Steamship fleets operating on the YANGTSE River and to adjacent coastal areas in the period before October 1949
Jardine, Matheson & Co.
China Navigation Co.
China Merchants S.N. Co.
Hoong On S.N. Co.
Shanghai Tug Boat Co. Ltd/Shanghai Tug & Lighter Co. Ltd
Shanghai Licensed Pilots Association (1903)
Nisshin Kisen K.K.
Yu Ya-ching (Ningshao S.N. Co., San Peh S.N. Co.)
Asiatic Petroleum Co. (North China)
Standard Oil Co.
"Little Yangtze and Near Coast"
"Little Upper River"
Yangtze Rapid S.S. Co.
Mollers Towages Ltd
Chang Jiang (Yangtse) Maritime Bureau
Jardine, Matheson & Co. commenced dedicated Yangtse operations in 1862. A fleet list, of the river and Ningpo ships only, is in this PDF. For the full Jardines fleet see the "Major Ship Operators" page. The largest of all Jardine river steamers was the KUNG WO, see here in a photograph from the collection of the U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command (NH77128).
China Navigation Co. (John Swire and Sons) of London commenced its steamship operations in 1873 on the Yangtse. 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 listing via the Wikiswire website. The photo below, taken at Hankow, is of the Middle River steamer TUNGTING, built in Shanghai in 1900 (Warren Swire coll.).
China Merchants S.N. Co. , the Chinese state-owned fleet, commenced services on the Yangtse in 1874, continuing as such, as a major player until 1950. The fleet has subsequently continued under different management structures including the Yangtse Maritime Bureau which is the last entry in this section. A detailed illustrated fleet list of the Yangtse and Ningpo service ships from 1873 until 1950 may be found in the PDF at right. See the "Big 5 Ship Operators" page for the full CMSNC lists. Illustrated below is the KIANG-FOO of 1874 which was originally assembled in Shanghai for Shanghai S.N. Co. as the NANKING, using parts fabricated in the United States. This 1911 photo, acquired on Ebay in 2017, is said to have been from Robert Dollar's personal collection (SK*).
Hoong On S.N. Co., a significant operator on the Yangtse, could trace its origins to the 1880s. It eventually came under the strong influence of Yu Ya-ching, and lasted until the 1950s. A short history and full illustrated fleet list may be found in the PDF at right. The photograph below taken in front of the 1924-built Customs House at Hankow is believed to depict Hoong On's TEH HSING rebuilt from the burned out PAO-CHING of 1889 (SK coll.).
Shanghai Tug & Lighter Co. Ltd was a development of the Shanghai Tug Boat Co. Ltd founded in 1887. It was the most prominent tug and lighter company in the Shanghai, Whangpoo and Woosung port areas up until World War II. A brief history and illustrated fleet list and a list of other major Shanghai tugs and tenders may be found in the PDF file to the right. Shown below from Alan Lee's comprehensive collection is one of the 'other' tenders, P&O's legendary GUTZLAFF, built at Shanghai in 1886 but lost during World War II.
The Shanghai Licensed Pilots Association was formed in 1899 and has been followed by a number of successors to the present day. A short history and an illustrated fleet list of the large Shanghai pilot ships to the present day may be found in the PDF at right. HU JIAN YIN 2, depicted below laid up, was built in Japan in 1927 and served as the Shanghai pilot tender for around 12 years from 1971 (Chris Mackey).
Nisshin Kisen K.K.-Several Japanese companies joined to form Nisshin which became the largest company on the Yangtse before World War II. A brief history and illustrated fleet list is at the next PDF at right. The company postcard below shows the large Lower River steamer LOYANG MARU, built in Shanghai (SK coll.).
Yu Ya-ching (Yu Xia-qing)'s five companies became major players in Ningpo and Yangtse passenger shipping before World War II. An updated illustrated list of the Yangtse and Ningpo ships of these companies, including those of Hoong On S.N. Co. when controlled by Yu Ya-ching from 1918, is in the PDF at right. A full illustrated list of Yu Ya-ching's ships is posted on the 'Major Ship Operators' section page. The full Hoong On fleet list and a corresponding short history is in the Hoong On PDF above. The vessel shown below is the Ningshao S.N. Co.'s first new Shanghai-Ningpo steamer, NINGSHAO, built to a French design and completed at Foochow in 1909 (Graham Thompson coll.).
