & Macao Steamboat Co. Ltd. (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 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 north from Hong Kong to Swatow, Amoy and Taiwan was the Douglas Steamship Co. Ltd. (DSSC), contained in this PDF. This list was prepared by Howard Dick and first published in 1988. 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 company's 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, Shun Cheong S.N. Co. became well known in the Postwar period. A fleet list of Shun Cheong S.N. Co. is in the attached PDF.
This 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 attached PDF 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 attached PDF.
In Japan a former samurai 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 attached PDF.
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. An illustrated fleet list is in preparation for this site. The combination of the Milne, Mitsubishi and Kiodo lists will endeavor to cover virtually all major Japanese steamships until the establishment of the Osaka Shosen Kaisha in 1884 and the merger of Mitsushishi and Kiodo into Nippon Yusen Kaisha in 1885 which are companies which are well recorded.
The attached 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 R. Dufty. The Royal Navy ensign on the foremast signifies that the vessel is in, or departing for, a British port. 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 Frrench Indochina which developed services to China was La Soc. Service Subventionne des Correspondences Fluviales au Tonkin, Haiphong, better known as Marty & d'Abbadie. An illustrated fleet list is in the attached PDF.
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 PDF attached 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.
Further illustrated lists, including of the Jardine, Matheson & Co. companies, the China Merchants S.N. Co, the Yu Xiaqing companies, and theprewar Compania Maritima and Madrigal ships and the Elizalde ships will be added soon.