Asiatic Petroleum Co. (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. Shown below is the 1926-built tanker HAI KWANG, also capable of coastal service (New Engineering & Shipbuilding Works).
Standard Oil Co. also developed a tanker fleet mainly for operating on the Yangtse and Upper Yangtse. An illustrated fleet list may be found at the next PDF. The photo below from Exxon-Mobile archives shows MEI HSIA in the Whangpoo on her maiden voyage in 1926. The ship was built by New Engineering & Shipbuilding Works, Ltd., Shanghai, and was lost in 1937 in the same incident as USS PANAY.
"Little Yangtze and Near Coast"-In the first part of the 20th century a variety of smaller Chinese operators emerged in the Yangtse river delta, with services 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 PDF at right. At least three of these operators, Koo Chung-Sui (Valles S.S. Co.), Ping An S.S. Co., and Yih Lee S.N. Co. (Eddie S.S. Co.) went on to have post-1949 existences as worldwide operators. Those operations are dealt with in the "New Wave" section accessed via the site menu.
The two illustrations below show pre-1937 'Little Yangtse' steamers First, depicted in a postcard in a previous existence as PIONEER is Ping An S.S. Co's PING YANG which operated from 1921 until lost in 1924 while sailing Ningpo-Wenzhou.
Second in a painting by Robert Lloyd is Yih Lee S.N. Co.'s steamer YI LI at Tinghai on Chusan Island (courtesy C.C. Hsu).
Cross-Yangtse ferries, including both passenger and rail ferries, at Nanking, Wuhan, Wuhu and Jinjiang/Jiangyin are covered in the PDF at right. Shown below is Chinese Railways' first rail ferry CHANGKIANG, built in 1922 by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd at Neptune, Newcastle (Alan Lee coll.).
"Little Upper River"-From around 1900 the Upper Yangtse from Ichang 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 an indicative listing of the ships of many of the companies in this PDF. The vessel depicted below anchored and loading at Ichang in December 1900 on her maiden voyage to the Upper River is the Rickmers steamer SUI HSIANG, sadly lost with 15 lives the day after she sailed from that port (University of Toronto/SK edit). This therefore is her last photograph.
Yangtze Rapid S.S. Co.. was a significant United States operator on the Upper River 1923-35, an illustrated fleet list of which may be found in the PDF at right. The steamer depicted below is the I'LING of 1924 (SK coll.). The large panel written in Chinese states "American merchant ship not carrying military personnel".
Mollers Towages Ltd was a major local salvage and towage company based in Shanghai prewar. Postwar it became Hong Kong Salvage & Towage Ltd. A short history and illustrated fleet list is contained in the PDF at right. Illustrated below is the MERRY MOLLER, acquired in 1939 as the DOLLAR, which Mollers continued to use as a tender at Shanghai. The ship survived the war and was then chartered out for use as a ferry between Hong Kong and Macao. The photograph was taken from a Japanese handbook issued in 1941, Sekai Shosen Yoran, a facsimile copy of which was kindly sent to us by Yukihiko Miyata.
Changjiang (Yangtse) Maritime Bureau operated the Yangtse river steamers in the 1960s, taking over the fleets run by China Merchants (CHIANG names) and by the Ming Sung Industrial company (MING names) and others. These were re-organised into one fleet in 1966 with DONG FANG HONG ("The East is Red") names and a unique 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. The ship shown below is the DONG FANG HONG 9, built by Shanghai D. & E. Co. Ltd in 1930 for Indo-China S.N. Co. Ltd, London as PAOWO for Middle River service. After various renamings including during the war as RAZAN MARU, she received her last name in 1967 after being refitted by the PRC for the Shanghai-Hankou route. She was withdrawn in 1984 (Xinhua photo, Changjiang (1980) p.100).